All posts by Mannering, Christy

UD researchers work to predict disease resistance in lima beans

When downy mildew epidemics strike, they are a plague to lima bean growers in Delaware, which produces over 60 percent of the nation’s crop for canning and freezing.

Downy mildew is caused by the fungus like microorganism Phytophthora phaseoli, which has six documented races, A to F.

Race F is currently predominant in the Mid-Atlantic region, which creates a need for resistant lima bean cultivars that still retain those desirable agronomic characteristics that the market demands.

At the University of Delaware, researchers have developed genetic markers to detect Race F resistance in lima beans, which were validated and used to predict resistance to the disease using a diversity panel consisting of 256 different genotypes of lima bean, the first time these methods have been used in lima bean breeding.

The research was funded by a five-year, $1.5 million U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Specialty Crop Research Initiative grant (SCRI), and the results were published in a focus edition of the journal Phytopathology in 2016. The follow up field work using a diversity panel was funded by a $13,000 USDA Germplasm Evaluation Cooperative Agreement.

Terence Mhora, a doctoral student in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR), works in the labs of Nicole Donofrio, associate professor, and Tom Evans, professor, in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences (PLSC), and was the lead author on the paper. Mhora also worked closely with Randy Wisser, associate professor in PLSC, on the project.

One of the problems with downy mildew is that when breeders find single dominant gene forms of resistance, the pathogen evolves and is able to overcome that resistance and cause infection which in turn causes economic losses.

The researchers at UD wanted to find a way to more efficiently breed plants that are resistant to Race F.

Using a technique called genotyping-by-sequencing (GBS), the researchers were able to find molecular markers that identified possible disease resistance.

This technique, as well as the utilization of a bioinformatics pipeline known as Reduced Representation (REDREP) was used to analyze the data.

This pipeline was developed at the Delaware Biotechnology Institute (DBI) by Sean Polson, assistant professor in the departments of Computer and Information Sciences and Biological Sciences, Wisser and Keith Hopper, an affiliated associate professor in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology.

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This was no easy feat, as while other crops have had substantial research conducted on them, resulting in valuable resources such as sequenced genomes, linkage maps and characterized genes, none of this research has been conducted for the lima bean.

“That makes it difficult because, when it comes to the GBS, we have sequencing errors and so we actually have to be able to filter through the data we get to find out what’s bona fide and what isn’t,” said Mhora. “That complicates things when you don’t have a reference genome which will tell you, ‘Yes, the sequences that you have are bona fide’ and you have to go through a lot of methods to do that.”

Making assumptions based off of a closely related common bean reference genome, the researchers were able to identify resistance gene candidates using these markers that indicated disease resistance.

Tests for expression of these candidate genes in lima bean are showing the effectiveness of these markers, and with a reference genome for lima bean in the pipeline, more accurate descriptions of the mechanisms of resistance to downy mildew will be uncovered.

“The markers were useful for predicting resistance so we could predict and say, ‘OK, so when this marker is present in a certain plant, that plant is resistant to Race F,’” said Mhora.

After identifying the marker genes, the researchers passed the information on to Emmalea Ernest, associate scientist in the Cooperative Extension vegetable and fruit program and also in PLSC, who guides UD’s lima bean breeding program. Ernest will be able to use the marker set to tell her if the beans she’s breeding are resistant or not.

“It’s a tool for Emmalea and that tool comes from us to Emmalea and then straight to the farmer. It’s like a pipeline,” said Mhora.

To validate the marker genes, the researchers set up a diversity panel consisting of 256 different lima bean genotypes that were sourced from around the world, mostly from the lima bean’s center of origin which is in the Mesoamerican and the Andean regions of Central and South America.

“We tested these markers on this diverse panel of beans and were able to identify four out of the 256 that were carrying the resistance that these markers were able to detect,” said Mhora. While there were four lima bean accessions that carried the form of resistance that the markers were able to detect, there were 16 more individuals in the field that were resistant to Race F.

After conducting work in the field, the researchers then went into the greenhouse with the diversity panel to validate their results and see if there were any additional forms of resistance that the markers might not be associated with.

“The reasons that the markers would probably not be able to find the resistance that we’re looking for is because there’s different resistance out there,” said Mhora. “Especially because the diversity panel is from a widespread area but also because the markers might not be as tightly linked to the resistance as we think they are.”

Twelve candidates passed through both field and greenhouse phenotyping or screening, including the four that the markers had detected.

The next step for the research is to take all the candidates that were resistant in the field and do a more comprehensive experiment with them in fields on UD’s Newark Campus and in Georgetown, Delaware, at the University’s Carvel Research and Education Center. Both locations will be used to look at Races E and F.

Mhora said that this work has shown the researchers that they are able to develop markers that can detect Race F and that they are able to find alternative sources of resistance to Race F, which is also important.

“When we have multiple forms of resistance, that helps to make that resistance more durable. We call that gene stacking. Basically, when you have multiple forms of resistance within one individual, that individual has stronger and longer lasting resistance, they’re more able to resist a disease than if you just had one form of resistance. If you had one form of resistance, it’s easier for the pathogen to evolve so finding multiple forms of resistance is going to help,” said Mhora. “That will be a bigger part for the farmers and they’ll know they don’t have to spray as many pesticides, they don’t have to suffer from all these losses. The lima bean’s will have got the built-in resistance.”

Story originally posted on UDaily

Illustration by Jeffrey Chase

Third annual Farm-to-Table Recipe Contest set for Ag Day

Submissions are now being accepted for the third annual Farm-to-Table Recipe Contest that is held in conjunction with the University of Delaware’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources Ag Day event, taking place this year from 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Saturday, April 29, on the grounds of Townsend Hall.

The goal of this contest is to develop recipes that offer delicious ways of creating healthy dishes using fresh ingredients that are preferably locally grown.

“We’re accepting submissions for recipes that are healthy and use as many fresh vegetables or fruits as possible. We want the recipe contest to reflect how people can eat healthy, delicious meals, with food grown locally,” said Christy Mannering, communications specialist at UD who is organizing this year’s recipe contest.

Judges from UD Cooperative Extension’s Family and Consumer Sciences staff will be looking for recipes that offer delicious ways of creating fresh, healthy dishes. Judging will be based on completeness of the application — meaning all information must be included — appearance, simplicity of preparation, the use of a variety of fruits and/or vegetables as ingredients and if appropriate for the recipe – lean cuts of locally-produced meat.

Prizes will be awarded to the first, second and third place winners. Those who are selected award winners must be on hand at Ag Day to receive their prizes.

Awards will include mixed vegetable gift baskets from UD Fresh to You, a jar of Dare to Bee Honey from the UD apiary and assorted items from the UDairy Creamery.

The mixed vegetable gift boxes from “UD Fresh to You” will be given to the winners in the form of an IOU ticket as the vegetables will not be ready on April 29. The winner will be given a ticket and the winner’s contact information will be shared with “UD Fresh to You” staff.

Each person may enter only once and the contest ends on Friday, April 14.

For more information, visit the Ag Day recipe contest website.

Article by Adam Thomas

This article can also be viewed on UDaily

UD researchers create website to inform lima bean growers of downy mildew risk

One of the most important factors for lima bean growers in Delaware and throughout the world is the ability to accurately measure and forecast disease occurrence in their fields during the growing season.

A new risk model developed by a team of researchers from the University of Delaware’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) and the Delaware Environmental Observing System (DEOS), will allow lima bean growers in the state to utilize a free on-line tool to help them assess the risk of having their fields hit with downy mildew, a fungal-like disease caused by Phytophthora phaseoli.

The research was funded by a five-year, $1.5 million U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Specialty Crop Research Initiative grant (SCRI).

The team includes Nicole Donofrio and Tom Evans, professors of plant pathology in CANR’s Department of Plant and Soil Sciences; Gordon Johnson, assistant professor of plant and soil sciences and a fruit and vegetable specialist for Cooperative Extension; and Kevin Brinson, director of DEOS, which is housed in UD’s Department of Geography in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment (CEOE).

Matthew Shatley, computer research specialist, and Chris Hughes, environmental applications developer, both in CEOE, helped develop the website.

Donofrio said one of the goals of the grant was to create a risk model that growers and processors could easily access for lima bean downy mildew, adding that this new user-friendly website will be “an excellent tool that our cooperators can use that will inform them when and if they need to spray fungicides.”

Evans, who has been working on prediction models for downy mildew for 15 years with multiple students conducting research both in the field and in greenhouses, said that an older model predicted based strictly on temperature and rainfall.

This newer model uses that predictor but adds dew point and temperature, which is helpful as the ideal conditions for downy mildew may also be found in September when growers encounter heavy dews but not much rain.

“The month of September typically has a lot of dew because we have high humidity and low night temperatures. The one that uses dew point is the one that’s been predicting the most because most of the occurrences were in September. We haven’t had any major epidemics in July and August, which is kind of when we have rainfall driven disease,” said Evans.

The risk model utilizes a numeric scale from one to 10 and allows growers to assess how much risk they are willing to take on, before taking action.

“Everybody has a different risk tolerance and their tolerance has to be taken into account. My recommendation is that you’re in high risk when you’re in somewhere between seven, eight or nine, but there’s a lot of variation in that depending on the field and the conditions,” said Evans.

To use the website, users request an account via email to deos-info@udel.edu and an account is set up for them.

Once the user has an account, they can log in to the website to add their lima bean fields or view risk values of their existing fields. New fields are added to the system by providing GPS coordinates or by using a map interface to select the field’s location.

Weather data from the nearest stations in the DEOS network are determined using the field’s geographic location.  Additional information required for each field includes information on the lima bean cultivar planted as well as the field’s downy mildew disease history.

The website allows growers to look at a set of data and graphs that show them their fields’ daily risk value for the occurrence of downy mildew.

Knowing their individual risk factor allows them to know whether or not they need to spray their crops, which helps their economic bottom line.

“This might cut two or three protectant fungicide sprays out in a year and that might save them $100 an acre. And that adds up over time,” said Evans.

The less fungicides that growers use, the better it is for the environment and it also gives downy mildew less of an opportunity to develop resistance to the fungicides that are being used.

Evans said this model is unique to the state of Delaware and the researchers are in the stages of validating it so that that they can feel more comfortable about setting a general range for growers.

“I have not found a system that operates quite like this but that’s because we’re a small state and it’s free data. It’s public data and it’s being done by people that are employed by the state or the University or both,” said Evans.

Brinson said that the website should be launched in time for the spring growing season and that to validate the model, the researchers used data from lima bean fields owned by vegetable production companies that have scouts who regularly check their fields for downy mildew.

“We loaded that data into the system and then ran the model and did all the calculations and as the risk scores got higher, they would go out and try to confirm the presence of downy mildew,” said Brinson, noting that Evans would do a lot of the scouting himself.

“I know Tom was literally driving around with his iPad looking at our tool and saying, ‘Looks like this score is an eight so I want to drive to this field and check it out.’ The research team has put a lot of work into certainly this disease but this particular crop, too,” said Brinson.

For more information about the site, contact Donofrio, Evans or Brinson.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo by Wenbo Fan

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

UDairy Creamery teams with Iron Hill for internship, ice cream offerings

In an effort to expand the learning opportunities available to students from the University of Delaware, as well as offer a delicious, locally-sourced dessert option at their restaurants, Iron Hill Brewery and Restaurant has teamed with the UDairy Creamery to offer an internship opportunity in brewing to a qualified undergraduate student in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) beginning in the spring.

The partnership also allows the UDairy Creamery to provide Iron Hill with exclusive ice cream flavors that can currently be found at the company’s 12 tri-state brewery restaurant locations.

Those flavors include vanilla, chocolate chip cookie dough, malted bourbon pecan and a chocolate stout featuring Iron Hill’s Russian Imperial Stout beer.

Melinda Shaw, UDairy Creamery manager, said that she is excited about the opportunity to give UD students an easy access point to a brewing internship and that it has the potential to get more students interested in food science.

“I think, especially with food science and fermentation and what we’re doing with our new upcoming dairy plant and the other courses, it’s something that every food science program should offer. It has the potential to get a lot more people interested in food science, too, if they know there are opportunities in fermentation and beer,” said Shaw.

Iron Hill has long maintained close ties with UD, as their flagship store opened in Newark in 1996 and they collaborate with CANR by having students in the college’s “Fermentations: Brewing and Beyond” interdisciplinary course learn first-hand about the brewing process at the Main Street location.

“We’re thrilled to expand our partnership with the University of Delaware’s [College of Agricultural and Natural Resources] and look forward to working with students as part of our undergraduate brewery internship program,” said Iron Hill co-founder Kevin Davies. “We’re also excited and proud to offer our guests these premium, from-scratch ice creams from the UDairy Creamery in a way that provides support to one of the nation’s most exceptional universities.”

Iron Hill also collaborates with the Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics and was looking for ways to expand learning opportunities to UD students through internships.

They currently serve as an internship location for master’s degree students in beer schools so this partnership allows them to revamp their existing program for undergrads.

Shaw said that although the UDairy Creamery’s mission is not to sell as much ice cream as possible, and that they’ve never wholesaled the ice cream before, the opportunity to partner with Iron Hill has her excited about the educational possibilities for UD students.

“If a company is really working to build a partnership and be able to offer students such a great opportunity, it’s something that we shouldn’t deny our students the chance of having,” Shaw said, adding, “I think in this area, Iron Hill is one of the more longstanding brewery restaurants and I don’t think they get as much credit as they deserve for being around and as successful as they are. I think the fact that they’re growing so much and still want to work with the University and Delaware and our students is really impressive.”

Originally posted on UDaily

Article by Adam Thomas

Video by Paul Puglisi

Migrating Birds Pile Up Along Great Lakes’ Shores

PRESS RELEASE – Birds prefer to migrate at night—so much so that if day breaks while they’re over water, they’ll turn back toward the nearest shore rather than pressing on. That’s the key finding of a new study in The Auk: Ornithological Advances, which used weather radar to examine the behavior of birds crossing the Great Lakes.

Kevin Archibald and Jeff Buler of the University of Delaware and their colleagues turned the U.S.’s powerful network of weather surveillance radar stations on birds heading north across the Great Lakes during their spring migration. As dawn approaches, their data show, birds caught over water increase their elevation and often turn back. This leads to a pileup of birds in near-shore stopover habitat—the density of birds taking off from the southern shores of the Great Lakes on subsequent spring evenings was 48% higher than on the northern shores.

Birds presumably increase their altitude at dawn to try to see how much farther they have to go; if they decide it’s too far, they go back to try again the next night, leading to higher concentrations of migrants on near shores. When birds are migrating south in the fall, these pile-ups would happen on the north side of the lakes rather than the south. “Our study justifies the high value of shoreline habitats for conservation of migratory bird populations in the Great Lakes region,” says Buler. “It also emphasizes that the extent of stopover use in shoreline habitats is context-dependent. We hope professionals charged with managing stopover habitats recognize that shoreline areas can receive high migrant use by virtue of the proximity to a lake and how many migrants are aloft at dawn from day to day, rather than [just] by the presence of abundant food sources in these habitats.”

The data used in the study came from radar stations in Cleveland, Ohio; Grand Rapids, Michigan; and Green Bay, Wisconsin, collected in spring 2010–2013. Cleveland was the only station that did not observe birds increasing their elevation at dawn, possibly because Lake Erie is narrow enough for them to see across without an increase in altitude.

“Nearshore areas of the Great Lakes are important to migrating landbirds. Archibald, Buler, and their colleagues further investigate this distributional pattern by analyzing the interaction between spring migratory flight behavior and the migrant exodus at nearshore stopover sites using NEXRAD radar,” according to The Nature Conservancy’s Dave Ewert. “Their research supports earlier work that migrants concentrate near Great Lakes shorelines, but with new perspectives.”

Migrating birds reorient toward land at dawn over the Great Lakes, USA will be available December 7, 2016, at http://americanornithologypubs.org/doi/full/10.1642/AUK-16-123.1 (issue URL http://americanornithologypubs.org/toc/tauk/134/1).

Press Release by Rebecca Heisman, from the Central Ornithology Publication Office of the American Ornithological Society

About the journal: The Auk: Ornithological Advances is a peer-reviewed, international journal of ornithology that began in 1884 as the official publication of the American Ornithologists’ Union, which merged with the Cooper Ornithological Society in 2016 to become the American Ornithological Society. In 2009, The Auk was honored as one of the 100 most influential journals of biology and medicine over the past 100 years.

In first, UD sophomore elected national FFA president for 2016-17

UD sophomore David Townsend is the first national FFA president from the state.
UD sophomore David Townsend is the first national FFA president from the state.

David Townsend, a sophomore in the University of Delaware’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, was elected president of the FFA at the 89th National FFA Convention and Expo in October.

This is the first time someone from Delaware has been elected a national FFA officer in 47 years, and Townsend is the first national president to come from the state.

FFA is an extracurricular organization bringing together those interested in agriculture and leadership in an effort to spread agricultural education throughout the country.

FFA makes a positive difference in the lives of students by developing their potential for premier leadership, personal growth and career success through agricultural education,” said Alice Moore, one of Townsend’s collegiate FFA advisers and a past Maryland FFA state vice president who served in 1983-84.

Townsend, who is majoring in agriculture and natural resources and plant sciences at UD, is a 2014 graduate of Middletown (Delaware) High School, where he was very active in FFA. In 2015, he was Delaware FFA state treasurer, serving more than 10,000 students.

As a national officer, Townsend will travel more than 100,000 miles nationally and internationally. He will be interacting will fellow FFA members, industry leaders and business professionals through speeches and workshops to promote agricultural literacy.

He will finish out this semester at UD and then take a leave of absence for the following year in order to serve as president and travel across the country.

Bart Gill, state FFA adviser, said Townsend will develop a strong network and connections for life after college. He will develop speaking skills, time management and life skills.

Townsend will go through extensive training between December and January, and then begin traveling in March.

“David is a very unique and talented individual. I’m really excited for members across the nation to be able to get to know him throughout the next year because he is very genuine and easy to talk to,” said Gill.

Townsend applied to be national president last year but did not get the position. This was the last year he qualified to apply due to FFA age limits, and he was elected to the position.

“David was very proactive with this application. He did most of the work himself in getting all the necessary application materials in from those he knew would help him most,” Gill said. “I helped guide him when he asked for my assistance in applying the first time around when didn’t get it. He tried again this year and I am so excited for him to have been elected president.”

Although his position is not paid, all travel and living expenses are covered, and at the end of his term, Townsend will receive a scholarship from the FFA.

Each year, delegates of FFA elect a president, secretary and vice president to represent the central, southern, eastern and western regions of the country. Townsend had to be recommended by the state in order to be considered, and all candidates must have already served as officers on local or state level before.

Mark Rieger, dean of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, said, “Everyone in the college is beaming with pride on the news of David’s election as FFA president. This is the first time in decades that Delaware has had a national officer, and the only time we’ve had an FFA president from Delaware. He is going to have the experience of a lifetime as president, and I know he will be a great reflection on agriculture in the First State.”

Townsend has been working at the UDairy Creamery since April. Melinda Shaw, manager of the UDairy Creamery, said, “David is a natural leader and a genuinely kind person. I’m not surprised he was elected president, he’s so passionate about the FFA, and everything he’s involved in. His passion and positivity is contagious. We will surely miss him while he’s on his tenure as FFA president but everyone at the creamery couldn’t be more proud of David. We are honored to have him as part of the Moo Crew.”

Arba Henry, Townsend’s independent study instructor, said, “David is a very well-versed person. He will represent the state and university very well, and I am thrilled for him to embark on this journey.”

Moore, co-adviser of the UD Collegiate FFA with Henry, said, “I am very excited for David being elected as national president of FFA. It will be wonderful to follow David in his year as national FFA president as he inspires the members that to make a positive difference in the lives of others as in the mission statement of the FFA.”

Kathryn Daly, Townsend’s academic adviser, said, “David has been a great student to work with, he possesses strong leadership skills that, combined with his passion for agriculture, make him the perfect fit for this position.  He has a genuine interest in people and really exemplifies what it means to be a team player. I don’t think he’s ever met a stranger and his enthusiastic and warm personality make him the type of person that you want to work with.  I have no doubt that he will excel in this position.”

A video clip of the national FFA convention can be viewed here, with Townsend featured in the election results beginning at around the 2-hour, 29-minute mark.

Originally published on UDaily

Article by Courtney Messina

Photo courtesy of FFA

Novel study shows ‘cocktail’ of soil bacteria can protect rice plants from deadly forces

Angelia seyffeth graduate students rice research study green house shoot for udaily at canr
Graduate students rice research study green house shoot.

University of Delaware student Jonathon Cottone knows the tell-tale signs that rice plants are getting sick: the yellowing leaves, the faint football-shaped lesions.

Cottone, a junior from Wilmington, Delaware, is working with Harsh Bais, associate professor of plant and soil sciences at UD, on research to help this globally important grain cope with increasing stress.

Recently, the UD team found that when rice plants are subjected to multiple threats — including increasing concentrations of poisonous arsenic in water and soil, an urgent concern in Southeast Asia, plus a fungal disease called rice blast — the plants aren’t necessarily goners.

Rather, the UD researchers have shown for the first time that a combination of beneficial soil microbes can be applied to the infected plants to boost their natural defenses, combating both problems.

The findings, published in Frontiers in Plant Science, provide new evidence about the potential benefit of “biostacking” — putting multiple microbes together to protect plants from stress. The research also lends further support for a natural, chemical-free approach to protecting a crop that over half the world’s population depends on for food.

A ‘health cocktail’ for rice plants

“We wanted to see if we could use a combinatorial approach — a ‘cocktail’ of organisms — that would help rice plants with two simultaneous stresses attacking them,” Bais said, from his laboratory at the Delaware Biotechnology Institute.

In addition to Bais and Cottone, the team included Venkatachalam Lakshmanan, a former postdoctoral researcher at UD who is now working at the Oklahoma-based Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation.

Previously, the UD team identified two species of bacteria that come to the rescue of rice plants when the plants are under attack. The two microbes naturally inhabit the rhizosphere, the soil around the plant roots.

Pseudomonas chlororaphis EA105 can trigger a system-wide defense against the rice blast fungus, which destroys enough rice to feed an estimated 60 million people each year.

EA105 inhibits formation of the fungus’s attack machinery, the appressoria, which acts like a battering ram, putting pressure on a plant leaf until it is punctured.

A second microbe, EA106, mobilizes an iron plaque, or shield, to begin accumulating on the roots of rice plants when arsenic is present, effectively blocking uptake of the poison.

“What’s happening in Southeast Asia from high levels of arsenic in water and soil has been called the largest mass poisoning in history,” Bais said. “The EA106 microbe has multiple benefits. The iron shield it deploys blocks the arsenic. This iron, absorbed into the rice grain, could help address another big health problem in many developing countries — iron deficiency.”

In their laboratory studies with hydroponically grown rice plants, the UD team treated plants with arsenic, then treated them with EA105 and EA106. Seven days later, they infected the same plants with blast disease. Along the way, they examined the overall genetic responses when arsenic, beneficial bacteria, and fungal disease were incorporated. The resulting data clearly showed that the microbial cocktail could bolster plant defenses against both arsenic and rice blast disease.

But there were some surprises. For example, the researchers thought if arsenic was taken up by rice plants, that poison might be detrimental to the blast fungus. But that was not the case.

The ability of the blast fungus to tolerate arsenic is a direct story of evolution, according to Bais.

The fungus has become more and more resistant to arsenic over time.

“To prevent arsenic toxicity, we think the fungus put the arsenic in ‘a safehouse’ — storing it in its vacuole — before the toxin gets loaded to the grain,” explained Bais.

Protecting a staple crop

So how could beneficial microbes such as EA105 and EA106 be applied to protect rice plants? A seed treatment, or microbial coating, would be the most practical route in formulating an economical, effective product, Bais said.

Next semester, Bais will travel home to India while on sabbatical leave to give talks at universities, collaborate on research and meet with people who do work in the field.

“A real opportunity for India’s next generation of sustainable agriculture will be this area of plant probiotics, using microbes that naturally occur in the soil to help plants,” Bais said.

Meanwhile, Cottone, who recently was named a DENIN Environmental Scholar at UD, will continue his research in the Bais lab, skyping with Bais while he is away.

Ironically, Cottone didn’t know a lot about plants until he took Bais’s introductory botany course last year. Then a whole new world opened up to him, and he’s now decided to pursue a double major in plant science and animal science.

“This work has a huge humanitarian bent in that the majority of countries affected by arsenic poisoning are developing countries,” Cottone said. “So this work could really help a lot of people who really are not in a position to help themselves.”

“Jonathon is doing a fantastic job,” Bais said. “He puts in long hours. He’s mastered how to grow rice and manages the entire greenhouse now. He’s already co-authored a scientific paper as an undergrad.”

And he’s got lots of room to flex his research muscles. The complex relationships between plants and the microorganisms living with them, their “microbiome,” provide countless avenues to explore in the quest to improve plant health.

“Plants are exposed to multiple stresses these days, many driven by changing climate. Plants are just confused. They don’t know what to do,” Bais said. “We’re trying to help them cope.”

Animal science alumna goes off beaten path after graduation

kelly-rowe
University of Delaware alumna Kelly Rowe is the hospital administrator at Hunt Valley Animal Hospital in Maryland.

University of Delaware animal science alumna Kelly Rowe has always loved animals. She wanted to be a veterinarian ever since she was a little girl. Now, she is the hospital administrator at Hunt Valley (Maryland) Animal Hospital.

Rowe, who graduated from UD in 2002, initially wanted to make it to vet school, as animals were always a part of her life. “’Dog’ was the first word I ever spoke. I finally got my first dog at 5 years old. As a kid, I had friends, but I’d much rather have been outside catching rabbits and saving kittens,” said Rowe.

At UD, Rowe said she fondly remembers the swine production class taught by Lesa Griffiths, T.A. Baker Professor in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

Rowe recalls raising her pig – named Sassafras – with a group of students, and the deep bond she developed with her group members. She and her group were in charge of monitoring the pigs, regulating feed, and assisting with labor and delivery.

“It was one of the most memorable times at UD altogether. Not having a pet while in college, this pig quickly became my pet,” Rowe said. “There were two nights around the due date that we actually stayed in the barn and slept on bags of grain, waiting on the babies to come. It exposed us to a lot of the sides of production and farming and everything that goes into it.”

Rowe got to know Griffiths from taking multiple classes, and said, “Dr. Griffiths is one of my favorite professors and mentors. She never left anyone behind; she always took time to get to know everyone. She was very hands-on, and I could tell she genuinely cared about my well-being.”

During college, Rowe took up an internship at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, doing animal enrichment studies. In the study with which she assisted, researchers were testing whether positive reinforcement and toys help strengthen an animal’s immune system.

Rowe said they found that toys and a stimulating and rewarding environment do indeed help the immune system. “It was really neat seeing how just changing their environment could help them,” she said.

Though Rowe initially had planned on going to vet school immediately after college, once she reached that point in life she said, “It just didn’t feel right. I was too empathetic to be a vet. I care about anything that had a beating heart, so it was just too much for me.”

Rowe had worn many different hats before finally becoming hospital administrator. She worked at a local animal clinic, then worked for Flavorx, a company that adds flavorings to medicines for children and pets. She then became territory manager for Vet’s First Choice, which involved a lot of great traveling experience. She finally came across the opportunity at Hunt Valley, and went running with it.

As the hospital administrator at Hunt Valley, Rowe’s job is full of variety – she manages the staff, makes protocols, managed inventory, manages the facility, and marketing. “The thing I really like about my job at Hunt Valley is that no day is the same. You never know what is going to walk, waddle, even fly through the door,” she said.

Rowe suggests that pet owners can avoid many common problems with their pets by being more observant of their pet’s behavior, and also proactive if they notice something different going on with their fuzzy friends.

“Notice everything and don’t put things off,” she said. “Small changes in your pet’s behavior are often symptoms of a bigger issue. Because life is busy, pet owners will often notice these things and fail to do anything about them until the bigger issue rears its ugly head.”

Article by Courtney Messina

Originally published on UDaily

Internationally known ecologist to speak on invasive species

Noted ecologist Daniel Simberloff of the University of Tennessee will discuss the effects of biological invasive species on the environment in a talk Nov. 14 at UD.
Noted ecologist Daniel Simberloff of the University of Tennessee will discuss the effects of biological invasive species on the environment in a talk Nov. 14 at UD.

Noted biologist and ecologist Daniel Simberloff will discuss the effects of biological invasive species on the environment with his talk, “Shoot First and Ask Questions Later: Progress, Problems, Promise and Polemics in Managing Biological Invasions” at 5 p.m., Monday, Nov. 14, in Clayton Hall on the University of Delaware campus in Newark.

A reception in the lobby will begin at 4 p.m., followed by the lecture at 5 p.m. in Room 125.

This event free and is open to the public.

The seminar is sponsored by the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology, housed in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

Simberloff is the Nancy Gore Hunger Professor of Environmental Studies at the University of Tennessee. He received his bachelor’s degree in 1964 and doctorate in 1968 from Harvard University and was a faculty member at Florida State University from 1968 through 1997, when he joined the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Tennessee.

“Dr. Simberloff is an ecologist with an international reputation,” said Jake Bowman, chair of UD’s Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology. “He continues to challenge our thinking about major ecological issues. His recent work is landmark. I look forward to hosting him and him sharing his inspiration and knowledge with our students. Then to follow that with a public seminar is a great honor for UD.”

Simberloff’s publications number approximately 500 and center on ecology, biogeography, evolution and conservation biology. Much of his research focuses on causes and consequences of biological invasions.

His research projects are on insects, plants, fungi, birds and mammals. He is editor-in-chief of Biological Invasions, senior editor of the Encyclopedia of Biological Invasions (2012) and author of Invasive Species: What Everyone Needs to Know (2013), and is a member of the editorial board for several other journals.

Simberloff served on the U.S. National Science Board 2000-06. In 2006 he was named eminent ccologist by the Ecological Society of America, in 2012 he won the Margalef Prize for research in ecology, and in 2015 he won the Wallace Prize of the International Biogeography Society.

He is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Article by Michele Walfred

Originally posted on UDaily

Aspiring vet turns passion for horses, teaching into Sprout therapy center

UD alumna Brooke Waldron leads the Sprout Therapeutic Riding and Education Center in Virginia.
UD alumna Brooke Waldron leads the Sprout Therapeutic Riding and Education Center in Virginia.

University of Delaware alumna Brooke Waldron always had a passion for horses and for teaching, and she has combined the two interests by founding Sprout Therapeutic Riding and Education Center in Aldie, Virginia.

Sprout, a non-profit organization, offers therapeutic riding to those in need of improving their physical, mental, and emotional health.

Waldron, who graduated from UD in 2005 with a degree in the animal science pre-veterinary program in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and in biology and biotechnology, initially wanted to become an equine vet.

As a child and teen, Waldron rode and competed horses and said she cherished her relationship with the animals. During her time at UD, she was on the equestrian team and served as president of the Agriculture College Council and Sigma Alpha professional sorority.

She took many animal science classes, including an equine management and reproduction class that specialized in studying the University’s Haflingers.

She also participated in a study abroad program to New Zealand with Lesa Griffiths, T.A. Baker Professor of Agriculture and Natural Resources. “Dr. Griffiths was an incredibly influential person in my life,” said Waldron.

While at UD, Waldron worked as a lab assistant for Robert Dyer, associate professor of animal and food sciences, where she assisted in teaching anatomy and physiology lab.

This experience fostered a love for teaching in addition to her love for horses, and Waldron went on to get a master’s degree in education at Marymount University in Virginia and to begin teaching life sciences at a middle school.

Waldron was settling in to her teaching career when a surprise opportunity to start a farm came upon her and her family. As a proponent of inclusion, she had many students with special needs in her classes and wanted to do something where she could combine her passions.

“When the opportunity to start a center came along, I jumped at it. Now my job combines the best of all worlds – kids, horses and teaching,” Waldron said.

According to Waldron, Sprout was a soybean farm when her family bought it in 2009. The farm had no barn, arena, fields or even grass for horses.

With what she learned during her time at UD, Waldron was able to transform the old soybean farm into a horse sanctuary. “Being prepared by what I learned in college and having the know-how to take a care of a farm was very beneficial to me,” she said. “We planted grass seed according to what the horses required, designed the facility, secured the necessary horses, tack and volunteers, and started running in 2011.”

During the farm conversion, Waldron also became a certified therapeutic riding instructor through the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH International) and worked to make Sprout a PATH center, which requires strict adherence to administrative, facility, program and equine care standards.

Waldron said she is proud of the professionalism of the industry and is now an advanced instructor and certified mentor.

In five years, Sprout has grown from that soybean farm to an organization that serves an average of 125 individuals each week, from an organization with a budget of $0 to $424,000 annually, from empty stalls, and a farm with no horses or equipment to 14 horses in service, bountiful lesson materials, tack and adaptive options.

The growth validates the community’s need for this form of support, Waldon said.

Sprout offers several areas of programming that meet the various needs of riders with disabilities:

  • Therapeutic riding, the largest program, teaches riding skills that relate to the life goals of the participants.
  • Therapeutic carriage driving utilizes the same goals but is a preferred program for individuals that fall below or above the size restrictions for riding, in addition to people who have equipment that cannot fit on the back of a horse, such as ventilators.
  • Equine movement therapy is designed to support physical improvement for muscles, joints and systems, which is done with the help of a physical therapist.

The default for many people with special needs is to spend time in clinical therapy – physical, occupational, speech, behavioral therapies – and those can be stressful and unpleasant environment for children, Waldron said.

“Kids get anxious about going to the doctor, and many of my students don’t do too much else but go to clinic, so this is literally a breath of fresh air for them,” she said.

The horse’s three-dimension movement replicates the movement the human body experiences while walking, therefore strengthening and stimulating similar muscles in a repetitive pattern that regulates the nervous system.

“A horse gives movement to someone when, typically, the alternative is only sitting or using large-scale clinical equipment,” said Waldron. “Most clients prefer riding to any other activity or therapy and it meets so many of their needs at the same time.”

Miracles happen at Sprout because of the range of physical, emotional and cognitive support that is given when riding, Waldron said, adding that riding is a unique therapy that meets people “where they are, wherever they are,” with the horse as a mediator and partner in achieving their life goals.

“The thing I love so much about my job is seeing an animal that I am so passionate about impact others on a large and multi-dimensional scale. My horses are my partners and humble co-workers. Together, we change people’s lives,” said Waldron.

Sprout also offers equine assisted learning/psychotherapy, which is an off-horse program that provides experiential mental/physical/cognitive activities that meet clients’ needs.

The instincts of the horse are used to help people become aware of their behaviors and norms, reactions, communication and body language. Being such large animals, their reactions are large and also very easy to see, Waldron said, adding that ss prey animals, horses are also extremely sensitive to their environment and “present.”

Their ability to give clear, unbiased, real-time feedback to clients allows them to improve the way they interact with the world and other people in it, she said.

“Many times, people don’t realize how they’re coming across to others, and the horse allows you to have conversations to help them realize and improve their emotional and mental outlook – and, consequently, their relationships with others,” said Waldron.

As a non-profit, Sprout is reliant on a community of supporters who give of their “time and treasure,” Waldron said.

Sprout has a database of 500 volunteers with upwards of 100 are active each week. Volunteers complete necessary jobs that allow the centre to run, she said.

Sprout has internship opportunities available and is thankful for the support of college interns who have served in various capacities, Waldron said.

The center is also reliant on donors to subsidize fees for the riders. In the state of Virginia, insurance does not cover animal-based therapies and horses are expensive to maintain. Because of this, Sprout is a non-profit, which allows the organization to raise funds to subsidize costs at a level that is affordable for those in need of the service, Waldron said.

“Sprout is committed to providing hope, healing, empowerment and recovery to a population that is all too often overlooked and undervalued,” Waldron said. “We invest in changing lives, in proving what people can do and in supporting the whole person. In a world where limitations and restrictions abound. We are the believers, we are the do-ers, we are the possiblitarians.”

Article by Courtney Messina

Originally published on UDaily

UD study suggests people prefer conservation as way to protect drinking water

The water crisis in Flint, Michigan put the need to protect and invest in clean drinking water front and center in the minds of many Americans. But how to go about investing, as well as how to get the public on board with such spending, is a difficult challenge that faces policymakers.

A new study from the University of Delaware has found that when given the choice, people prefer to invest their money in conservation, such as protecting key areas of a watershed — also referred to as green infrastructure — than traditional water treatment plants— also referred to as gray infrastructure.

They also found that different messages related to climate change, global warming, extreme weather events and decaying infrastructure affect people’s willingness to contribute to projects.

The study was led by Kent Messer, the Unidel Howard Cosgrove Chair for the Environment and director of the Center for Experimental and Applied Economics (CEAE) in the University’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR).

The results were recently published in the Agricultural and Resource Economics Review.

Leaning green

Participants in the study’s field experiment heavily favored green infrastructure over gray infrastructure.

“People are much more willing to pay for conservation,” Messer said. “They like the idea of permanently protecting the waters from their source and avoiding having to do technological fixes.”

Using a field experiment involving 251 adult participants from sites throughout northern Delaware — including UD’s Ag Day, the New Castle County Farmers Market and the Southbridge community in Wilmington — the researchers had participants perform a simple task in which they earned money for that action and were then asked if they would like to donate the funds to an organization that could help in alleviating water quality issues in the future.

“People didn’t just show up and automatically receive money. They earned their money. Then, we asked if they wanted to donate it to either a conservation cause (green infrastructure) or to help drinking water utilities (gray infrastructure),” said Messer who added that the CEAE likes to apply a charitable giving context to their research to see what people will actually do with the money as sometimes surveys aren’t always aligned with actual behavior.

Participants could donate to either the American Water Works Association (AWWA), representing the traditional gray infrastructure, or the Conservation Fund, representing green infrastructure.

Greenseams

Will Allen, vice president for sustainable programs and director of conservation planning and integrated services at the Conservation Fund, said the organization is involved in many projects that utilize green infrastructure, such as a project called Greenseams in Milwaukee.

According to the Conservation Fund’s website, Greenseams launched in 2001 as a flood management program partnership between the organization and the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewage District. The group purchased land and conservation easements upstream from the city where major suburban growth was expected to occur.

More than 100 properties have been protected, preserving 3,142 acres of flood-prone land within greater Milwaukee, including 28 communities and 1.1 million people. The wetlands protected and restored by the program are capable of holding an estimated 1.3 billion gallons of water.

Allen said the goal of green infrastructure is not just to ensure that water is clean and improve the quality of a city’s drinking water, but also to deal with flood mitigation.

“Milwaukee is unluckily a poster child for flooding. It’s just really flat and all the water just kind of drains into the city and they can have some catastrophic floods,” said Allen.

Flooding can be especially problematic in American cities that have aging systems in which floods can cause water to mix with sewage.

Green infrastructure is beneficial in helping prevent flooding before it happens, something that gray infrastructure can sometimes have trouble dealing with.

“If you can avoid having a lot of water go into those storm water systems then you can avoid the combined sewer overflows,” said Allen.

Importance of messaging

The survey also examined how different messages affected people’s choices.

They found that when it comes to developing a message to inform citizens why protecting water is important, people were more willing to give when climate change or global warming was discussed compared to messages that emphasized extreme weather events.

“The big surprise was that messages stating that ‘storms are increasing in frequency due to extreme weather events,’ led to a dramatic decrease in people’s willingness to pay for either conservation or gray infrastructure” said Messer. “This has important implications for how politicians and conservation leaders talk about drinking water protection.”

Messer said that when it comes to policymaking, there has been a debate on whether it was more effective to avoid discussion of climate change and instead focus on large storms. This study suggests focusing on extreme weather events may have a negative impact.

“This research suggests the emphasis on large storms like Hurricane Sandy will actually make people less willing to take action as it appears that people perceive these large storms as being out of human control,” he said. “If it’s just decaying infrastructure, normal storms, or even climate change, then people might feel they can do something about it. But when you start really emphasizing these large magnitude storms, there becomes a sense of hopelessness.”

About the research team

The research was supported by the National Science Foundation North East Water Resources Network (NEWRNet) project and the USDA-funded national Center for Behavioral and Experimental Agri-Environmental Research (CBEAR), of which Messer is also the co-director.

The research also involved Sean Ellis, a doctoral student in the Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics; Matthew Miller, a doctoral student in CANR; and Jacob Fooks, a UD alumnus now working with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Economic Research Service.

Article by Adam Thomas
Video by Jeff Chase

Originally posted on UDaily

Cooperative Extension visits Read House for a taste of the past

With a focus on 18th century foods and preservation, the second annual Farm 2 Fork event was held Sept. 24 at the historic Read House and Gardens in New Castle, Delaware.

Cheryl Bush, UD Cooperative Extension educator and registered dietician in Family and Consumer Sciences, and Carrie Murphy, UD Extension Master Gardener coordinator and horticultural educator, were invited to participate by Katie McDade, head of Read House and Gardens and public programming with the Delaware Historical Society.

Farm 2 Fork event occurred on the same day as Smithsonian’s Museum Day Live!, in which multiple museums and cultural institutions across the country participated. More than 200,000 Museum Day tickets total were downloaded from Smithsonian’s website for this nationwide celebration.

Sally Reiss and Michael Hadley, both Master Food Educators, provided an in-depth and historically relevant demonstration on food preservation and preparation. The presentation took visitors back to the 1700s, offering a look at what food was grown, how it was preserved, and what was consumed.

Michael Hadley, a Master Food Educator, prepares for a Farm 2 Fork presentation.
Michael Hadley, a Master Food Educator, prepares for a Farm 2 Fork presentation.

Hadley, a personal chef, provided a demonstration on how to prepare autumn chopped apple salad, served in clear cups with red forks to complement the fall-themed recipe, which was created by Gail Hermenau, a Master Gardener and Master Food Educator.

Reiss said she found that many of Delaware’s earliest food and recipes were drawn from German and English influences, as many Germans initially settled in Pennsylvania and northern Delaware. Broiled chicken with sour-milk biscuits was a staple, and steamed crabs were a seafood favorite in the summer.

Some examples of popular recipes from the time include apple fritters, “sweet-meat” pudding, and potato soup.

The people of the 17th and 18th centuries did not have the modern technology of refrigeration, so other methods of preservation had to be used, including underground cellars packed with straw, salting, and pickling. Meat had to be consumed or preserved within 24 hours to prevent spoiling.

McDade said she believes the Farm 2 Fork event was very important and beneficial in helping the public understand history. “To know where we’re going, we have to know where we’ve come from,” she said. “To understand the community that we’re a part of, our sense of our identity, how we fit into our communities, and how we move forward, we need to know our past.”

In support of the project, Lori Ennis, Kent County Master Gardener and former John Dickinson Plantation interpreter, provided the Cooperative Extension with invaluable information about crops used from the time period. “John Dickinson and George Read were actually very close friends and it was very common practice to send plants back and forth among friends,” said Ennis, who added that common crops grown included cabbage, garden cress, carrots, turnips, radish, leeks, pumpkin and onion, just to name a few.

“It was a great opportunity get families to come out and see the garden, because the garden doesn’t typically get much public exposure through specific programming,” said McDade.

Providing information at the Farm 2 Fork event are Lynne Perry, Karen Curtis and Carrie Murphy.
Providing information at the Farm 2 Fork event are Lynne Perry, Karen Curtis and Carrie Murphy.

Also at the event, Murphy and Master Gardener volunteers Karen Curtis and Lynne Perry provided information on gardening at home. Murphy and the Master Gardeners discussed food-oriented gardening, provided soil test kits and information, and offered literature on vegetable gardening, backyard composting and pest management.

“Gardening know-how isn’t intuitive for most” Murphy said. “Many people make simple mistakes because they just never knew any different. Someone might buy a plant for the aesthetic look without understanding its needs. And many people inherit their landscapes with their homes so sometimes people don’t know where to start. Our goal is to help educate people on gardening, which can be intimidating sometimes.”

The event proved to be a huge success and plans are in the making for the third annual Farm 2 Fork next year. “I’m really excited and pleased to have worked with the UD Cooperative Extension. Hopefully this is a sign of more to come. Next year perhaps we can collaborate with some more partners and make it a more coordinated effort, as well as a larger event,” said McDade.

Those with interest in becoming Master Food Educators can contact Bush at cbush@udel.edu and those with interest in becoming Master Gardeners can contact Murphy at cjmurphy@udel.edu or 302-831-COOP.

Originally posted on UDaily

Article by Courtney Messina

UD professor looks to experimental economics to solve land value taxation riddle

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UD’s Josh Duke, Tianhang Gao and students use a “virtual city” approach to consider the property tax system.

Within the majority of cities and municipalities across the United States, real property is taxed based on the value of the land and of the improvements made to it — such as any enhancement to an individual home or a business facility.

As a consequence, there is a disincentive for individuals and businesses to invest in their homes and facilities, because such investments will increase the assessed value of the property for tax purposes. A new study led by the University of Delaware’s Josh Duke constructs a “virtual city” to see if, when given the choice, individuals would select a different kind of non-distortionary tax — known as land value taxation — instead of the traditional form of property taxation.

The study is part of Duke’s year-long fellowship with the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, located in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The Lincoln Institute of Land Policy is an independent, nonpartisan organization whose mission is to help solve global economic, social and environmental challenges to improve the quality of life through creative approaches to the use, taxation, and stewardship of land.

Duke, professor in the Department of Applied Economics and Statistics in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, said that land value taxation is usually associated with the 19th century economist Henry George, although the idea probably precedes George’s time.

“The idea is that if you’re going to tax anything in society, probably the best thing to tax is the value of land. Not the value of the improvements on land, like a house, just the value of land, and the reason is that it’s non-distortionary. That means that it doesn’t provide the incentive to do less property improvement than is optimal,” said Duke.

Land value taxation in theory should be the best way for governments to raise revenue and yet it has not been widely adopted. In Delaware, the town of Arden was founded as a Georgian community and some cities in Pennsylvania — such as Harrisburg — employ a split-rate property tax in which the land is taxed at one rate and the buildings are taxed at another, but for some reason, land value taxation hasn’t caught on.

“It really would make society a lot better. It’s one of these major things we could do. We don’t have to create anything, we can just change the way things are taxed and increase society’s wealth,” said Duke.

In addition to stopping the disincentives to fully utilize land that are imposed by the current property tax system, Duke said that it could reduce all the distortionary ways revenue is currently raised.

“Right now, we raise lots of revenue through income and employment taxes, which create a disincentive for workers to work and employers to hire. So you could shift the government’s tax burden from income to land, therefore allowing more jobs,” said Duke. “It’s been known for hundreds of years that it’s a great way to raise tax revenue but it just doesn’t get used enough in the real world and so I wanted to explore why that might be.”

Experimental economics

Duke decided that to determine why land value taxation has not been widely adopted, he would use experimental economics to try to provide some insight.

By building a virtual city where people have the incentives to improve their land through buildings and then have them interact through the tax system, Duke is trying to see if he can replicate the voters’ rejection of the land value taxation.

Duke worked with Tianhang Gao, a doctoral student in the Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics, to build an experimental economics platform that will be utilized by students in the Center for Experimental and Applied Economics (CEAE).

While Duke realizes that the word “virtual city” might conjure up images of games such as “The SIMS,” he said that this virtual city won’t look anything like the popular game.

“Economics is all about simplifying reality. What we’re trying to do is reduce problems to the fundamental incentives that we want to study. You have an amount of income; how much of your income do you devote to improving your land and how much do you devote to consumption? Then do you feel that, over time, you’re being treated fairly by the tax system and do you vote to reject it? So we set up a little democracy using our computer program where participants in our experimental economics platform can vote,” said Duke.

The study will be run with 100 students during the fall semester and Duke said that he will target business, economics, and engineering students to take part in the study because of their financial backgrounds and quantitative skills.

“We want to see how people make decisions when they’re strictly interested in profit and not bringing their ethics to the questions until they vote,” said Duke.

Using an experimental economics program called Z-Tree, there will be an administrator computer and then 15 students will use Microsoft Surface Pros to make decisions, interacting through the network created by Z-Tree in the programmed virtual environment.

“Everybody sits at their own computer and makes their own decisions. It’s all private. They can still interact, but they interact only through their decision on the tablet computer,” said Duke.

Moving forward, Duke said he hopes to extend his research to see if he can get participants to overcome political objections to land value taxation and offer policy advice to people in the real world on how to get voters to find land value taxation to be in their best interest.

Article originally posted on UDaily

Photo by Christy Mannering

UD study links real, perceived transaction costs to low farmer participation in BMP programs

Leah Palm-Forster has conducted research that shows it is best to keep things simple when it comes to creating agri-environmental programs to help farmers adopt best management practices.
Leah Palm-Forster has conducted research that shows it is best to keep things simple when it comes to creating agri-environmental programs to help farmers adopt best management practices.

When it comes to creating agri-environmental programs to help farmers adopt best management practices (BMPs) that will help protect the land and not hinder crop yields, new research from the University of Delaware shows that it is best to keep the programs simple.

Both real and perceived transaction costs — the time and effort it takes farmers to enroll in the programs — are detrimental and limit the amount of participation. This is especially true when reverse auctions are used in the enrollment process for agri-environmental programs.

The research was led by Leah Palm-Forster, assistant professor in UD’s Department of Applied Economics and Statistics, and was published recently in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics.

Palm-Forster conducted the research with Scott Swinton, Frank Lupi, and Robert Shupp, who are all faculty at Michigan State University. The research is part of a larger study Palm-Forster conducted while a graduate student at Michigan State University that was recently published in the Journal of Great Lakes Research.

Agri-environmental programs have financial incentives that are usually set up in a cost-share, through which a government program will pay a certain rate to have a farmer adopt a management practice that provides environmental benefits.

These programs rely heavily on voluntary participation.

“Farmers’ management practices have a large impact on the environment, in addition to producing all the food and fuel and fiber we consume. In the U.S., in order to get some of these environmental benefits, we rely on voluntary agri-environmental programs. For the most part, we’re not telling farmers that they have to enroll in these programs and adopt certain practices but we’re trying to provide incentives for them to do so. It basically promotes the use of agricultural practices that provide environmental benefits,” said Palm-Forster.

For the study, the research team used a simulation model that took information gleaned from previous research on the Lake Erie Basin focused on phosphorus runoff and toxic algal blooms.

Using information from their work with farmers in the area and biophysical data about the landscape, the researchers put all of the information into an economic behavioral model to predict if farmers would enroll or not based on four different programs to see which would provide the most environmental benefits with the limited conservation budget.

The programs included:

  • A reverse auction, in which farmers submit a bid of how much they would need to be paid in order to adopt one of these practices;
  • A uniform payment program, in which everyone is paid the same amount for adopting a certain practice and enrolled on a first come, first served basis;
  • Another uniform payment program targeted to the most vulnerable areas of the watershed, in which only farmers in those areas were allowed to enroll; and
  • A program in which farmers were actually offered the exact amount of money they would require to adopt a certain practice, a program that Palm-Forster said would never exist in reality but that was used as a baseline.

Transaction costs

Palm-Forster showed how participation is influenced by the transaction costs of enrollment in each program. These costs include the time and effort required to apply for and enroll in the program. The transaction costs associated with each of the programs hindered participants’ willingness to enroll in them, but the one that was hurt the most turned out to be the reverse auctions.

“One thing with the reverse auction program is that you need a good baseline of the environmental health level compared to what it would be like with the practice. To get all of that information, farmers are asked to submit management protocols and maps of their fields, and it’s just a lot of information. We found that the transaction costs could be particularly burdensome for reverse auctions,” said Palm-Forster.

The research team also found that the problem could be exacerbated if the land is rented, because then there are multiple people trying to work together.

“The take-home message of the paper was that these transaction costs can be really prohibitive and limit participation. If these transaction costs are perceived to be high for reverse auctions, it could make them less cost effective than a targeted uniform payment program,” said Palm-Forster.

Using programs that targeted certain areas was still key, though, because the untargeted program in which farmers were paid on a first come, first served basis did even worse than the reverse auction, as payments were given to anyone who came to enroll versus focusing on the particularly vulnerable areas.

Palm-Forster said that this paper emphasizes the need to streamline programs like reverse auctions because they can be really cost effective but require a large number of participants, particularly those in environmentally vulnerable areas.

“We need to find ways to really make it worth the farmers’ while to participate and one way to do that would be to make the application for the program as easy as possible,” said Palm-Forster.

One way to accomplish that is increased use of different geographic information systems (GIS) technology. A great deal of information on the land itself is readily available for those creating the programs and including that data ahead of time could limit the amount of information the individual farmers need to provide.

Another could be targeting specific parts of a sensitive region, such as a watershed, rather than using a one-size-fits-all approach to the entire area.

“The farms are so unique, the management practices that they’re using are unique, and there’s so much diversity,” Palm-Forster said. “A lot of research is allowing that heterogeneity to tell a new story and say, ‘Of course one size doesn’t fit all, so what can we learn from the fact that there is so much heterogeneity, and how can we design better programs?’”

It was that thought that spurred her research into reverse auctions. “People were saying that we have to start designing programs that explicitly acknowledge that there are so many differences. Now we just have to figure out how to make those programs work even better and not be as complicated,” she said.

This research was funded by the Great Lakes Protection Fund and the National Science Foundation Long-term Ecological Research Program at the Kellogg Biological Station.

Originally posted on UDaily

Photo by Wenbo Fan

UD researchers conduct consumer behavior studies in Washington

Dr. Kent Messer with the Tuk Tuk in front of the Washington Monument
Dr. Kent Messer with the Tuk Tuk in front of the Washington Monument
The University of Delaware’s Center for Experimental and Applied Economics (CEAE) rolled out its innovative tuk tuk at the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Farmers Market on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., on Friday, Sept. 30, conducting a study on consumers’ preferences for food produced with non-traditional irrigation water.

The CEAE tuk tuk, a mobile lab with the appearance similar to that of a Thailand food truck, helps attract subjects of all demographics, making it a great tool for research in that it brings in a wide variety of participants. During Friday’s event, about 150 people participated in the experiment, which is considered a great turnout.

The invitation from the USDA to have UD’s tuk tuk at the Farmers Market was to demonstrate how behavioral and experimental economics can help inform USDA policy.

Mary Bohman, administrator of the USDA Economic Research Service, personally invited CEAE because of the tuk tuk and its charming utility. The event was attended by many USDA officials including Eleanor Starmer, administrator of the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service.

The research study is led by Kent Messer, Unidel Howard Cosgrove Chair for the Environment in the Department of Applied Economics and Statistics and director of CEAE; Sean Ellis, a doctoral student in the Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics and DENIN Environmental Fellow; and Maddi Valinski, laboratory manager for CEAE and program coordinator for the Center for Behavioral and Experimental Agri-Environmental Research (CBEAR).

Through their research, Messer and Ellis are exploring the behavior of consumers as they select food that has varying impacts on the environment.

“Consumers often are not aware of how big a role water plays in producing their food. The number one use of water goes toward food production. Using recycled water that is treated and safe could be really valuable for our environment – especially in places like California that are having severe water shortages,” said Messer.

At the USDA Farmers Market, Messer and Ellis conducted a study with real purchasing decisions, looking at customers’ preferences and the amount of money they are willing to pay for conventionally irrigated produce versus produce grown with different types of recycled water.

“Some people express concern about the use of non-traditional water sources and want to make sure that it is safe. They also want to make sure that their food does not use too much water, as they want it to be available to support the environment and meet other societal needs,” said Messer.

Ellis is working to find if there is a stigma surrounding recycled water as a whole or just certain types of recycled water and trying to mitigate that stigma. Paying attention to how consumers respond to produce grown with different types of recycled water – such as carrots, grapes and almonds, which require a lot of water to be grown – Ellis will be able to gauge consumers’ willingness to accept or even pay more for produce grown with different types of recycled water.

“A lot of people have initial questions about produce grown with recycled water because they assume it is recycled ‘black water,’ which is treated toilet water. In our research, we test consumers’ preferences for produce grown with different types of water that government agencies have determined to be safe – including black, gray (which is treated wastewater from washing machines) and produced water (which is treated wastewater from oil and gas drilling) – to find out whether this impacts consumers’ buying decisions in a positive or negative way. Are they willing to spend a little more because it has a low water footprint, or does the idea of recycled water completely turn them off?” says Ellis.

The research is part of a $10 million grant from CONSERVE (COordinating Nontraditional Sustainable watER use in Variable climatEs): A Center of Excellence at the Nexus of Sustainable Water Reuse project.

CONSERVE involves a multidisciplinary team, that includes UD, the University of Maryland College Park, the University of Maryland Eastern Shore and the University of Arizona, as well as the USDA Agriculture Research Service, which is dedicating itself to developing innovative, safe and sustainable ways to irrigate food crops in variable climates.

Support from this research comes from the USDA Economic Research Service and the national Center for Behavioral and Experimental Agri-Environmental Research (CBEAR) which is co-headquartered at UD.

Article by Courtney Messina
Video by Ashley Barnas

Originally posted on UDaily

Master Gardeners teach children at ELC about plants, wildlife

Children learn about plants and wildlife through a Master Gardeners program.
Children learn about plants and wildlife through a Master Gardeners program.

Since its inception in 2009, the Master Gardeners’ Vegetable and Fruit Demonstration Garden located next to Newark’s James Hall Trail has served as an outdoor classroom, educating members of the community about the importance of plants and wildlife.

One of the most beneficial ways that the garden has been used has been to educate local youths from the University of Delaware Early Learning Center (ELC) and the UD Laboratory Preschool, located next door to the New Castle County Cooperative Extension building.

Now, thanks to a partnership with the ELC’s prekindergarten program, the UD Master Gardeners will continue that education. The partnership was initiated by Phyllis Roland and Cathy Coppol, both ELC teachers in the pre-kindergarten class. Their goal is to help children learn how to increase the sustainability of the ELC garden, increase food production, and share fresh produce with the schools and local community.

Roland got the idea when she and her class passed the demonstration garden while walking along the James Hall Trail. She thought it would be “nice to partner with [the Master Gardeners] so they could help us to learn more about gardening. I stopped over to see Pat [Pat Cavanaugh, a Master Gardener], and she agreed to come and look at our garden and talk about their garden.

One of the things that we’re really excited about in our project is to help the children understand how to provide resources to the community. The Master Gardeners contribute to the area Food Bank, so we got on board with that. We bring some of the produce from our garden to contribute and add to what they’re harvesting,” said Roland, who added that they’ve grown broccoli, string beans, lettuce, cucumbers, zucchini, radishes, beans and carrots in the garden. They also have a flower garden and grow herbs.

Roland’s class visits the demonstration garden every Monday morning. The Master Gardeners talk about their gardening projects and introduce the children to processes such as composting, pollination and cultivation, and to various wildlife that help to enhance the garden.

Lynn Hessler, a Master Gardener, shared about a time when the children encountered a monarch butterfly.

“They were able to touch it and we showed them how to hold it and the butterfly wouldn’t fly away. It must’ve thought, ‘I’ve got food, I’ve got water, people love me. Why would I leave?’ So we all sat there and watched it,” said Hessler.

The most beneficial aspect of the partnership has been providing students the experience of growing food from seed to fruit.

“It helps with their social, emotional development,” said Roland. “They have an opportunity to try fresh produce that they may not get at home and we bring food into the classroom. We cook with them and they understand how to process the environment for planting, maintaining the garden, and then eventually harvesting the fruit. It helps to generate excitement and they’re not thinking everything is just instant gratification but they’re looking at processes and I think they’ve grown a lot in that experience.”

Peggy Bradley, ELC director, said that it’s been “a lovely partnership” between the ELC and the Master Gardeners.

“We really appreciate their contribution to our program and it’s a very nice intergenerational connection for our children, as well as an educational connection,” said Bradley.

Bradley also said that research shows that there is “so much cognitive development that can come out of those sensory experiences of gardening. From the beginning planting the seed stage all the way through the picking and smelling and tasting.”

Garden Gals

The demonstration garden is currently being overseen by Cavanaugh, Hessler, Sally Reiss and Ruth Zorzi, all of whom are Master Gardeners and are known collectively as the “Garden Gals.”

There are a total of 27 Master Gardeners who help out with the garden and have interacted with the groups from the ELC and the UD Laboratory Preschool. Zorzi said she enjoys being able to show the children who visit the garden where their food comes from.

“You’re not just getting something out of the supermarket, you see that it grows out of the soil and you can take it in the kitchen and cook it and taste it and get different varieties,” said Zorzi.

Reiss said that it is one thing for a student to learn about science from a book in a classroom but it is another to give them a hands on learning experience at a young age.

“When they can see how the plants actually grow, it’s just the wonder of how all plants can be so different and we can show the kids stuff about caterpillars and talk about how they’re going to become butterflies. You just never know with kids what they’re going to remember but it’s a nice hands-on experience that they otherwise wouldn’t get,” said Reiss.

When they travel to the ELC, the Master Gardeners teach the children how to do things such as pick flowers, beans, cucumbers and tomatoes so that they aren’t pulling out the whole plant.

“They were all involved with picking the marigolds and taking them home for their parents and then a couple of the boys decided it was great fun to throw the marigolds like balls. Of course, by doing that, they were spreading the seeds so we said, ‘OK, this is a good thing,’” said Cavanaugh.

Gail Hermenau, who led the installation of the garden back in 2009 after helping to create a demonstration composting area, said the garden has been used by the ELC since the very beginning.

“When I was there on a regular basis, people from the James Hall Trail would come over, and we engaged a lot of people in the garden and it was just sort of a regular thing that we always worked with the children from Fran Walls’ classroom so I’m really glad that they still are doing different workshops with the kids,” said Hermenau.

“We would bring vegetables back into their class and show them the different insects and caterpillar larvae, the chrysalis if we could find them – whatever we could use that was taking place. It is like a living classroom out there for children and adults,” said Hermenau.

The Master Gardeners design and maintain gardens and a compost demonstration site for the purpose of teaching good horticultural practices. Those interested should stop by the demonstration site at the Cooperative Extension office, 461 Wyoming Road in Newark on the University of Delaware campus to learn more about growing fruit and vegetables, composting and plants native to our region.

Those interested in becoming a Master Gardener should contact Carrie Murphy, Extension Educator, Master Gardener Coordinator at cjmurphy@udel.edu or 302-831-COOP.

Story by Adam Thomas, Photo by Wenbo Fan

Originally posted on UDaily

Cooperative Extension hosts healthy recipe demos at farmers markets

Monica Marcial-Gutierrez and Regina Santangelo lead a healthy eating demonstration at Rockwood Park.
Monica Marcial-Gutierrez and Regina Santangelo lead a healthy eating demonstration at Rockwood Park.

The University of Delaware’s Cooperative Extension Family and Consumer Sciences program has been making its rounds to farmers markets throughout New Castle County, preparing ingredients and conducting demonstrations in order to raise public awareness about healthy eating.

The program is led by Maria Pippidis, New Castle County Extension director and a family and consumer sciences extension educator, who said that the demonstrations “promote easy and simple no-cook recipes that use seasonal ingredients and provide visitors with the chance to taste the recipes and maybe even try an ingredient they haven’t tried before.”

Overall, several volunteer UD dietetics students have visited 18 different markets throughout the county during the summer months, reaching 809 visitors and distributing 400 copies of healthy recipes.

Monica Marcial-Gutierrez, a UD alumnus who graduated in 2016 with a degree in dietetics and now works with Cooperative Extension, and Regina Santangelo, a volunteer for the demonstration who also graduated in 2016 with a degree in dietetics, led a demonstration in Rockwood Park, where they presented a corn and black bean salsa recipe.

“The whole point of doing these demonstrations is to show people what to do with in-season vegetables and also to encourage them to buy local produce. Our aim is also to show people how to make it, and just how easy it can be,” said Marcial-Gutierrez.

At Rockwood, the corn and black bean salsa was served with a side of chips for sampling and the ingredients were simple, fresh and easy to find.

One of the goals of Cooperative Extension is to educate the public on just how easy healthy eating can be. “Salsas like this are very popular, and you don’t have to be a cook in order to do it,” said Santangelo.

In some areas of Delaware, finding fresh food can be difficult, and all that may be available is fast food or processed food.

“I think it’s important for people to have access to fresh and healthy food. Some people don’t even know what to do with the food once they have the ingredients,” said Marcial-Gutierrez. “We get many questions from our visitors. For example, a visitor may ask, ‘Where do you get [the ingredients] and what do you do with it?’ I tell them, ‘You can get it right here, and here’s a nice recipe you can make with some of the ingredients.’”

“Cooperative Extension has a long history of helping local agricultural producers grow foods and be profitable, as well as providing nutrition education,” Pippidis said. “This project has helped us address both initiatives by linking local growers who are glad to have new clientele visit their booths for ingredients they just learned about from our farmers market food demonstration project.”

UD Cooperative Extension will hold demonstrations on Friday, Sept. 30, from 4-6 p.m., and Friday, Oct. 29, from 4-6 p.m., at the Southbridge Youth Farm Stands at the Neighborhood House in Wilmington.

Originally posted on UDaily

UD alumna opens Fork in Road Café near Delaware Memorial Bridge

University of Delaware alumna Leigh Ann Tona at her Fork in the Road Cafe.
University of Delaware alumna Leigh Ann Tona at her Fork in the Road Cafe.

Right before or after the Delaware Memorial Bridge, depending on whether a traveler is heading north on I-295 to New Jersey or south to Delaware, lies the Fork in the Road Café, the newest venture taken on by University of Delaware alumnus Leigh Ann Tona, who has already experienced culinary success with her I Don’t Give a Fork food truck.

Tona – who graduated from UD in 2012 with a bachelor of science degree in business management and a minor in entrepreneurial studies, and who worked at the UDairy Creamery – said that in addition to serving as its own eatery open to the public Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., the Fork in the Road Café will allow her to offer more variety in her food truck offerings — such as sliced deli meat sandwiches — and open an avenue for her to expand her catering services, as well.

“When I just had the food truck, I didn’t have a kitchen and was doing a lot of my prep on the food truck, and so I was pretty limited with what I could serve because the food truck doesn’t have an oven, just a fryer and a grill top,” said Tona. “But the café has a steamer and an oven and a six burner stove, so we started cooking our homemade pork every day and we slow cook it for 15 hours in an oven, which is really nice. We also slice all of our own meats for our sandwiches, same thing with our cheese, so it was really just an opportunity to go back and start to offer those items again on a menu.”

Located off of Route 9 in the Vincent A. Julia Center, where the Delaware River and Bay Authority (DRBA) has a walk-in E-ZPass center — Tona said that visitors can follow the purple E-ZPass signs to get to the restaurant — the Fork in the Road Café facility served as an office cafeteria until 2013.

“They had such a big kitchen, and it is a large and beautiful facility,” Tona said. “They realized that the only way someone was going to come in and take it over was if they have an existing business where they can utilize that kitchen somewhere else.” That made her the perfect tenant.

Because the cafeteria had a built in customer base when it was still in operation, Tona said she is trying to offer similar, low-priced fare to bring that clientele back.

“The menu for the café is more expansive and we do made-to-order breakfast, with pancakes and French toast and this grab and go cereal dish, plus we do all different kinds of breakfast sandwiches,” Tona said. “Lunch is a good portion of what I’ve had on the food truck over the years condensed into one menu and since we have a meat slicer again, we can go back to doing the deli sandwiches and all different things like that.”

In addition, Tona has a crew of three employees — one full time manager and two cashiers — who oversee the café while she is out on the food truck.

The biggest difference between operating a food truck and operating a stationary café is the ability to move in order to get customers.

Tona said the food truck heads to different, pre-determined locations every day: Wednesdays at Rodney Square in Wilmington, Thursdays at Barclay’s in Newark and Fridays at Barclay’s in Wilmington.

If she decides to go to another location and it doesn’t have as many customers, she can simply move the food truck.

“With the café, if people aren’t coming in for lunch, and if we’re not busy, I can’t say, ‘Let’s just try a new place tomorrow,’” said Tona.

With the new kitchen space, though, Tona is hoping to be able to expand her catering services.

“We can do catering whenever. We can do drop off catering, pick up catering, and we’ve been trying to get offices or business meetings to select us for catering because that’s something that’s really easy for us to do out of the café. We’re already making sandwiches anyway and that’s our goal,” said Tona.

She also stressed that the café is a great spot for visitors to eat.

“It’s literally right in the middle of 295 north and south. You can see both sides of the highway from my building. There’s outdoor tables and umbrellas. It’s definitely a cool spot to eat if you’re there. I’m just trying to get people to find it,” said Tona.

For those interested in learning more about the Fork in the Road Café and its services, email Tona at forkintheroadde@gmail.com.

Article and photo by Adam Thomas

Orginally posted on UDaily – Fork in the Road

High school students get hands-on experience at UD’s Webb Farm

The University of Delaware's Amy Biddle works with a student from William Penn High School on UD's farm.
The University of Delaware’s Amy Biddle works with a student from William Penn High School on UD’s farm.
For six weeks over the summer, students from William Penn High School in New Castle, Delaware, had the opportunity to learn the ins and outs of agriculture thanks to a partnership between the high school and the University of Delaware’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR).

The idea was facilitated by Brian Erskine, principal of William Penn, and is now led by Mike Popovich, natural resource manager at CANR, and Kathleen Pickard and Karen Ferrucci, William Penn High School Agriculture Teachers and Penn Farm Summer Program Coordinators.

The students visited every Wednesday to learn something new within CANR, such as how to milk a cow, manage poultry and make ice cream. The work at UD was complementary to their summer work routine at Historic Penn Farm, where they manage a four-acre vegetable plot.

As part of the program, the students also toured UD’s Webb Farm and had a scavenger hunt where they got to know the animals around the farm and discovered all that the farm has to offer, such as a registered Angus cattle herd, a flock of Dorset sheep and an equine herd.

They then were introduced to the delicate process of ice cream making, led by Rolf Joerger, associate professor in the Department Animal and Food Sciences, and Melinda Shaw, manager of the UDairy Creamery.

The students were shown the science behind getting ice cream just right, and the creamery tour gave the students a little taste of food science, as they learned the ingredients and the science that goes into making ice cream.

Through the summer program, students learned all about the opportunities available at CANR. “William Penn’s developed agriculture program is unique in northern Delaware. We are fortunate to have the opportunity to allow for exploration of the curriculum we have here at the college. Our hope is that this is the first step in a much larger partnership,” said Popovich.

“For me, it is just an awareness of what we have to offer here. Not only do we have a farm, but also the scale and variety, and the welcoming atmosphere,” said Amy Biddle, assistant professor of animal and food sciences, who helped host the Webb Farm visit on July 27. “Once you meet the people, it becomes more real to the students – they can recall professors and students that they’ve met.”

At William Penn High School, between 300-350 students are enrolled in the Agriculture Program during the school year. In the summer, those students working on the farm are paid interns through a cooperation with New Castle County.

Students are introduced to agriculture through an introductory agriculture class, where they learn the basics of agriculture. If that piques their interest, they can take more classes related to areas of plant and animal science, such as equine science.

As they take more classes, students are eventually introduced to Historic Penn Farm, located adjacent to the high school in New Castle, where they get hands-on practice with farming. Students learn germination, husbandry, and harvesting techniques.

“I think it’s cool for them to see the application of what they have been taught in class being put to use. Being a UD alumnus myself, I use a lot of stories for examples, and for them to be able to see everything put into action is definitely very exciting,” said Ferrucci.

Laura Hernandez, a junior at William Penn and vice president of the school’s FFA chapter, only knew how to start a basic garden until she started taking the agriculture classes at the school and fell in love with the field.

“I’ve always loved animals. I had birds, dogs, even chickens at one point. I found out the school had an Intro to ag class, took the class, and the teacher encouraged me to join FFA. I became secretary sophomore year and now I’m going to become vice president for my upcoming junior year,” said Hernandez.

Hernandez hopes to continue pursuing agriculture and eventually have a career with animals, looking to have her own traveling veterinary business for farm animals.

Not only do students learn about farming on Historic Penn Farm, they also get community service experience as well. With the produce they harvest, the vegetables are prepared and preserved for use in their own cafeteria, the community summer feed programs, as well as use in William Penn’s culinary courses.

The remainder of the produce goes toward community supported agriculture (CSA), where shareholders pay a one-time fee and in exchange receive a bag of freshly harvested items every Tuesday for the entire summer.

“It’s important for them to realize just how much agriculture has to offer and plays a part in our everyday lives: biosecurity, health, technology. Also, getting all the hands-on experience really helps the students realize what they want to do, and also gives them the confidence for dealing with animals and everything else. They deal with something hands-on almost every day – farm equipment, animals – they use it and love it every day,” said Ferrucci.

The following summer research students assisted Biddle and helped to make the William Penn visits possible: Justin Berg, a senior in UD’s College of Arts and Sciences, Brian Chambers, a CANR senior, Hailey Siegel, a CANR senior; Haley Nelson, a CANR senior; Maryn Jordan, a CANR senior; Tesa Stone, a CANR sophomore; and James Madlock and Greg Patterson, both of Cheyney University.

Article by Courtney Messina
Photo by Kathy Atkinson

Originally posted on UDaily

UD researchers conduct study of consumers’ oyster preferences

Oyster Research Delaware Bay
UD researchers led by Tongzhe Li (second from right), a postdoctoral researcher in the Center for Experimental and Applied Economics, prepare to conduct interviews to determine consumers’ views on local versus non-local oysters.

With oyster production in the Delaware Bay having decreased by about 90 percent when compared to historical levels, there is a need to understand consumer preferences with regard to local versus non-local oysters and how to best market the product in order for the industry to rebound.

A comeback is important because scientists believe that a healthy bay oyster population will offer important ecological benefits, including habitat creation and water filtration.

Researchers at the University of Delaware recently spent two weekends at the Cape May-Lewes Ferry terminal studying consumer and tourist preferences with regard to local versus non-local oysters — and also examining ways to define “local” oysters — to see if people are more willing to pay for those oysters.

The research is led by Kent Messer, Unidel Howard Cosgrove Chair for the Environment, director of the Center for Experimental and Applied Economics (CEAE) and co-director of the Center for Behavioral and Experimental Agri-Environmental Research in the University’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR), and Tongzhe Li, a postdoctoral researcher with the center in the Department of Applied Economics and Statistics (APEC).

The study was funded in part by the Delaware Economic Development Office (DEDO) and is being run through CEAE, which Li said has a history of conducting oyster research largely because of the environmental benefits they provide.

“In the Delaware Bay area, oyster production has declined since the 1930s. Government and the oyster industry are making efforts to restore the oyster population. Researchers at CEAE are studying consumer preferences for oysters in order to help promote local oyster consumption,” Li said, adding, “Oysters are a food product that also provide ecosystem services. Developing a robust oyster industry is fruitful for Delaware’s economy and the environment.”

The researchers had a total of 750 people participate in the research during the two weekends as they set out to see if tourists preferred local to non-local oysters and then to see if the tourists’ opinions differed from that of local residents. To gauge the oyster preferences of northern Delawareans, the researchers also spent time at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) in Wilmington.

In addition to the local and tourist oyster preferences, the researchers were also interested in how oyster producers should market their product as “local.”

With regard to the wording of “local oysters,” Li said that there is no set definition to define local, as it could mean that oysters are harvested anywhere within the state or 400 miles away.

“We have variations of the definition for ‘local’ oysters in our study and we’re going to analyze if the definition influences people’s decisions,” said Li. “For example, local oysters can be oysters that are harvested from the Delaware Bay, within the state, within 400 miles, or within 25 miles. Is the consumer willingness to pay different for them?”

How to go about delivering the message is also critical for those looking to market local oysters and Li said that the researchers looked at various practices to see which was most effective.

Those practices included telling the consumers directly “this is a local oyster,” adding text next to the oysters, and by having quick response (QR) codes with information about the oysters a mere click away.

With the QR codes, the researchers used two treatments. The first was simply telling a group of participants “this is a QR code; if you scan it, you will get more information on the food,” said Li. “For a second group of participants, we gave them a smart phone with the QR code scanner installed. We didn’t force them to do anything, we just said, ‘here’s a phone, you can use it to scan the code and have a look into the information.’ It’s quite interesting, just by providing them a device, it significantly increased the number of participants who scanned the QR codes.”

Li said that while it is too soon to report all the results from the study, one that stuck out is that people do prefer local oysters to non-local ones.

“People are willing to pay more for local oysters compared non-local oysters, as expected,” said Li.

Click here for a video of the researchers in action.

UD garden offers local, student-picked produce to the community

UD Fresh To You produce stand
UD Fresh to You is open from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Thursdays.

Members of the University of Delaware community searching for local, sustainable, student grown and handpicked produce need look no further than UD Fresh to You, an organic garden located on UD’s South Campus in Newark.

UD Fresh to You is heavily involved in community outreach through retail at the garden itself, donations to the Food Bank of Delaware and selling produce to local restaurants.

Located off Route 896 near the University’s Townsend Hall — next to the former Girl Scouts building and across from the historic farmhouse — patrons can stop by UD Fresh to You every Thursday from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. to select from an assortment of locally grown seasonal produce, including everything from tomatoes, corn, peppers, eggplant, zucchini, squash, and collard greens to sunflowers. Available in the fall will be pumpkins, which can be used to bake pies or make jack-o’-lanterns.

Fresh beginnings

Once serving as the Garden for the Community, which would donate produce solely to the Food Bank of Delaware, UD Fresh to You started doing retail business in 2013 and expanded by about an acre into a conventional field to bring the total acreage of the garden to just under four acres.

“We became a retail center for produce and we were meeting somewhat of a food desert for fresh produce in this area,” said Mike Popovich, research associate in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources who oversees the garden.

Popovich said that the garden is self-supporting and for the most part, “every penny that we generate goes back into supplies and paying wages for the students. This is an experiential learning process for them.”

With regard to the biggest seller at the garden, Popovich said that like other farms in the Mid-Atlantic, there is an emphasis on tomatoes and sweet corn.

You live and die by the tomato in the Mid-Atlantic. If you’re of any size, you’ve got to be doing watermelon, sweet corn and tomatoes. Those are the three big crops,” he said. “Spring and fall, we’re looking at a lot of greens. We’ll sell a lot of green tomatoes this year. There’s a lot of pickling operations starting up in this area and they want to pickle green tomatoes, or make relishes and salsas.”

In the fall of 2013, a high tunnel was installed to extend the garden’s growing season into the spring and fall semesters. Production in the high tunnel began in the spring of 2014.

“The high tunnel allows us and the classes here on campus to utilize the structure so that they can actually be outside and growing things,” said Popovich, who added that they incorporate raised bed production in the high tunnel, which allows them to get more production and adds some aesthetics to the structure.

Student interns

There are currently five student interns who work at the garden, with Popovich saying that as the garden expands, they will probably go up to six or eight interns total.

“We need roughly two or three interns per acre in organic production, especially with the mixed crops that we do,” Popovich said. “Melissa Hammel [a junior in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment] and Nicolas Adams [a sophomore in CANR] are also earning credits through the plant and soil sciences department for this internship. We pay pretty well. The work is hard, the days are long and it’s very hot.”

Maddie Hannah, a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences who is working this summer as a full-time farm intern and helps plant, manage and harvest the produce, said that the interns usually start at seven or eight o’clock in the morning.

“We’ll rotate the crops so we’ll always have different things going in and different things going out. Tuesday and Wednesday are restaurant orders so that’s when we harvest everything and deliver it to the restaurants,” said Hannah.

Hannah said that the big draw of UD Fresh to You for her is the fact that the produce is local and organic.

“The biggest thing is locally grown. People don’t realize when you’re buying produce from Guatemala and Mexico how big of an environmental impact that has with transportation and just how it is grown. The fact that most of this is produced organically and then it’s local, your transportation costs are cut out and we don’t package anything, either,” said Hannah.

As for the most beneficial aspect of the internship, Hannah said that it is learning how the crops are grown.

“I didn’t know how okra grew. I didn’t know how hard it was to harvest a cabbage. Learning that and appreciating it. We go to the store and buy our food and that’s it, so for me, this summer, I’m learning a lot of how much work goes into it,” said Hannah.

Restaurants and the Food Bank

In addition to being able to buy the produce at UD Fresh to You, the produce is also sold to restaurants such as the House of William and Merry, which Popovich said has been with them since the beginning, the student run Vita Nova restaurant on campus, Grain on Main, Platinum Dining Group — which features restaurants such as Taverna and Red Fire Grill steakhouse — Goat Kitchen and Bar, Ulysses gastropub and Newark Natural Foods.

Popovich is also proud of the fact that after retail, the garden still has a lot of produce to donate to the Food Bank of Delaware.

“I use Friday to give extra to the Food Bank of Delaware, and we should be in that 20,000-pound donation range this year. We should shatter our 2012 record which was 16,700. I think I’m already over 10,000 for the year so I’d like to get to that 10-ton mark for the Food Bank this year,” said Popovich.

UD Fresh to You is open 11 a.m.-4 p.m. every Thursday with a rain date every Friday. The produce is also available in the lobby of the UDairy Creamery.

To learn more about UD Fresh to You, connect on Facebook.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo by Christy Mannering

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

UD alumna runs community supported agriculture farm in New Jersey

UD alumna Kristin Ward Hock is the manager at Caramore Farm in New Jersey. Photo by Matthew Hock
UD alumna Kristin Ward Hock is the manager at Caramore Farm in New Jersey. Photo by Matthew Hock

University of Delaware alumna Kristin Ward Hock always knew that she wanted to be a farmer but there was just one problem – she knew nothing about farming and didn’t know anyone to ask.

When she used Google to search for “farming in New Jersey,” however, the results led her down the path to where she is today, working as the farm manager for Caramore Farm, a community supported agriculture (CSA) farm that she helped create earlier this year at Collier Youth Services in Wickatunk, New Jersey. The project allows her to combine her love of farming with her love of education.

While Hock knew that she wanted to be a farmer, the decision to walk away from a full-time position as an environmental educator with the Monmouth County (New Jersey) Park System that provided a good salary and benefits was not an easy one.

“I was 30 at that point so I thought I needed to grow up and stick with my real job but I really wanted to be a farmer, and so instead of quitting my job, I did a work share at a local farm,” said Hock.

After a year, the lure of farming took hold and Hock, who majored in animal science and wildlife conservation in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and went on to receive her master’s degree in environmental education from the Audubon Expedition Institute, decided to pursue farming full time.

“I went from a salary, health benefits, vacation and sick time to making $1,000 a month with no benefits, no sick time, no vacation time, and no holidays. I was working longer hours, more days, so it was definitely a commitment and I loved it,” said Hock.

Having support from her family was key in Hock making the transition to farming, and after years of traveling across the United States — working jobs such as a bald eagle nest watcher in Arizona and an environmental enrichment and education coordinator in Montana — she said that she was glad to be back in New Jersey with a close support system around.

“I moved home to New Jersey in 2010 and I thought I was just coming back to visit for the summer to spend time with my family and then figure out what I wanted to do from there, but an old friend and I got together and hung out and then we got married. I never thought I’d move back to New Jersey but I’ve been back for six years now and I’m definitely happy to be back and close to friends and family,” said Hock.

Farm origins

Hock apprenticed at Fernbrook Farm, a large enterprise with about 20-25 acres of vegetables, for a year. She wanted to get more experience working on a smaller and newer farm so in 2015 she cut her hours at Fernbrook and took a position at the smaller Appelget Farm CSA in Princeton Junction, New Jersey.

“I got the experience and even a visual of what a small farm looks like. It was hard to have a visual of what three and a half acres looked like going from the 20-25 acres that we were growing at Fernbrook,” said Hock, who added that she continued working at the larger farm because of the farm manager, Jeff Tober, who she called her farm mentor.

“If I have any questions or concerns, I call him. He’s a lifelong friend, just a really great person,” said Hock.

Having gained that smaller farm experience, Hock got the job at Caramore Farm in January and said that it has been an interesting transition going from a farm apprentice to creating and managing a farm.

The farm is starting out as a little over an acre and a half and Hock said that they will grow potatoes, sweet potatoes, winter and summer squash, zucchini, cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce, kale and collards, among other crops.

Hock has a farm assistant who works 40 hours a week and two work-shares who work in exchange for food from the farm, which is how Hock began her farming career.

Her husband also volunteers at the farm and set up the farm’s irrigation system.

“I’m very grateful that I married someone who is smart and handy because as a farmer, you’re supposed to be all these different skills like a mechanic, a plumber, and I’m still learning those things,” said Hock.

With regard to the education component, Hock will meet with Collier staff this winter to discuss how to incorporate farming into the curriculum, as Hock said that almost any subject can be taught on the farm.

“Math students can do statistical analysis on the farm crops successes and failures, the English class can get inspired to write poems by walking through the farm fields, the photography class can capture the beauty of working the land, science class can do soil tests. The possibilities are endless. Plus, the students would be able to snack on vegetables straight from the vine and hopefully develop a passion for locally grown food,” said Hock.

This summer, however, she will be able to have students out at the farm in the extended school year program helping out for two hours every morning doing tasks such as hand weeding, transplanting, and making flower bouquets.

She said she is looking forward to interacting with students again, as teaching is something she feels has been missing from her life lately.

“When my husband and I go hiking and we see a family with children, my inner educator comes out and I have to stop them and point out the goldfinch in the tree and share information with them such as it being New Jersey’s state bird and that they like to eat thistle seed; so he is relieved that I will have students again to teach and maybe we can actually just go for a walk in the woods without distraction,” she said. “So I’m definitely excited to be able to work with students again. I have such a love for nature and the environment and farming, and I want to tell as many people as I can. And who better than kids who will hopefully incorporate that and bring it into their future lives?”

Article by Adam Thomas

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

UD Wildlife Society members get hands-on experience at Northeast Student Conclave

wildlife75Members of the Wildlife Society Club at the University of Delaware traveled to Camp Blue Diamond in Petersburg, Pennsylvania, last month to take part in the Wildlife Society’s Northeast Student Conclave hosted by Juniata College.

The conclave provided UD participants opportunities for hands-on experiences and networking with fellow wildlife students and professionals, and they said they learned valuable skills that will help as they embark on their future career paths.

Those who participated in the event from UD include Catherine Clark, a senior majoring in wildlife conservation and ecology and treasurer of the Wildlife Society at UD; Melissa Moody, a senior majoring in wildlife conservation and ecology; Emily Slingerland, a senior in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR); Aaron Crasnick, a junior majoring in wildlife conservation and ecology; and Lauren Meckler, sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Activities included mammalogy skills and a rocket netting workshops, in which the students learned how to catch a group of birds in order to determine things like sex and age distribution in a population. There was also a trapping techniques course, in which students learned to put ear tags on white footed deer mice, and a mist netting workshop, in which the students caught birds and put bands around their ankles.

There was also a workshop in which a radio tag was applied to a turtle and it was released, with the students having to find it using radio telemetry.

Clark said that the trip was “very hands-on. It gets you exposed to things that you might not be exposed to in the classroom. We got to use handheld GPS devices that you don’t usually get to use in classroom settings and learned a lot of field lab techniques.”

In addition to the hands on-learning, Clark said the conclave also offered great networking opportunities.

“Wildlife conservation is a growing field so I still feel like it’s still pretty small and if they know your face or your name, it gives you those connections in different parts of the United States and not just Delaware,” said Clark.

Since she had gone to the event last year, Clark said that it was great to be able to see familiar faces at the event.

“A lot of people were very recognizable. We hung out with the same people pretty much. It was really easy to get to know other people in your age group in your same field,” Clark said.

As for the learning opportunities afforded to students studying in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at UD, Clark said that Jake Bowman, department chair, provides students great experiences in research techniques and that her ornithology class has been particular beneficial.

“In ornithology, we did a lot of mist netting and catching birds, putting tags on them and learning how to use trackers on birds — things like that, which I feel like you don’t get in just a normal ornithology classroom setting,” said Clark.

The Wildlife Society Club at UD also holds a retreat to allow some of the newer students an opportunity to experience that hands-on learning.

“As a club, we hold a retreat where we ask graduate students and professors to give us little demonstrations on how to do things for younger undergraduates to see, or even if people are thinking about transferring into this program, to give them the opportunity to see what we’re actually about as a wildlife conservation major,” said Clark.

Article by Adam Thomas

College of Agriculture and Natural Resources announces Ag Day date

Ag Day, an annual tradition of the University of Delaware's College of Agriculture and Natural Resources featuring informational displays and exhibitions, will be held on Saturday, April 30.
Ag Day, an annual tradition of the University of Delaware’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources featuring informational displays and exhibitions, will be held on Saturday, April 30.

Ag Day, an annual tradition of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) at the University of Delaware, will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday, April 30.

The theme of Ag Day 2016 is “SustainAGbility: Doing What Nature Would Do.”

Members of the campus community and the surrounding community are encouraged to join the college for a day filled with music, exhibitors, great food and fun on UD’s South Campus.

Celebrating all that the college has to offer, visitors can experience everything from bird shows to bee demonstrations, livestock exhibits, 4-H arts and crafts, farm tours, plant sales, and much more.

At this year’s Ag Day, the UDairy Creamery will also be celebrating its fifth birthday.

The event will be held at CANR’s Townsend Hall, located at 531 South College Avenue in Newark. Both admission and parking are free and the event is open to the public.

The Food Bank of Delaware will also be on hand accepting donations of non-perishable food items.

Ag Day is family friendly, however, for the safety of the live animal demonstrations, organizers ask that all pets be left at home.

Registration for exhibitors and vendors is now open and runs until March 21. Registration is available on the Ag Day website.

The website also features additional information, announcements, and schedules, and will be updated as the event approaches.

UD researchers examine combinations of lamps, dimmer switches for poultry houses

Udaily story focused on their studying lighting technologies for poultry houses Newton Building College of Agricuture and Natural Ressources Univeristy of Delaware.

When it comes to broiler chicken houses, one of the most important parts of the operation is the lighting in the house, which can prove to be a sizeable investment.

A problem growers run into when trying to decide which lamps to purchase is knowing what lamps (commonly referred to as bulbs) and dimmers (equipment that controls lamp light output and switches lamps on and off) work best together for their particular operation.

Now, thanks to a study from researchers at the University of Delaware’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR), growers can determine the best sets of lights for their houses along with the best dimmers to pair with those particular lights by using an online selection tool.

The research team that developed the selection tool includes Sarah Morrissey, an Honors Program senior majoring in pre-veterinary medicine and animal biosciences; Eric Benson, a professor in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences (ANFS); Bob Alphin, instructor in ANFS and manager of the University’s Charles C. Allen Jr. Biotechnology Laboratory; Dan Hougentogler, a research associate in the department; and Bill Brown, a Cooperative Extension agent.

Lamps and switches

Beginning a few years ago when looking at the durability of alternative lights in poultry houses, Benson said they found that many lights that were supposed to last for thousands of hours were failing well before their advertised time of use.

Coupled with an evolving market that has introduced new lamps at a fast clip – which leads to growers wanting to adopt new technologies but unsure of how to go about doing that – the team members decided they wanted to get some baseline data to help growers determine how to best make their lighting selections.

Complicating the issue was the fact that the lamps run with a dimmer switch and are not simply run at full intensity all of the time.

“In poultry lighting, we don’t just put them in and turn the lights on. There’s a dimmer or two in the house, and it turns out that there’s a pretty significant interaction between the dimmer and the lamp and how it controls the lamp. Some lamps work really well with a given dimmer, some don’t,” said Benson.

Morrissey said there can be 80 to 100 lamps per house, and with the Delmarva region averaging two and a half poultry houses per farm, with some farms having up to 10 houses, the investment is significant, as lamps can cost up to $40 each.

Udaily story focused on their studying lighting technologies for poultry houses Newton Building College of Agricuture and Natural Ressources Univeristy of Delaware.

Morrissey began working on the project during Winter Session 2015 and looked at lights from 17 particular lamps — 15 LED lamps, one incandescent lamp and one cold cathode fluorescent lamp. She also looked at eight dimmers with 21 different dimmer profiles that made them more or less compatible with different technologies, and used a spectrometer to measure five aspects of the lights per test.

Those five tests included measuring voltage; the milliamps, which is the current; the Kelvin temperature; the luminous flux, which is the light intensity; and the re-fire.

Benson said they looked at the re-fire because in a poultry house with 100 lamps, “the re-fire determines the lowest point that the dimmer and the lamp will work together and in a lot of cases, when they’re out in a big house, they don’t all go on at the same point. Instead of all 100 lamps going on at the same point, two might go on at one point and six at another, which makes it difficult for growers to program their lights.”

Sometimes, the lights don’t start and stop at the same point.

“If the lamps go all the way down to 10 percent, some of those same exact combinations that can go down to 10 percent during the dimming won’t come back on to produce light until 25 percent just because of the interactions between the dimmer and the lamp,” said Morrissey.

The group ended up performing over 3,000 tests and they did not find an ideal lamp that worked best with all the dimmer profiles, and no dimmer profile that worked best with all the lamps. That was one of the reasons the group decided to create the online selection tool.

Selection tool

The selection tool is a website that anyone, including poultry growers, can access and find the results of the research. Greg Keane, a database administrator for CANR, and Christy Mannering, a web developer for CANR, helped with the development of the website.

“People can see the results for the different combinations tested to see which lamp works well with which dimmer and vice versa,” said Morrissey.

Benson added that growers can also ask, “‘I have a dimmer, I have a lamp, what’s the best profile?’ There’s some different ways that they can use this to try to optimize what they’re doing.”

While the group didn’t find a “one-size-fits-all” solution to the problem, they did find some combinations that didn’t work well together, which can be just as useful to the growers.

“Initial investments-wise, if you have all these lamps, it may make more sense to consider buying a different dimmer that’s more compatible with those lamps because a dimmer could be $200-$300 depending on the technology but the lamp investment, say you’re getting $40 lamps and 100 total, that adds up,” said Morrissey.

Morrissey was able to present the research as part of Delaware Ag Week, which she said was a great experience.

As for if she ever envisioned herself studying poultry lighting and using that research as part of her senior honors thesis when she entered CANR as a freshman, Morrissey said definitely not.

“I knew I wanted to get involved in research but I hadn’t quite narrowed it down. I was keeping myself open to different options and then they needed some help and I made my way into this and became more and more interested in it. I wouldn’t stop talking about my light bulbs over the summer,” said Morrissey

Extension outreach

The group also had the help from Cooperative Extension as Brown helped the group realize how important it is for poultry growers to have the correct lighting in their houses and how it has been an ongoing issue for the industry.

“Besides Sarah doing an excellent job with this, I think this type of project is ideal because we’re involving an undergraduate in research and there’s an applied side where it’s dealing with a real world problem that she’s helped in answering, and we’re fulfilling our land grant outreach,” said Alphin.

Alphin said that they support the poultry industry through research conducted in the department and work closely with Extension agents like Brown to get that information to growers.

“We’re trying to help the broiler industry and with this project, we’re seeing a problem, we’re seeing research that is coming up with some answers and helping with a possible solution for the problem and we’re involving undergraduate students in the process. I just think that kind of says it all.”

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos by Wenbo Fan

Keep up with our winter study abroad session

Be sure to keep up with the University of Delaware students studying abroad this winter in New Zealand by checking out the new study abroad blog!

Hear first hand from the students currently in New Zealand who are studying issues facing agriculture in the country, which is full of beautiful scenery, friendly people and innovative farmers. New Zealand is one of the most agriculturally diverse and efficient countries in the world and during their time in New Zealand, students will enjoy the natural beauty of the Canterbury Plains, beaches, Southern Alps, glaciers, hot springs, mountain lakes and temperate rain forest.

Based at Lincoln University on the South Island of New Zealand, just outside of the city of Christchurch on the Canterbury Plains, students meet farmers, entrepreneurs and agricultural professionals. They also learn about the history and settlement of New Zealand through excursions to historic stations, farms, the Canterbury Museum and the Arts Centre.

For more information, visit www.udnz14.blogspot.com

University Botanic Gardens’ fall plant sale announced

udbgsaleAn assortment of plants with color, texture and form to add to a garden’s allure will be available for purchase at the University of Delaware Botanic Gardens’ fall plant sale this weekend.

The sale will be held from 4-7 p.m., Friday, Sept. 18, and from 9 a.m.-3 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 19, in the production area across from Fischer Greenhouse on UD’s South Campus. Admission is free.

Those who become UDBG Friends are eligible to come to the sale for Member’s Day, Thursday, Sept. 17, from 4-7 pm. Those with interest can join online or at the sale.

The UD Botanic Gardens are open year round to provide ideas and inspiration, or for a quiet stroll. The gardens contribute to an understanding of the relationships between plants and people through education, research, cooperative extension, and community support.

 

Originally posted on UDaily

Tallamy, Darke to present in-depth discussion of book ‘The Living Landscape’

Doug Tallamy (Professor of Entomology & Wildlife Ecology and PI) is working with Emily Baisden (graduate student in entomology) to compare the ability of insects to use the cultivars vs straight species of plants
Doug Tallamy (Professor of Entomology & Wildlife Ecology and PI) is working with Emily Baisden (graduate student in entomology) to compare the ability of insects to use the cultivars vs straight species of plants

The University of Delaware Botanic Gardens (UDBG) will host Doug Tallamy and Rick Darke for an in-depth discussion of their new book The Living Landscape: Designing for Beauty and Biodiversity in the Home Garden on Monday, Sept. 28, from 6:30-9 p.m. in the Townsend Hall Commons on UD’s South Campus.

Tallamy is a professor in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and Darke is a UD alumnus, author, photographer and landscape ethicist.

The cost is $20 for UDBG Friends and $25 for non-members. Space is limited and pre-payment is required to guarantee entry. Send payment to UDBG, 152 Townsend Hall, University of Delaware, Newark, DE 19716, or call 302-831-2531.

Tallamy has authored 80 research articles and has taught for 33 years. Chief among his research goals is to better understand the many ways insects interact with plants and how such interactions determine the diversity of animal communities.

His book Bringing Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens was published by Timber Press in 2007 and was awarded the 2008 Silver Medal by the Garden Writers’ Association.

At the Sept. 28 event, he will speak on the topic “Creating Living Landscapes.” An important component of a living landscapes is a diverse and abundant community of pollinators and while much has been written about native bees, the thousands of species of moth and butterfly pollinators have been ignored.

Tallamy will discuss the important ecological roles of these species and discuss the plants required to support their populations in landscapes.

Darke’s work is grounded in an observational ethic that blends art, ecology and cultural geography in the design of living landscapes. His many books include The American Woodland Garden: Capturing the Spirit of the Deciduous Forest.

During the presentation, Darke will discuss the essential layers of living landscapes. The richness of life in any landscape is linked to the diversity in its layers, and this is true for both people and wildlife.

Darke will look at layers from ground cover to canopy and will describe and illustrate how to conserve, create and manage them in home landscapes that are beautiful, maintainable, and joyfully alive.

An audience question and answer session will follow the presentation, and copies of the book will be available for sale and signing by the co-authors.

Photo by Lindsay Yeager

UD researcher finds potential cause of hollow heart disorder in watermelons

An examble of hollow heart disorder in watermelons.
An examble of hollow heart disorder in watermelons.

Hollow heart disorder in watermelons affects growers throughout the United States and threatens the marketability of the fruit, which can lead to monetary losses.

Trying to find a cause and possible solution for the disorder, the University of Delaware’s Gordon Johnson performed a 2014 progressive pollinizer spacing study that showed that increasing the distance from a pollen source increased the incidence of hollow heart and reduced flesh density.

Johnson, a Cooperative Extension fruit and vegetables specialist and an assistant professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences (PLSC), was assisted in the research by Donald Seifrit, a graduate student in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

A problem with hollow heart disorder is that it is difficult to predict when it will occur, which is frustrating for growers. “It’s not like a disease where you have a fungus or a bacteria or a nematode in the area,” Johnson explained. “It is something that occurs when it occurs, and doesn’t occur when it doesn’t occur.”

Because growers are unable to treat hollow heart through a pesticide or fertilizer application, they lack a defense to protect their crop.

Pollination study

Graduate student Donald Seifrit and Gordon Johnson.
Graduate student Donald Seifrit and Gordon Johnson.

Looking for a solution, Johnson turned to discussions by watermelon researchers that the disorder could be linked to pollination.

In 2010, he conducted a study in which he created situations to limit the pollen available to watermelons to quantify if that would have an effect.

“Basically, I designed a study where watermelons would be a longer or shorter distance from a pollen source,” said Johnson.

Johnson conducted the study on seedless watermelons – although hollow heart also occurs in seeded watermelons – because the bulk of the watermelon industry grows seedless varieties.

The production of seedless watermelons is a bit of a complicated system because the watermelon produces a seedless fruit but requires a pollinizer plant, which is the seeded type. Generally growers plant in a one-to-three ratio, with one seeded watermelon that produces viable pollen for every three seedless watermelons that do not produce viable pollen.

“You have to get the pollen transferred from the pollinizer to the seedless watermelon for fruit set,” Johnson said. “I set up some experiments to put seeded types at varying distances from the seedless, and I found that when you got further from a pollen source (wider ratio of pollinizer to seedless), you got more hollow heart.”

After the initial study, Johnson started repeating the experiments, continuing to put the pollen sources at varying distances or ratios. “Each time I would find that when I got further away (wider ratio), I would have a higher incidence of hollow heart,” he said.

Johnson also found that the flesh density of a watermelon variety plays a role in how it is affected by hollow heart. “When we looked at the more dense varieties versus the less dense varieties, the less dense varieties had more hollow heart, particularly when you moved away from a pollen source,” said Johnson.

To learn more about how density plays a role in watermelons affected by hollow heart, Johnson is looking at the initial number of cells that are being produced in the plant.

A slice of watermelon that has hollow heart disorder.
A slice of watermelon that has hollow heart disorder.

Johnson said that timing and weather conditions also have an impact on watermelons affected by hollow heart.

“It occurs in poor weather conditions, and oftentimes in the early watermelons,” he said. “That’s because we’re more likely to have cold nights or stormy conditions, particularly cold nights, where those early flowers are the most affected.”

Although it is rare to find hollow heart later in the year because growers generally have enough pollen being produced, Johnson said that if growers lose some pollinizers, or if the pollen producing watermelons don’t get planted, problems could still occur.

Industry buy-in

The relationship between hollow heart disorder and the amount of pollen that’s available has been accepted by the industry and Johnson is now able to make recommendations to growers about what factors might favor the disorder.

He points to three factors that could impact the frequency of hollow heart.

• The first is that the grower may not be getting enough pollen produced in the male flowers on the pollinizer plants.

• The second is the transfer of the pollen, which has to be moved from the ,  plants to the seedless plants by bees, may not be occurring at a high enough level.

• The third concerns whether the pollen being produced is actually viable.

“When I talk to growers, I address each one of those areas – the pollen production, the pollen viability and the pollen transfer – and tell them what they can do as far as management in each of those areas,” said Johnson, who has spoken in Florida, Georgia, Indiana, and Delmarva, the nation’s major Eastern watermelon growing regions.

“I’ve spoken at conferences and to growers and I even had a colleague who was able to repeat some of what I was doing last year. That’s always the telltale sign, when someone is repeating the study and getting similar results,” he said.

The presentations have reached more than 400 watermelon growers representing over 20,000 acres, and the recommendations have been well-received with over 91 percent of growers surveyed in seven states indicating that they would change one or more growing practices due to the research and recommendations presented.

Johnson said that one of the most interesting aspects of the study is that this isn’t his main research focus but more of a side project.

“It just goes to show that in all of the things that you do, you have got to be very observant and cannot be afraid to do side projects because oftentimes those projects are the things that become very important,” said Johnson. “I’ve talked to colleagues in the college and they always have a lot of different things going on, even if they’re not funded by grants. They’re trying different things because you never know where discovery is going to come from.”

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos courtesy of Gordon Johnson and by Jackie Arpie

Tim Calotta/THE REVIEW

More on his plate: student starts and runs “Joost Wafel Co.”

Smells can soothe us and evoke memories. In Joost Elling’s case, a smell inspired him to start a business.

Freshman Elling was on a trip to the Netherlands to visit relatives and found himself drawn to the smell of stroopwafels in an open-air market. For the uninformed, a stroopwafel is a cookie made of two thin waffle-cookies joined together by caramel.

When Elling returned from the Netherlands, he decided to begin making stroopwafels of his own, as he could not find them for sale in the United States. Elling says he ordered a special stroopwafel iron from Europe and started working on a stroopwafel recipe at home, altering the recipe to suit the American palate.

BY
SENIOR REPORTER

Read full article on The Review >>

UD alum dives into world of sea animal stranding, health, rehabilitation

UD alumna Wendy Marks, shown during her time working at Dolphin Quest Hawaii.
UD alumna Wendy Marks, shown during her time working at Dolphin Quest Hawaii.

When a dolphin calf became entangled in monofilament fishing line recently in the Indian River Lagoon near the east coast of Florida, University of Delaware alumna Wendy Marks was on hand to help with the rescue efforts.

Marks, who works for Florida Atlantic University at Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute as part of the Stranding, Health and Rehabilitation Project team, said that with the help of multiple agencies and institutions, the group was able to track and locate the dolphin — which turned out to be a calf traveling with its mother — and eventually get the fishing line off its rostrum, or beak.

Working with dolphins has been a part of Marks’ life ever since she graduated from UD in 2002 with a bachelor’s degree in animal science from the College of Agriculture of Natural Resources (CANR) and decided that she wanted to pursue a career in large marine animal rehabilitation and conservation.

“I’ve always been kind of drawn to big animals. I grew up riding and then I rode on the UD equestrian team through college and I definitely saw my career going in a direction that works specifically with animals — preferably hands-on and probably with some type of big animal,” said Marks, who minored in biological sciences.

Dolphin Quest

Her career path started with an unpaid internship with Dolphin Quest Hawaii on the Big Island of Hawaii, where she spent three months learning the basics of dolphin training. This led to a position as a dolphin trainer at the Dolphin Quest site in Bermuda before eventually moving back to Dolphin Quest Hawaii.

Through these positions, Marks trained dolphins and led “swim with the dolphins” programs, where she took people into the water to meet the animals and learn more about them. She was also able to instill in the visitors a basic conservation message about recycling and making sure that trash gets placed in the proper receptacles so it does not end up in the ocean.

“It was a great way to give the general public a connection between the marine environment and a charismatic marine animal. This connection created meaning and allowed us to the get across important conservation messages about pollution. We discussed how no matter where on the earth you are located, you are effecting the environment and the critters that call it home,” said Marks. “It was quite an opportunity to not only train dolphins, but to also get a strong background in cetacean (dolphin and whale) husbandry and health care.”

Miami Seaquarium

Marks said she had an interest in learning more about marine life and getting involved in wild populations and decided to take a senior keeper position at the Miami Seaquarium in Florida.

Through this role, she helped supervise the manatee and sea turtle rehabilitation programs and oversaw a variety of animals including tropical birds, crocodiles, alligators and deer. The facility also had a resident sea turtle and manatee population that stayed on site because the animals were deemed non-releasable and would not have survived in the wild.

“This position incorporated some of my training skills with the birds and the resident animals that lived in the aquarium, and then also gave me experience doing manatee and sea turtle rehabilitation and stranding response. That was a cool combination for me,” said Marks.

Back to Hawaii

After a year at the aquarium, Marks decided to move back to Hawaii and got a job working in a small animal veterinary hospital for a short period of time before moving to Honolulu and working for the National Marine Fisheries Service, which is part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), at the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center (PIFSC).

Marks said it was a great career move because she was working in the sea turtle stranding response program that also incorporated a great deal of research.

“I was there for three years and I was mostly in charge of doing sea turtle stranding response. If a sea turtle came up on shore sick, injured, or dead, we were the ones that were called and we would go and pick up the animal,” said Marks.

Marks said that the center in Honolulu also had jurisdiction over the other islands where their stranding partners were located, and that she worked with those partners to coordinate the arrival of live or dead sea turtles to their center in order to do rehabilitation or to determine cause of death.

“NOAA PIFSC brought in live animals for rehabilitation when necessary, but also did about 120 necropsies per year on four different sea turtles species to figure out cause of death,” said Marks.

According to Marks, determining cause of death is a vital conservation component.

“Studying the dead animals and doing necropsies is very rewarding to me because you can learn more about why those animals died and better help the population that’s still alive out in the wild,” said Marks.

Marks is involved with this aspect of conservation work once again at her current position at Florida Atlantic University, adding that her current job is quite diverse.

“I do a little bit of everything. I’m a first responder for cetacean stranding calls, veterinary technician, laboratory technician and researcher,” said Marks. “I also assist with all of the necropsies. It’s very interesting to me to see some of the trends in strandings and to specifically look for reasons as to why they would strand and what is causing damage or changes to the different cetacean populations. It’s like a mystery that we keep collecting clues to.”

Time at UD

Concerning her academic career at UD, Marks said she enjoyed studying at CANR and getting hands-on experience with the animals out on the farm, which allowed her to work directly with animals and not simply learn about them in the classroom.

As for advice for any current students looking to get into her line of work, or any type of conservation work with animals, Marks said to “take your opportunities as they come, whether it’s an unpaid internship or an opportunity to volunteer. All of those experiences can really help you make connections and teach you a variety of different skills within the field that can only help you further on in your career.”

Article by Adam Thomas

Originally published on UDaiy

Agriculture and natural resources included in list of top 5 paying degrees for 2015

More and more people are earning college degrees. As of 2011, close to one out of every three people over 25 held a bachelor’s degree, according to a U.S. Census Bureau release. “As recently as 1998, fewer than one-quarter of people this age had this level of education.”

Because more of us are college-educated, this makes it so that “just any” degree will not necessarily suffice for some people anymore. People are starting to see that if they’re going to invest all of that hard-earned money, not to mention time and energy, into obtaining a degree, it should be into one that will likely lead to ample job opportunities and higher earnings power.

Click through to the full article on USA Today >>

Cedar Swamp Wildlife Area: Setting Fire to the Old, Bringing in the New

cedar-swamp-2
Photo by: Kerry Snyder

The air is filled with the sound of sharp popping and the familiar smell of campfires. Nervous laughter skips through the fall air. The scene, however, is not one of a campsite. A group of University of Delaware students is standing at the edge of a field that has just been deliberately set aflame. Workers from Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) started the fire. This fire is no accident, however, nor is it a case of government employees turned arsonists. It is a prescribed burn, intended to rid the fields of Cedar Swamp of monoculture grasslands. The hopeful result is that the fire will provide the opportunity for early successional plants will diversify the landscape.

Eric Ludwig, a University of Delaware alum and our guide for the day, informs us that the main species in the fields they target is indiangrass (Sorghastrum nutans). “Indiangrass is structurally very good, but is of very little food value”, Ludwig says. Much of DNREC’s job is to manage the landscape for wildlife populations. In order for quail to thrive, he explains, they require 50% bare ground. When the fields of indiangrass are left unmanaged, they become thick and nearly impenetrable. Our guides explain that, often, prescribed burns are not a sufficient solution. The team has resorted to plowing the fields in some instances, and even lyming the soils. In some circumstances, they even plant a mixture of native plants. “Expense plays a major role in what we’re planting. Right now, we’re planting a native mix: a lot of black-eyed susans, brown-eyed susans, milkweed.” Their goal is to eliminate cool-season grasses. Warm-season grasses, they tell us, do not grow in such a thick mat. They allow for more wildlife habitat.

cedar-swampThe burning of the fields does not kill the plants; it simply burns off the tops. Surprisingly, it does not even necessarily kill the animals dwelling in the field. As we stood along the edge of the field at the beginning of the burn, a cottontail burst out of the crackling plants and darted toward us. Seeing the wall of students, the rabbit scurried in a zigzagged pattern and finally paused at the edge of the buffer zone, safe from the flames. The buffer zone is an area just beyond the field that prevents the flames from traveling. More and more cottontails begin to flee the fire. Our guides explain that in many cases, the animals can just hunker down where they are and the fire will pass right over them. It is a quick-burning fire, not quite intense enough to kill anything. They explain that they have found box turtles in the fields that have withdrawn into their shells during the fire, and emerge as soon as the team picks them up. Deer, they tell us, actually run toward the flames. They instinctively know that when a fire is spreading, it is likely safer on the other side.

The fire gradually drew closer to where we were standing. The team made a large circle around the field, lighting the grass as they went. What began as a small sizzling fire a few feet from us soon grew to a large blazing fire on the far end of the field. It circled back around until it was a roaring orange wall in front of us, causing us to clutch our cheeks to protect them from the scorching heat. Though they towered above us, the flames did not cross the approximately 5-foot buffer zone of grass encircling the field. The flames curled back in toward the center of the field, and suddenly were gone. As soon as they reached the center with nothing left to burn, they self-extinguished, leaving us all in awe.

Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge

Thousands of snow geese take flight at Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge on 31 October 2014. Photo by Abby Walter
Thousands of snow geese take flight at Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge on 31 October 2014. Photo by Abby Walter

While there are several different ecosystem types present at Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge, tidal marsh is strongly in the majority.

“This is a 16 thousand acre refuge, and 12 thousand of those acres are tidal marsh,” explained regional biologist Susan Guiteras of the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Such a large expanse of saltmarsh is particularly rare on the eastern coast; it makes up the largest stretch of saltmarsh north of Virginia that has not faced significant alterations. The size and quality of this marsh makes it especially important for migratory birds, which use Bombay Hook as a midway stopover point along the Atlantic flyway. The saltmarsh requires minimal management on the part of the biologist staff, but does afford significant research opportunities, including with the University of Delaware.

A system of dikes allows biologists at Bombay Hook NWR to manage their freshwater impoundments also to cater to the migratory birds of each season. Primarily fed by rainwater and runoff, the impoundments are lowered during the spring to expose mudflats for migratory shorebirds (known as a slow spring drawdown). During the summer, vegetation germinates and grows thicker. By fall, the impoundments are allowed to refill until shallow water has accumulated for ducks and other waterfowl. This temporally flexible management strategy allows the ecosystems to be ideal for each round of migrants throughout the year. The dike system, however, is currently in need of replacement. Blockades have begun to rust away, preventing sufficient control of water movement. A recent collaboration with Ducks Unlimited will provide entirely new dikes for the refuge.

Bombay Hook NWR also contains a significant amount of upland fields. Until 2010, these fields were a mix of natural grasslands, managed by the Bombay Hook staff, and agricultural fields, managed by private farmers. Historically, this had been a mutually beneficial arrangement: farmers were given land to grow crops, and the traditional practices meant that the agricultural fields provided habitat for wildlife when not in season. However, farming practices have drastically changed in the past several decades, without reevaluation by the Bombay Hook management to make sure that practices were still ultimately beneficial to wildlife. With recent lawsuits by bird advocacy groups, Bombay Hook NWR halted all agricultural practices on the refuge in 2010. Because these many acres were reclaimed all at once, management was not able to keep up with such a huge change, and invasive species have come to dominate the upland fields. This predicament illustrates the importance of strategic and well thought-out management changes, whenever they are possible.

Bombay Hook NWR is a testament to the potential success of coastal wetland management at a time when this ecosystem type faces a myriad of threats, both natural and anthropogenic. Natural subsidence, periodic storms, and changing tides are constant drivers of wetland loss. Normally, a coastal wetland may be able to persist against such threats, but the addition of human-induced factors makes resilience more difficult. Sea level rise, accelerated by climate change, could mean loss of 20-60% of the world’s coastal wetlands in this century if these ecosystems are not able to migrate inland quickly. Pollution and nutrient runoff pose health risks for wetland wildlife, and can lead to toxic algal blooms. Human development of wetlands, such as dredging and filling, as well as alterations to the hydrology caused by dams and other structures, can lead to physical wetland loss or saltwater intrusion. With so many dangers facing coastal wetlands today, Bombay Hook NWR remains as an example of effective management of these ecosystems in peril.

New UD research center — ag policy meets economics

UD-CBEARA new research center opened up at the University of Delaware’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources Monday. At the Center for Experimental and Applied Economics, scientists and economists will conduct studies on how consumers value ecosystem services.

Funded by a $750,000 federal grant, the center will serve as USDA’s headquarters for a research consortium called C-BEAR, which stands for the Center for Behavioral and Experimental Agri-Environmental Policy Research.

They’re focused on using behavioral economics to better understand and execute agri-environmental policy. The new center’s director Kent Messer says that means asking consumers what the dollar value they’d place on ecosystem services provided by, for example, natural flood barriers, pristine beaches or locally harvested oysters. The data is then used to communicate directly with farmers to improve facilitation of agricultural programs.

By Eli Chen

– See more at: http://www.wdde.org/70196-ud-opens-research-center#sthash.KLVM3yW3.dpuf

Heritage Oak Farm

Larry Armstrong Jr. discusses conservation easements to the Wildlife Habitat Management class. Photo by Abby Walter
Larry Armstrong Jr. discusses conservation easements to the Wildlife Habitat Management class. Photo by Abby Walter

Heritage Oak Farm in Smyrna, DE is home to Larry Armstrong Jr., a third-generation farmer interested in continuing his family tradition while remaining conscious of the needs of the environment. Bought in 1946 by Armstrong Jr.’s grandfather, who had a double major from Drexel, the farm was used to raise sheep and served as pastureland for his family. Today, sustainable land-use practices to benefit the environment are funded through conservation programs through both the state and federal governments.

Armstrong Jr.’s grandfather set up the family farm to be supported by the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) in his quest to be more sustainable. Marianne Hardesty, District Conservationist in New Castle from the NRCS, discussed how these programs have been helping farmers for decades. Their organization conducts soil surveys, funds wetland management, and provides means for farmers to be eco-friendly even when money is tight.

The farm itself is composed of 410 acres and has tidal marsh habitat surrounding it. On the farm 120 acres are tilled, 120 acres are wooded areas, and the rest remains original saltmarsh. Due to their close proximity to the aquatic ecosystem, the Armstrongs have always been careful about their farming practices. They participate in no-till farming, use forest buffers to reduce effects of runoff, and use rotational grazing. Armstrong Jr. even mentioned that they plant cover crops like clover before corn is even harvested by dropping seed from an airplane. The corn harvest results in tractors pressing seed into the soil for it to establish. Green sprouts pop up between the corn stubble before leaves fall off the trees in November – making sure the soils stay in place and nutrients can be maintained for even longer.

On the farm, prescribed burning is also done to manage grasslands. The family is sure to flush out wildlife species before starting a burn to minimize impacts on small mammals and birds.

Reptiles benefit from Armstrong’s management as well. Our University of Delaware class visited two wetland areas being managed specifically for turtles and waterfowl. One wood duck box on a refuge pond has been home to dozens of ducklings over the past several years.

Armstrong also has wild turkeys on his farm, a fact he is both proud of and is conscious to maintain. “We only shoot the big drakes, because we want to make sure we keep a good population on the land.”

When asked if any quail had become established as immigrants from nearby Cedar Swamp State Wildlife Area, Armstrong Jr. said they hadn’t quite made the leap yet. Habitat management is a big component of keeping quail safe from predators, and although there have been a few visitors, the family is eager to work on quail management areas on the farm in hopes that they will start making more of a comeback.

One large issue for Heritage Oak Farm is combating the overabundance of white-tailed deer. Hunting is pursued every year on the Armstrong property, but neighboring farmers do not permit hunting on their land. The result is a large population of deer that find refuge during hunting season but browse heavily and damage understory plants during the off-season. This is not only detrimental to the farm, to wildlife species who need the understory shrub cover that is eaten, but also to the deer herd that suffers overwinter mortality each year.

The Armstrong family is still committed to sustainable agriculture today. A large part about being an environmentalist is just being conscious of nature. “The best thing is taking my nephews out hunting is being able to let them see everything as it wakes up,” said Larry Armstrong Jr. He is committed to continuing the traditions on the farm and making sure the next generations remain interested in conserving nature and the wildlife through educating kids and giving them plenty of time to enjoy the outdoors.

Article by: Abby Walter

Shriver selected 2014 Study Abroad Faculty Director of the Year

Greg Shriver of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources has been named UD's Study Abroad Faculty Director of the Year.
Greg Shriver of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources has been named UD’s Study Abroad Faculty Director of the Year.

The University of Delaware’s Institute for Global Studies (IGS) has honored Greg Shriver as the Study Abroad Faculty Director of the Year for, among other positive attributes, his ability to lead in a challenging environment.

The story began in the frigid Delaware winter of 2014 as students accepted to the Costa Rica environment and wildlife conservation program were eager to escape the wind and snow and immerse themselves in a warm, sunny new biome.

The group boarded their plane at the Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey with Shriver, assistant chair and professor of entomology and wildlife ecology in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Disembarking hours later, they discovered that only four of their 13 suitcases had made it to Costa Rica.

Although this setback could have ruined both the group’s morale and the 11-mile hike planned for the following day, Shriver maintained his poise and kept the group on task.

“It was clear that we were not likely going to see our bags for at least a day or two so we took inventory of what we had and decided to stay on schedule,” said Shriver. “This experience really seemed to pull the group together as the hike and experience at Nancite is an exciting accomplishment, even when you have your own clothes.”

Students who participated in Shriver’s study abroad program were exposed to the biological diversity of the neotropics and identified over 300 different species of birds. This experience helped one student secure a job. Another wrote, “He challenged us to find new ways to solve old problems and adapt what we learned in Costa Rica to solve problems at home.”

Of the 22 nominated program directors, Shriver was unanimously chosen by a faculty panel and study abroad coordinators to be the 2014 Study Abroad Faculty Director of the Year.

“The choice was obvious not only due to the number and quality of student nominations, but also because of Dr. Shriver’s expert handling of a very challenging lost luggage situation upon his group’s arrival in Costa Rica,” said Lisa Chieffo, associate director of study abroad.

Shriver was praised by the students for his leadership, and his ability to synthesize learning with their overall experience in Costa Rica. Many wrote that he became a mentor and “inspirer of confidence, problem solving, adaptability, and many other traits.”

He was also described by students as a great “global ambassador for UD and America,” and helped the group learn the importance of respecting and understanding other cultures.

“I truly believe that Costa Rica changed my life and was the highlight of my entire career at UD. I also know that none of it would have been possible without the constant help, support, and leadership of Greg Shriver. He made the trip fun, educational, and most importantly he helped to expand our worldviews to better understand other cultures,” one student concluded.

Prior to 2014, Shriver led study abroad programs to Ecuador and Galapagos in 2007, and to Costa Rica in 2013. He said his favorite part of directing a study abroad program is that traveling to a location where the students have never been before is infectious and makes him feel like he is experiencing and visiting the area for the first time, too.

“I hope they gain confidence in their abilities, exposure to the wonders and importance of biodiversity, and the issues associated with maintaining it,” said Shriver.

About the Institute for Global Studies

The Institute for Global Studies was created in 2009 to enhance the international dimensions of teaching, research and outreach at the University of Delaware. IGS provides leadership and support for programs and experiences that contribute to the education of informed, skilled, open-minded citizens of the world.

Best known for coordinating the University’s study abroad program, IGS also awards scholarships and grants to faculty and students for myriad global opportunities, administers internationally-recognized programs such as the MEPI (Middle East Partnership Initiative) Student Leaders Institute, and sponsors such signature events as International Education Week each fall and country-specific celebrations each spring.

IGS collaborates with other global partners on campus, including the Office for International Students and Scholars, the Confucius Institute and the Center for Global and Area Studies.

Article by Elizabeth Adams

Photo by Lindsay Yeager

Governor’s garden transformed with rare plants from UD Botanic Gardens

Carla Markell with the gordlinia donated to the governor's mansion by UD Botanic Gardens.
Carla Markell with the gordlinia donated to the governor’s mansion by UD Botanic Gardens.

Nearly a year after University of Delaware Botanic Gardens (UDBG) partnered with the Woodburn Garden Project in Dover, Delaware Gov. Jack Markell and first lady Carla Markell held an official public opening of the gardens adjacent to the governor’s mansion.

While major donors and dignitaries like former Delaware Gov. Mike Castle were on hand for the event, the focus fell on the garden’s diverse flora, including several plants and trees donated by UDBG. Carla Markell, beaming with pride over the new design, praised the collaborative effort between her staff and members of UDBG and the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

“To me, it is essential to create the partnerships between the private and public sector,” Markell said. “That’s when great things can happen and the whole community has an opportunity to get involved.”

Mark Rieger, dean of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, shared the first lady’s sentiment, saying, “We are thrilled to be part of this garden restoration project. The real strength of our horticulture faculty is in landscape design, so I’m glad they reached out to us for a project as important as this.”

The relationship began when landscape artist Rodney Robinson, a UD alumnus who hails from the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, learned that the gordlinia tree, a cross between the franklinia and its relative, the gordonia, was being featured at the UDBG’s 2013 Spring Plant Sale. Robinson knew immediately that the flowering tree would make for a great addition to the project.

“I was immediately anxious to get it for the Woodburn Garden Project, because I was aware of its rarity,” Robinson said of the gordlinia, which features large “fried egg” white flowers surrounded by deep maroon fall foliage. “But I also wanted a small tree up by the house – one that would flower and also tell an interesting story that would help to compliment the house itself.”

After discussing the addition of the gordlinia with Markell and Ken Darsney, state horticulturist for Delaware’s Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs, Robinson reached out to UDBG Director John Frett and Assistant Director Melinda Zoehrer.

“They came to us looking for partners in the project and the possibilities of what the Botanic Gardens could offer,” Frett said. “Although the gordlinia was the most notable plant we supplied, there were several other donations that totaled about $500.”

Darsney, who manages outdoor care and upkeep for all of Delaware’s state-owned historic properties, said the Snowflake hydrangea, the Let’s Dance hydrangea, the Declaration lilac and the Shasta viburnum were also donated by UDBG. However, the gordlinia served as the centerpiece, due to its ability to withstand changes in climate and its historical significance.

“The gordlinia handles heat extremes, has fewer root issues and pest problems, and is more suitable to grow without needing extra fertilizer or pesticide,” Darsney said. “But it also derives from the Franklinia alatamaha, which is a native tree with deep historical significance.”

A tree with history

According to Robinson, the franklinia was discovered in the mid-1700s by John Bartram, a Colonial era botanist who named the plant after his “good buddy,” Benjamin Franklin. Though the franklinia is currently extinct in the wild, its offspring, the gordlinia, is quite the vigorous tree and shares a similar historical significance with the governor’s residence, which was erected around 1798 by Charles Hillyard III.

“We wanted to create a new garden that takes its lead from the style and history of the house,” Robinson said. “The gordlinia, with its franklinia bloodline, has that attribute. When you add the fact that it’s a tremendously vigorous tree, it’s quite the fit for this period piece.”

After planting the gordlinia in late 2013, Robinson and Darsney, though confident in the plant’s ability to survive extreme conditions, were understandably concerned as the winter season of 2013-14 featured plenty of snowfall and cold temperatures.

“We thought we might lose it over the harsh winter, but the gordlinia is incredibly resilient,” Robinson said. “Neither of its parents are particularly strong, but you get them together and they produce a very robust plant.”

Frett added that the gordlinia has made a great addition to UDBG’s diverse collection of “woody plants,” and that seeing the gordlinia placed in a public garden is a boon for the University.

“Hopefully it brings recognition to the institution, the college and the Botanic Gardens,” Frett said. “That way, people visiting Woodburn Garden are more aware of what we’re involved in and that we have a firm place in the state’s horticultural makeup.”

Darsney, as he begins work on other statewide projects, is optimistic about the future of working with UDBG and the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

“I would be absolutely welcome to a partnership with UD in future projects,” Darsney said. “Any time you can take a public space and partner with the University, where they are able to get a product in front of the public for enjoyment and make that connection, it’s a win-win.”

Article by Robert Kalesse

Photo by Lindsay Yeager

This article can also be viewed on UDaily >>

Blackbird State Forest: A Man Speaks for the Trees in a Delaware State Park.

Forester Jim Dobson discusses his attempt to convert this former agricultural field into an oak hardwood forest. Photo by Jessica Hicken
Forester Jim Dobson discusses his attempt to convert this former agricultural field into an oak hardwood forest. Photo by Jessica Hicken

“Where you’re standing right now used to be a pasture, a dairy farm actually.” We are standing in a gravel parking lot at the Blackbird State Forest Visitor’s Center, surrounded by tall trees and the sound of cicadas. Our guide, Jim Dobson, a tall, bearded man, is detailing his job as a forest manager at the park. Blackbird State Forest spans approximately 5,600 acres and is a popular site for visitors seeking to spend a day among the trees. The park makes a lot of its profit off meticulously managed timber harvest. On the rusted bumper of Dobson’s truck is a sticker that reads: “Call Before You Cut” over a silhouette of pine trees, along with a phone number.

Dobson spends much of his time patrolling the forest, planning out methods of management to maximize the forest’s health. Currently, he says, he is trying to regenerate the oak trees in the forest. In order to do so, he must eliminate all other seed spores. It can take the oak trees around five years just to root before they even show any signs of growth. It takes a lot of work. Dobson tells landowners, “If you want to do this, that’s all well and good but if you don’t do the maintenance, it’s not going to look like this,” as he gestures to the tall trees around us, proudly describing the area as “dog-hair thick.” He has to maintain the timber species in the forest as well. If he lets the forest go, it will all turn to sweet gum, maple, and poplar trees.

Photo by Heather Buleje
Photo by Heather Buleje

“When you do forest management, what you try to do is mimic nature.” A lot of Dobson’s work is tending to the understory of the forest because without it, there would be nothing for a lot of the animals to eat. His job includes not only cutting back a lot of trees, but also administering prescribed burns in many areas. Prescribed burning is a technique used to strategically set fire to specific sections of forest or field in order to allow the plant-life to regenerate as a healthier overall area. Indicating the thicket of tall white pines in front of us, Dobson explains that it is burned every five years.

Dobson tells us that oaks, the tree he is encouraging to regenerate, have not always been this prominent here. Chestnuts, he says, used to be all over the region. Now oak has become the dominant tree in the chestnut’s wake. He goes on to tell us, however, that red oaks probably will not be here in the next twenty-five to thirty years. They are suffering from a condition called bacterial leaf scorch (BLS). BLS used to exclusively be an urban problem, but has since spread to the forests. All red oak species are susceptible to it, with the exception of the willow oak. White oaks will likely replace the dominant red oaks should they all succumb to BLS. Due to their more rigid internal structure, they bounce back pretty quickly when exposed to the bacteria.

Forest management seems like no easy task. On the job for thirty-some years, Dobson is incredibly familiar with the forest and knows the history of every tree. “I’ve walked over every acre of this forest,” Dobson explains. “No two acres are the same.” Be it cutting, selling, or burning the forest, Dobson thinks thoroughly about his methods and the wildlife species they will affect. Standing among the trees, he beams underneath his green cap as he looks up at the forest in admiration. It is evident that this is a man who is proud of his work.

By Dana Goin

UD graduate goes to work as a herdsperson at Herr Angus Farm

UD alumna Katie Williams is a herdsperson at Herr Angus Farm in Nottingham, Pennsylvania.
UD alumna Katie Williams is a herdsperson at Herr Angus Farm in Nottingham, Pennsylvania.

When Katie Williams was an undergraduate student in the University of Delaware’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, she turned an internship with Herr Angus Farm into a part-time job during the fall and spring semesters of her senior year. Now, after graduating in May, Williams has turned that part-time job into a full-time position working as a herdsperson at the farm in Nottingham, Pennsylvania.

Williams explained that as a herdsperson, she is very involved in the animal husbandry side of the farm, responsible for checking the cattle on a daily basis to ensure that they are healthy and behaving normally, following their usual eating and drinking routines and moving soundly.

“I also assist with administering vaccinations and medications according to Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) standards, breeding, embryo transfer, cattle handling, record keeping, feeding and nutrition programs, and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) quarantine cattle for export,” said Williams.

Even though her official title is herdsperson, her responsibilities also include assisting in any of the tasks necessary for upkeep of the farm. “This can range anywhere from basic fence line, equipment and pasture maintenance to harvesting hay and haylage — a fermented, nutritious grass feed that is stored in our silos — for the winter,” said Williams.

Williams said that while this full-time position did not come about simply because of the internship, her experience did provide her hands-on experience that had an impact on the eventual job offer.

“As an intern, I was exposed to the cattle handling, cattle management and overall farm management that gave me the ability to complete tasks independently and be relied upon for numerous responsibilities on a daily basis,” said Williams. “I did not realize that I was training for my eventual full-time position when I was an intern but all of the experiences I gained during that time qualified me to become a herdsperson, even if I had not been offered a job at Herr Angus Farms.”

Williams said that most of her mornings begin in the feed room, where she has a brief meeting and goes over the day’s tasks and then feeds the cattle.

“Most mornings I am out riding through the pastures either on the Gator or on horseback, checking to make sure that all of the cows are healthy,” said Williams. “Oftentimes we have to bring in a group of cattle for vaccinations, tagging, breeding, pregnancy checks, or for sorting. If this is the case, we usually try to do this before lunch and before the heat of the day really picks up.”

The after-lunch activities are devoted to things like mowing, fence line maintenance and harvesting the aforementioned hay and haylage.

“Harvest days are always quite busy since it is very dependent on the weather and we have to make the most of dry weather when we can,” said Williams.

Williams said the job is a perfect fit as it combines two of her favorite things: animals and being outdoors.

“Riding through the pastures in the early morning just after the crack of dawn is my favorite part of the day. I call it my ‘morning Zen’ when I’m out doing this because it is so peaceful and relaxing to see the cattle happily grazing,” said Williams.

Williams also said that having a full-time job lined up after graduation relieved a lot of the stress that usually comes with job searching and that she is very thankful for being offered the opportunity with such advanced notice.

She does admit, though, that transitioning from student life to a career has its challenges and she is still learning to balance everything.

As for how the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources helped prepare her for her future career, Williams said, “One of the things I enjoy the most is being able to understand how things function and why they work the way they do. The education and experiences I received at CANR enable me to understand little things, such as why certain feeds are used and how they are digested in the rumen, or the science behind pasture rotation and plant biology. I find it very fulfilling being able to use my classroom education to continue learning out in the field on a daily basis and I owe many thanks to the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.”

Article by Adam Thomas

UD to jointly headquarter new USDA research center for agri-environmental policy

canr_APEClab_kentMesser-48Professors Kent Messer of the University of Delaware and Paul Ferraro of Georgia State University will head the newly created Center for Behavioral and Experimental Agri-environmental Policy Research (CBEAR), which was created with an award from the Economic Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

CBEAR will be housed in the new Center for Experimental and Applied Economics at UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) in Newark.

UD President Patrick Harker will cut the ribbon to the new center during a ceremony to be held from 10-11:30 a.m., Monday, Nov. 24, at Townsend Hall. The ceremony will feature five interactive projects currently being studied.

CBEAR-affiliated faculty will use behavioral and experimental economics research to improve the design and implementation of USDA programs that support farmers in their efforts to feed the world and provide valuable environmental stewardship of the nation’s agricultural lands. A $750,000, three-year USDA seed grant will fund the new center.

“Government programs related to agriculture and the environment need to be based on strong science and economics. Evidence based policy, insights from the behavioral sciences, and randomized controlled trials are the norm in medicine, education, and other policy fields. CBEAR will bring this approach to U.S. agri-environmental policy,” said Messer, the Unidel H. Cosgrove Chair for the Environment in the Department of Applied Economics and Statistics and a globally recognized expert in evidence-based environmental policy and the applications of behavioral economics to policy design.

In 2013, the USDA spent over $5 billion on conservation programs to minimize soil erosion, enhance water quality, and create wildlife habitat.

“Better understanding how we invest our limited federal resources so they accomplish the desired goal should be a top priority,” said U.S. Sen. Chris Coons. “It’s imperative we have a positive and communicative relationship with farmers and land owners to ensure the programs in place are working as planned. This center will strengthen science-based decisions that go into agriculture and environmental policy, and I look forward to the work that will be done by the Center for Behavioral and Experimental Agri-environmental Policy Research.”

Along with UD and Georgia State University, the CBEAR consortium includes Cornell University. The new center will:

  • Lead and coordinate innovative behavioral research programs related to the design and implementation of policies and programs that provide ecosystem services and lead to greater satisfaction for participating farmers and landowners;
  • Broaden the network of social scientists who participate in policy-relevant research on agricultural ecosystem services, policies and programs; and
  • Disseminate information obtained via its research program to a diverse stakeholder audience, including USDA and other federal program agencies, farmers and the general public.

“We are quite pleased to be able to house CBEAR in our new Center for Experimental and Applied Economics and contribute in a significant way to helping USDA improve the performance of agricultural and environmental programs,” said CANR Dean Mark Rieger. “It is our intent to facilitate innovative research that will have positive effects nationwide.”

Wetlands on the UD Farm

The Central Wetland is one of the most intact wetlands on the farm and provides a healthy habitat for many creatures.
The Central Wetland is one of the most intact wetlands on the farm and provides a healthy habitat for many creatures.

The bustling college town of Newark is the last place you’d expect a rich ecosystem of plants and animals to persist. The UD farm is located in the south campus of the University of Delaware and has over 370 acres for learning and conservation. The city of Newark and the farm itself produce a large amount of runoff, all of which flows to south campus. In order to deal with the polluted water, 5 wetland areas have been erected all across the UD farm. Many of these areas appear to the public as “overgrown” and “messy” compared to the maintained landscapes that most people strive to obtain. These areas though provide important habitat for a diverse group of organisms as well as keeping our watershed clean.

The most notable of these is the front wetland, which can be seen from South College Avenue. This plot of land was an unsuccessful cow pasture for a time. So it was repurposed in 2008 with the help of DNREC into a wetland habitat, sporting a variety of native vegetation. To an untrained eye it may look like a mess next to the manicured landscape of south campus, yet every effort was taken to make it into a diverse ecosystem. The ground was carved with microtopography in mind, creating several ponds at varying depths to provide habitat for different organisms to utilize. The ponds allow the water to come to a rest which helps slow and filter runoff before entering the nearby storm drain which flows from the Cool Run watershed all the way to the Delaware Bay.

The Central wetland is located near the current cow pasture that holds over 100 cows. It is rich with plant life that provides needed shade to the stream which passes through it. Having plant coverage allows the water to remain cool, which is optimal for most aquatic life. Jenny McDermott, the Facilities Manager for the College, informed us that although the area provides a nice aquatic habitat for mosquitos, its diversity also allows for a variety of mosquito predators to thrive so it is rare to be bitten by any in the area.

The North Wetland is the smallest wetland at about ½ an acre. It is a stream corridor that runs into the Gore Wetland. The Gore wetland is filled with both native and hard-to-control invasive species cattails which trickle their way into the north wetlands. Little has been done in the controlling of invasive plants for these areas but they still provide plenty of habitat for wildlife such as deer, foxes and birds. A City-owned trash transfer station is located north of the Gore wetland, yet there is talk of it being converted for yard waste composting in the near future.

Each of these wetland areas are along the Cool Run stream which flows under a railroad track, then through Field Z. At the south end of this corn field is a one acre wetland that sits next to Rt. 72. It was overrun horribly by invasive plants for a time, but in 2011 management was enhanced to improve habitat quality. Herbicides were used for several years to help manage invasives, then it was planted with native species that thrive in wetland settings. The area servs as a natural habitat as well as a filtering and storage area for stormwater. There are many other habitats that the UD farm possesses such as grasslands, forests and of course cropland. However all of these require a clean watershed in order to thrive. These wetland habitats are not always perfect but they provide an excellent resource as a filter for nutrient runoff and pollutants, as well as habitat for many organisms. So next time you see an “overgrown” area such as the wetlands on the farm, appreciate it for its natural beauty and important role in preserving local flora and fauna.

Article written by student Rebecca Moore

UD alumna plants community garden on abandoned tennis court

UD alumna Elisa King led the effort to create a community garden in Elsmere.
UD alumna Elisa King led the effort to create a community garden in Elsmere.

When Elisa King was an undergraduate student at the University of Delaware, she gained an appreciation for community gardens through her work volunteering at that maintained by the English Language Institute and also as a member of the University’s Food and Gardening Policy Committee.

Now that she has graduated, King is applying that love of gardening to the real world as she has spearheaded an effort to launch a community garden on an abandoned tennis court in the town of Elsmere, Delaware.

King said that her idea to start the Garden at Linden — located in Walling Park on Linden Avenue in Elsmere — came out of her desire to improve the community. Given her passion for food and green spaces, a community garden seemed like a great place to start. The only problem was, King didn’t really know where to begin.

A community garden has been created on an abandoned tennis court in Elsmere.
A community garden has been created on an abandoned tennis court in Elsmere.

“I started finding people around the neighborhood who were equally interested in the project but we didn’t know where to begin, so we started making some connections with people like Carrie Murphy and Tara Tracey,” said King.

Murphy, a Cooperative Extension agent at UD, and Tracey, urban agriculture manager for the Delaware Center for Horticulture (DCH), are co-chairs of the Delaware Urban Farm and Food Coalition. They explained to King how she could get things moving, offering information on issues from how to approach the town with the idea to what kinds of materials they would need to start the garden.

King said the group decided that the garden would be totally communal, meaning volunteers would get to take home some of the harvest. “There’s no fee involved and one of the reasons we wanted to do that was that we wanted to make it as inclusive as possible, so if people wanted to volunteer at any given time, they could,” said King. “Another reason for doing that is to gain interest in the community and have people spread the word.”

Tennis court garden

The town of Elsmere granted the group permission to use the tennis court, which needed to be repaved and could no longer be used for tennis. King said it was a win-win for her group and the town.

“They saved money from not having to re-pave and we got to do something different in the community — getting residents engaged in how food grows and doing some healthy outdoor activity,” said King.

Once they had the space, the group held fundraisers and received grants from the Delaware Department of Agriculture, New Castle County and the New Castle Conservation District to help fund the project.

A crew of 30 people built the garden, which has 15 raised beds, at the end of March, and King said that a core group of around 15-20 people rotate to maintain the garden. They have been getting more and more positive community response.

“People just show up. They want to be a part of it but it might not fit in their schedule, but they come and give us positive feedback or ask questions to find out what we’re doing. It’s been really good,” said King.

Learning to grow

As for the growing process, King admitted that it was a learning experience for everyone involved.

“I probably had the most horticultural or agriculture experience out of everybody and I would say that my experience is not that vast,” said King. “It’s been interesting and definitely an awesome learning process for everybody. Everybody’s been able to contribute in some way. We help each other out and we’ve been reaping the benefits from it.”

Even with the learning process, King said the group had a nice harvest through their first season and they are in the midst of fall gardening work.

As for what they grow in the garden, King said that they are experimenting with a bit of everything, taking the approach of companion planting — planting different crops in close proximity for pest control, pollination and to maximize space and crop productivity — as they do not use any type of chemical treatment.

The garden has everything from kale, tomatoes, corn, beans and all different kinds of squashes. They also have blueberry bushes that were donated — a big draw for the local children who wanted to come and see the blueberries — and started strawberries, asparagus, sweet and hot peppers, and lots of different herbs.

The garden also has an herb spiral — a vertical garden design that allows gardeners to stack plants to maximize space — that King called a focal point.

“That herb spiral always looks beautiful because we have lots of different herbs and flowers growing in there,” said King. “We’ve integrated different flowers so we could attract pollinators and beneficial insects. We have flowers like marigolds and sunflowers and it’s been interesting seeing the life form in that space because there was nothing before. It was just pavement and now there’s birds and all these different insects.”

Elsmere Garden Society

Learning about the importance of community gardens and urban farms has led to an informal organization known as the Elsmere Garden Society, and King said she is hopeful that the idea will catch on and that people will want to put gardens in other spaces that are being underutilized in Elsmere.

“The garden is generating awareness that I think is really needed as far as where our food comes from, how to eat healthy, how growing food effects the environment and who has access to fresh food,” said King. “And when we have community gardens and urban farms, we can make more of an impact on the neighborhood scale, and I think that’s really important.”

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos by Lindsay Yeager

UD adjunct faculty member sole Forest Service presence in Delaware

Vince D'Amico with UD doctoral student Solny Adalsteinsson.
Vince D’Amico with UD doctoral student Solny Adalsteinsson.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service has a solitary representative in the state of Delaware in Vince D’Amico, a research scientist who is also an adjunct faculty member in the University of Delaware’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

D’Amico has been at UD since 2001 as a member of the faculty in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology. While he can be seen around Townsend Hall and is often confused with teaching professors, his sole role is in research, while also serving on the committees of graduate students and as an adviser.

“It’s best to look at me as absolutely not part of UD but also very intimately involved with UD,” said D’Amico. “It’s hard for people to remember. Sometimes they ask, ‘What do you teach?’ I don’t teach classes, but I have collaborated with most of the faculty of the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at one time or another. It’s a great symbiotic and synergistic relationship.”

D’Amico said the Forest Service has researchers stationed at universities across the country and that UD has a long history of collaboration with the agency.

Forest fragments

D’Amico’s main area of research is urban forest fragments, specifically the Forest Fragments in Managed Ecosystems (FRAME) study that he started with Greg Shriver, associate professor and associate chair of the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology.

The study picked up prior work that had been done at UD in the late 1960s and early 1970s, in part by Roland Roth, UD professor emeritus of wildlife ecology.

It was at a talk given by D’Amico and Shriver that they first discovered that their study had historical roots.

“After Greg and I gave our first FRAME talk to the department, a faculty member came up with a big old yellowed report, which we had no idea about, and it was a collaborative report by the USDA Forest Service and what is now UD’s Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology on urban forests in northern Delaware,” said D’Amico. “It absolutely blew our minds because none of us had any idea that that had ever happened.”

The main focus of that study was UD’s Ecology Woods. Now, FRAME has added more than 20 other fragments, leading to a broader discussion.

Deciduous forest fragments

D’Amico said those sites are meant to be representative of the ecology of urban deciduous forest fragments and that most of the sites are in northern Delaware, with some stretching into Pennsylvania. He explained that there are a lot of deciduous forests located in highly populated areas of the world.

“Deciduous forests that are heavily populated hold about a quarter of the Earth’s population and what you’d be talking about is a big piece of China, Europe and the eastern U.S., so these are places that are heavily populated and the deciduous forest is really the biome,” said D’Amico.

For example, the strip of urbanized area that is about 100 kilometers from the Atlantic coast of the United States is one of the most densely populated areas in the whole world and it is full of small forest fragments.

“Those contain the biodiversity and the wildlife that requires a forest. That’s where it all is, in small forest fragments,” said D’Amico. “So imagine thousands and thousands, tens of thousands of small forest fragments that comprise the forests that dot the entire East Coast. The FRAME is meant to be representative of those, especially in the Mid-Atlantic and especially in the United States.”

The goal of the FRAME project is to provide useful recommendations for improving ecosystem function, with an emphasis on ecosystem services.

Since its humble beginnings, the project has grown geographically, adding collaborators at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of California, Riverside.

“We’re studying as many aspects of urban forest ecology as we can, starting with the soil and then moving up to higher trophic levels like birds and mammals and reptiles,” said D’Amico.

Other research projects

With his work being done in collaboration with UD, D’Amico said those projects that include students provide them hands-on experience with Forest Service research.

Other research projects with which D’Amico is involved include restoring iconic tree species such as the American elm, which was wiped out in the early part of the last century.

Because of selective breeding, there are now varieties that are tolerant of Dutch elm disease, which devastated the population.

D’Amico said one of the varieties of elm that he and other researchers are planting is called “Delaware,” and he is hoping that there will be plantings throughout the FRAME sites to see how these disease resistant varieties function in the ecology of urban forests.

“I’m interested to see if these tolerant trees, which have been selected to survive diseases, will play the same role as their predecessors when they’re put into the general forest ecology of the area,” said D’Amico.

As for how these collaborative research projects such as FRAME come about, D’Amico said that because he is in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology every day, there is a mutual understanding.

“If there’s a problem that concerns urban forests, then I’m likely to look for someone at a university to work on it with me for many reasons, including so that a student can be included, and the University of Delaware is the first place I look,” said D’Amico. “The department is excellent and has really been on nothing but an upward trajectory for the past 10 years.”

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo by Lindsay Yeager

Sen. Coons acknowledges Extension’s rich history, future at annual conference

U.S. Sen. Chris Coons (center) receives the Friends of Extension Award from Albert Essel of Delaware State University and Michelle Rodgers of UD.
U.S. Sen. Chris Coons (center) receives the Friends of Extension Award from Albert Essel of Delaware State University and Michelle Rodgers of UD.

Cooperative Extension professionals from the University of Delaware and Delaware State University met on Wednesday, Oct. 22, in Dover for their annual conference.

The day included professional development workshops, and celebrated the remaining months of Cooperative Extension’s centennial anniversary. It was also an opportunity to recognize individuals and partnerships that have facilitated Extension’s mission to deliver university-based research and innovations to Delaware’s families and agricultural constituents.

U.S. Sen. Chris Coons served as the conference’s keynote speaker and took questions after his remarks. Coons thanked Delaware Cooperative Extension for the significant service it has provided to the nation and the state.

“To me, it is extraordinary that you engage year in and year out, day in and day out, hour in and hour out in your careers in public service,” Coons said. “We need the men and women of Cooperative Extension, and what you bring to the communities of our country today, more than any time in the last century.”

Coons recognized the history of Extension and its significant impact and role during wars, famines and the changing dynamics of agriculture.

“My hope is that Cooperative Extension will bring to this century, what it brought last century – exactly the support needed to stabilize and sustain family farming, to create new opportunities for farming in places where it has disappeared decades ago, and make farming more profitable and more positive and more engaging to a generation of young people here today,” he said.

“Cooperative Extension has an amazing long record of making Delaware a better place,” Coons added. “Think about the challenges we have together in the century we are in and the years to come. Know with confidence that you are exactly the right people in the right place and the right time to help us meet those challenges.”

Michelle Rodgers, associate dean of UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) and director of Cooperative Extension, and Albert Essel, director of Extension at Delaware State University, presented Coons with the first Friend of Extension Award of the day.

“The Friend of Extension Award is the highest recognition presented to a non-Extension person, business or organization and is designed to recognize truly outstanding support and personal involvement in Extension efforts,” Rodgers said.

In presenting the award to Coons, Rodgers said, “A friend listens and shares ideas to help make programs happen. A friend backs you when trying new ideas. A friend provides resources, knowledge and funding to create strong successes. A friend helps build linkages, is inclusive and helps to create opportunities for success. A friend makes time to share their expertise and assistance.”

2014 Friend of Extension honorees 

In addition to Coons, the following individuals received the distinctive Friend of Extension Award:

R.C. Willin Jr.

R.C. Willin Jr., along with his brother J.C. Willin and their sons Chad and Brent, operate Willin Farms, west of Seaford, Delaware. The fifth-generation family farm — where they are currently growing corn, soybeans, wheat and barley on 1,200 acres — has a long-standing commitment to agricultural excellence. They own and operate three poultry farms with a capacity of 222,000 roaster birds.

Placing environmental stewardship as a high priority, Willin frequently works with UD as a cooperator for crop research in the areas of nutrient management, weeds, insects and irrigation. The farm serves as a host for several agricultural field trips that highlight both agricultural and environmental best practices.

Willin also serves on the CANR Dean’s Advisory Board, Sussex County Field Crops Program, Sussex County Poultry Extension Program and UD Extension Nutrient Management/Environmental Quality Advisory Committee, as well as many other groups dedicated to improving Delaware.

Faith Kuehn

Faith Kuehn is a plant regulatory officer in the Department of Plant Industries at the Delaware Department of Agriculture (DDA). With DDA, she has made contributions to UD’s plant pathology and plant diagnostic programs through donations of equipment, supplies, time and expertise.

Her commitment to strong partnerships includes Extension and has not only helped to create a Delaware team that is enviable and nationally recognized but has ensured the economic viability of agricultural products in the state.

Kuehn promotes pollinator gardens and sustainable landscapes across the state. She also works closely with Extension professionals and volunteers to demonstrate the benefits and best practices of urban agriculture, including her support of urban farms and community gardens.

Jean Skibinski

Recognized for her 54-year involvement as family consumer educator (FCE), Jean Skibinski joined Extension in 1960 when she learned about the Home Demonstration Clubs and wanted to be included.

Skibinski launched the New Brook Club, and has served at every level of FCE service, including the leadership role with UD Cooperative Extension as the first president of the Delaware Extension Homemakers Association.

Skibinski currently serves as New Castle County and state FCE treasurer. She has written educational guides and presented workshops at the national, state and county level.

Skibinski is civic-minded, and was instrumental in helping to pass the seatbelt laws in Delaware. She rallied state legislation and participated in public policy debates. Also, she was active in adult leadership training and served in all aspects of funding and implementation of this training across several issues.

Her dedication extended to women’s financial literacy and the Women’s Financial Information Program.

Delaware State Fair

As an organization, the Delaware State Fair has provided long-term support and facilities for Delaware 4-H’s Youth Development Program. The fairgrounds have been the location of many annual county and state events, as well as numerous conferences, workshops and seminars conducted for Delaware Extension clientele.

The 80-member board of directors, as well as the administrative staff for the Delaware State Fair, recognizes the importance of providing opportunities to 4-H youth. The outstanding facilities provide the program the ability to conduct educational, safe and fun events for youth, as well as for those 4-H youth from other surrounding states.

In addition, the fair supports various 4-H programs through monetary support or donations to assist in fundraising efforts. The Delaware State Fair demonstrates a large interest in the overall Extension programs and appreciates the impact Extension and 4-H have made consistently over the years.

Delaware Cooperative Extension Director’s Leadership Award

The Delaware Cooperative Extension Director’s Leadership Award was presented to Jennifer Volk, Extension specialist in environmental quality and management, for her role in developing and implementing a reporting system for recording the impact of Extension programs across the state.

Rodgers also acknowledged former UD director of Extension, Jan Seitz, for her vision in establishing the Extension Scholars Program, which continues as a meaningful service learning model where UD students develop leadership and interpersonal skills, as well as apply a wide variety of Extension knowledge and university coursework.

Rodgers noted Seitz’s long-term commitment in giving back to her adopted state by creating and endowing the Janice A. Seitz Cooperative Extension Scholars Fund.

Delaware State University honorees

Delaware State University also honored three award recipients — Linda Dayes, Faith Robinson and Tamaira Banks.

Photos of the 2014 Delaware Cooperative Extension Annual Conference can be viewed on Extension’s Flickr photo gallery.

Article and photos by Michele Walfred

Agriculture College Council organizes inaugural Ag Olympics

Ag Olymlpics participants.
Ag Olympics participants.

The inaugural University of Delaware Ag Olympics was held Saturday morning, Oct. 25, next to the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) dairy farm on South Campus.

The event was organized by the Agriculture College Council (AgCC).

Six teams — including Alpha Gamma Rho, Alpha Zeta, the Food Science Club, the Animal Science Club, and graduate students — competed in various agriculture-related contests, said Emily Fritz, AgCC president.

Sarah Tull competes in the "Day in the Life of a Farmer" event during the Ag Olympics.
Sarah Tull competes in the “Day in the Life of a Farmer” event during the Ag Olympics.

The contests included an egg toss, sack races, a pie eating contest, tug of war and “A Day in a Life of a Farmer,” a relay in which each team member had to “wake up,” complete a series of agriculture-related tasks, and then go back to bed.

Including the AgCC members, about 50 people participated in the Ag Olympics and the champion Alpha Gamma Rho team received a trophy and a gift card, said Amanda Wagner, AgCC co-president.

A second place silver medal was awarded to the Animal Science Club and a third place bronze medal was presented to the Food Science Club.

“We hope this continues for many years to come and grow each year to have more participants,” Fritz said. “This was a fun fall event for CANR students and we hope students will look forward to it every fall semester.”

This article can also be read on UDaily >>

CANR recognizes recipients of Worrilow, Distinguished Alumni awards

canr_worrilowAwards2014_101714-5
Pictured are College of Agriculture and Natural Resources award winners (from left) James H. Baxter IV, Erica Spackman, Mary Ellen Setting, Craig Clifford, CANR Dean Mark Rieger, and Tom Fretz.

Five graduates of the University of Delaware College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) were presented with honors — the George M. Worrilow Award as well as three Distinguished Alumni Awards and a Distinguished Young Alumni Award — during a ceremony held Friday, Oct. 17, as part of Homecoming festivities.

The awards are given based on a clear record of outstanding career accomplishments, service and leadership to the profession, and community service, including service to UD.

George M. Worrilow Award

Erica Spackman was presented with CANR’s George M. Worrilow Award, named for the dean of the college from 1954-65 whose career was dedicated to better agriculture and better agricultural education.

It is given annually by the Ag Alumni Association to a graduate of the college who has exhibited outstanding service to agriculture.

Spackman attended Haverford College and graduated in 1995 with a major in sociology then entered the CANR master’s program in animal science. Jack Rosenberger, chair of the Department of Animal and Food Sciences from 1981 to 2004, was her adviser and she continued work in his laboratory to complete a doctorate in 2001.

Spackman then went to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Southeast Poultry Research Laboratory for a post-doctoral research program, became a staff research microbiologist in 2002 and continues to work at the facility.

Her career has focused on improving the prevention, detection and control of viral poultry diseases to maintain healthy and productive animals. Throughout her career she has worked closely with the poultry industry, government agencies and veterinary diagnostic labs to achieve these goals.

Although much of her career has focused on avian influenza virus, she has worked with numerous important diseases affecting chickens and turkeys in the areas of vaccine development, pathobiology and disease ecology.

Diagnostic tests and sample collection strategies have been among the most widely adopted elements of Spackman’s work nationally and internationally, and continue to be a major focus of her current research.

Distinguished Alumni Awards

Craig Clifford is a graduate of the Mississippi State University College of Veterinary Medicine and received his master’s degree in animal sciences/virology from UD. After completing an internship and a medical oncology residency at the University of Pennsylvania, he became a diplomat of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine (Oncology) in 2003.

Clifford is Hope Veterinary Specialists’ first medical oncologist and director of clinical studies. Prior to this role, Clifford was a medical oncologist and director of clinical research at Red Bank Veterinary Hospital in Tinton Falls, New Jersey. There, he was responsible for the creation of a comprehensive clinical studies program.

Clifford has authored or co-authored more than 50 papers and book chapters and created the Veterinary Cancer Society’s resident review session and the Northeast Veterinary Co-operative Oncology Group.

Thomas Fretz

Thomas A. Fretz received an undergraduate degree from the University of Maryland in 1964, and his master’s and doctorate degrees in horticulture and plant science from UD in 1966 and 1970, respectively.

Fretz retired from the University of Maryland and the position of executive director of the Northeastern Regional Association of State Agricultural Experiment Station Directors (NERA) in March 2007, after having served from 1994 to 2003 as dean of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and director of both the Maryland Agricultural Experiment Station and Maryland Cooperative Extension at the University of Maryland.

He previously served as associate dean and director of the Iowa Agriculture and Home Economics Experiment Station at Iowa State University from 1989-94.

Among his many awards and recognitions, Fretz was co-recipient of the Kenneth Post Award from the American Society for Horticultural Science (ASHS) in 1979 and was elected a fellow of the ASHS in 1986. He received UD’s George M. Worrilow Award in 1999, the B.Y. Morrison Award from the USDA-ARS in 2001, and the “Irving” for distinguished service to the American Distance Education Consortium (ADEC) in 2002.

Mary Ellen Setting

Mary Ellen Setting is the deputy secretary of the Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA).  She has served Maryland agriculture for 37 years while working in various capacities at MDA.  She graduated cum laude from the University of Delaware in 1975 with a bachelor of science degree in agriculture, majoring in entomology and applied ecology.

As deputy secretary, Setting is responsible for managing the day-to-day operations of the agency, providing leadership to MDA staff, establishing policy and procedures for regulatory, service and educational programs, and implementing MDA’s mission.

Setting was first employed by MDA in 1977 as an entomologist for the Pesticide Regulation Section. She developed and managed Maryland’s private and commercial applicator recertification and training program. She became chief of the Pesticide Regulation Section in 1988 and was responsible for oversight of all pesticide management, educational and regulatory programs in Maryland, including enforcement of state and federal laws, and applicator certification and training.

Setting was named assistant secretary of the Office of Plant Industries and Pest Management in March 2004. As assistant secretary, she was responsible for oversight of enforcement of state and federal laws, regulations and quarantines related to management of pests that affect the health of crops, nursery stock and forests.

Distinguished Young Alumni

James H. Baxter IV

James H. Baxter IV graduated from UD with a bachelor of science degree in agriculture in 2002 before returning to Baxter Farms Inc., the family farm where he is a fourth generation farmer.

As president and manager of Baxter Farms, he oversees and farms the 2,800-acre tract in Sussex County with the knowledge and support of his grandparents, Jim and Ruth Baxter, who have been dedicated to growing the farm since 1948. Today, a majority of the acreage on the farm is corn and soybeans. The farming operation also includes overseeing the production of 200,000 broilers that are raised for Mountaire Farms Inc.

Baxter has been active in the community as director of the Delaware Farm Bureau, chairman of the Delaware Soybean Board, founding member of Delmarva Tractor Pullers Association, founding member of Southern Delaware’s Local on the Menu, as well as a number of other affiliations. He is also an active member of Young Farmers and Ranchers and the Delmarva Poultry Industry.

Also during Homecoming Weekend, Baxter was presented with a Presidential Citation for Outstanding Achievement.

Photos by Lindsay Yeager

UD’s Cooperative Extension aids local urban farms, gardens

UD Cooperative Extension is assisting with local urban gardens and farms.
UD Cooperative Extension is assisting with local urban gardens and farms.

Urban community and school gardens, and urban farms have been springing up all throughout the state and many of these have been helped along the way by the University of Delaware’s Cooperative Extension program, specifically Extension Master Gardeners and Master Food Educators.

Carrie Murphy, a Cooperative Extension agent at UD, explained that Master Gardeners, Master Food Educators and Extension as a whole are providing technical assistance and educational programming to gardens across the state, though the majority of the sites are in New Castle County.

“We’re fortunate to have over 100 Master Gardener volunteers just in this county and in the last few years we’ve had such an explosion of requests to support urban agriculture projects, school gardens, community gardens and back yard, small-scale production that we’ve focused on training Master Gardeners to help,” said Murphy, adding, “A subset of the Master Gardeners has really dedicated their volunteer time to providing urban agriculture outreach programs.”

Helpful hands

Murphy said each garden is different but in general, they have helped communities test their soil, construct garden beds, design planting schedules and learn about basic garden maintenance.

“We also work with communities to evaluate a potential garden site,” said Murphy. “We walk around the site, make sure they have what they need — for example, water and sunlight — and just insure that they get off to a successful start.”

Often, Murphy said, they are working with communities that are fairly new to agriculture and gardening.

UD Cooperative Extension is assisting with local urban gardens and farms.
UD Cooperative Extension is assisting with local urban gardens and farms.

“Master Gardeners and Master Food Educators help communities better understand where their food — like tomatoes, peppers and kale — comes from, and we partner regularly with the Delaware Center for Horticulture,” said Murphy.

One of the sites that has benefited from Extension’s help is the Garden at Linden, a community garden in Elsmere run by Elisa King, a 2013 UD graduate.

King said Murphy has made herself available to answer questions and helped get the garden up and running.

“She’s been awesome. I contacted her when we had some issues with certain plants. She stopped by and checked things out for us to see what the problem might be and gave us some possible solutions, so she has definitely made herself readily available,” said King. “She’s come to consult with us on planting season and after we built, we were trying to plan out the growing season and she helped us with that and provided us with some really good resources. Carrie has been involved whenever we need her to be.”

Delaware Urban Farm and Food Coalition

Another way that these gardens have been helped is through the Delaware Urban Farm and Food Coalition, which is made up of nearly 80 individuals and organizations and co-chaired by Murphy and Tara Tracy, urban agriculture manager for the Delaware Center for Horticulture.

One notable urban farm supported by the coalition is the first in the city of Wilmington, the 12th and Brandywine Farm. This farm was developed as the flagship effort for the coalition. It has almost 1,400 square feet of a three-season growing area in raised beds, and is situated in an area of the city where residents have little direct access to fresh fruits and vegetables.

Tracy explained that the farm has both a production component to it — supporting a farmer’s market in the community — and a community garden component, as it includes another 600 square feet of raised beds for community members to rent plots in which to grow food for their families.

Community engagement

The main thing community gardens and farms need to be successful is buy-in from the community members.

Murphy said, “Many of the projects are homegrown and grassroots where community members have identified an interest in starting or connecting into a growing project.”

When the community is deeply involved in the planning and upkeep of their farm or garden, it leads to community development and community engagement.

“When you think about farming on a small scale in an urban environment, it has a different set of impacts and benefits and considerations. Really, the benefits of social and community are almost one in the same,” said Tracy. “People in a neighborhood that might be somewhat divisive can come together in a community setting to ‘green’ their neighborhood. It might not be through a community garden, but they come together planting trees or creating rain gardens, or something like that. It’s creating those connections with people so it has the benefit of improving the community, along with economic and aesthetic benefits.”

Garden for the Community

In Newark, there is a fine example of an urban farm in UD’s Garden for the Community, which is located on a third of an acre on the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) campus. The garden includes vegetables, herbs and some fruits to provide fresh, local, sustainably grown produce and donates some of that food to the Food Bank of Delaware steadily throughout the year.

Of the Garden for the Community, Murphy said, “It’s a great growing and demonstration space where you can learn more about small-scale production and different types, including ethnic varieties, of fruits and vegetables.  I direct people to the site all the time.”

The University also has a UD Fresh to You program with produce grown on the CANR campus and sold at the UDairy Creamery and at the UD Farmers Markets throughout the summer.

In addition, the city of Newark announced that its first community garden will be opening in 2015 at Fairfield Park.

Murphy has been working with the city on the project and they are planning workshops in the winter for the community gardeners.

For those in Newark who are interested in a gardening plot, visit the city of Newark Parks and Recreation page.

For more information on the Delaware Urban Farm and Food Coalition, visit the website.

Article by Adam Thomas, can also be seen on UDaily.

UD’s Evans receives USDA grant to combat rose rosette disease

UD's Tom Evans is part of a research group that has been awarded $4.6 million by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to study methods to combat rose rosette disease.
UD’s Tom Evans is part of a research group that has been awarded $4.6 million by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to study methods to combat rose rosette disease.

The University of Delaware’s Tom Evans and a group of 18 fellow researchers from six institutions have received a five-year, $4.6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s (USDA-NIFA) Small Crop Research Initiative to study methods to combat rose rosette disease to protect the nation’s cultivated rose and the ornamental shrub industry.

Evans, professor of plant pathology in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, said that rose rosette disease (RRD) — caused by the rose rosette virus (RRV) and transmitted by the wind transported eriophyid mite Phyllocoptes fructiphilus — is now widespread throughout in the U.S. and can be found commonly in muliflora rose.

“The disease poses an enormous threat to all cultivated roses and has the potential to destroy the $400 million rose industry, which forms the cornerstone of the $2.81 billion wholesale U.S. shrub market,” said Evans.

Symptoms of RRD may vary with rose cultivar but most commonly include proliferation of lateral shoots — called witches broom — unusual thorniness, reddening of these shoots and distorted flowers. This often leads to stunting, defoliation and, ultimately, death of the plant.

While most cultivated roses are susceptible to RRV and the mite, Rosa californica and R. spinosissima and three species native to the eastern U.S. — R. palustris, R. setigera and R. Carolina — are reported to have high levels of resistance. Only one species of rose, R. bracteata, has been reported to be resistant to the mite vector.

Evans said that “this project has national importance for the horticultural industry and the rose enthusiast as the disease has the potential to kill millions of cultivated roses if left unchecked.”

The short-term goal of the project is to develop best management practices to manage mite transmission of the virus while the long-term goal is to identify sources of resistance to RRD and quickly transfer resistance into elite roses for use by the industry.

In April 2013, a formal outreach program for the project was initiated with the organization of the Rose Rosette Summit held in Newark and for which Evans served as scientific adviser.

Evans has worked with Mike Dobres of Nova Flora, a commercial breeder of flowers and ornamental plants for the garden and landscape industry, and Conard-Pyle/Star Rose for more than a year to evaluate dozens of commercial rose cultivars for resistance to RRD in the field at UD’s Agricultural Experiment Station in Newark.

According to Evans, “The project includes not only university and USDA researchers and extension personnel but also commercial rose breeders from across the country as key collaborators. All of the rose material that is developed must be evaluated for resistance to the virus and for their performance under different environmental conditions at locations across the United States.”

In the Mid-Atlantic region, Evans’ laboratory will test roses developed by the project’s public and private breeders for resistance to RRV in the field and in a new greenhouse screening facility that will allow for year-round testing of rose material.

With the addition of a new graduate student to Evans’ research group in the spring, the program will be in full swing testing the nation’s new roses for their resistance to this important rose disease and the mite that transmits the virus.

The project’s director is David Byrne from Texas A&M University and other investigators include Brent Pemberton Xinwang Wang, Charlie Hall, Kevin Ong, Patricia Klein, Marco Palma and Luis Ribera from Texas A&M; Mark Windham, Alan Windham and Frank Hale from the University of Tennessee; Matthew Paret and Gary Knox from the University of Florida; Francisco Ochoa Corona and Jennifer Olson from Oklahoma State University; and John Hammond, Ramon Jordon and Ronald Ochoa from USDA-ARS in Beltsville, Maryland.

Originally published on UDaily >>

John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge: An Asylum for Wildlife at Tinicum

“If you take a look at this map, we’ll be following the orange trail today,” Mariana Bergerson, our guide at John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge, announces. We have begun our hike around the refuge at Tinicum Marsh, a small natural haven on the outer edges of bustling Philadelphia. Founded in 1972 with a mission to conserve, protect, and enhance the natural landscape and wildlife, the refuge is one of over 560 national wildlife refuges in the country. Run by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, John Heinz NWR is deliberately placed along major flyways for migrating birds, providing key resting points and habitats for birds during their seasonal flights.

A panoramic view of the impoundment at John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum. (Sept. 2014).
A panoramic view of the impoundment at John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum. (Sept. 2014).

The area is not only preserved for the sake of the wildlife, though they are the priority. It is open to the public seeking out wildlife-dependent recreation activities, such as fishing, hunting, and wildlife observation. The refuge’s website states that the area serves as a “living classroom” for visitors, allowing them to observe and experience nature and the area’s history.

Long ago, the Lenape tribe of Native Americans inhabited the marshland. The area was called Tennakin Minquas. It’s name, “Tinicum”, has since been condensed and roughly translates to “islands of the marsh”. This, however, was only the first of many name changes for the region. Following an influx of colonists, its name was changed to New Sweden, and not twenty years later changed again to New Netherland. Changes in size and habitat quality occurred as well. In the rushed industrialist race leading up to a few decades prior to our visit, the tidal marsh shrunk from 6,000 acres to a mere 1,550. Observing the rapid destruction of what is considered a “vital stepping stone” for migratory birds, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service stepped in and purchased 1,200 acres of the land.

The Fish and Wildlife Service, however, was not the only group to intervene for the sake of the area. The construction of I-95 threatened the remaining acres of marshland, inspiring local citizens to get involved. They passionately fought for the preservation of the natural sanctuary, bringing the protest as far as Washington, D.C. until they were finally successful. A popular advocate for Tinicum Marsh, Senator John Heinz soon became namesake of the refuge.

Today, stretching nearly one thousand acres, Tinicum Marsh is home to diverse and plentiful wildlife. It consists of five distinct habitats, each varying in their species, activities, and size. Darby Creek, the first of the five, is an urban tidal creek. Visitors may canoe in the creek should they wish, and might observe carp, catfish, painted or redbellied turtles, snappers. Flowing down Delaware Creek, you then come to Tinicum Marsh, from which the preserve draws its name. Following the orange trail, it leads to the impoundment, 145 acres of man-made pond. While we stood there, a fish jumped out of the water while a great egret stood calmly a few dozen yards away. Walking back toward the visitor center, we got a peek of some of the forests Tinicum has to offer its human and wild visitors. Additionally, elsewhere on the grounds there exist open fields, which support a multitude of songbirds, rabbits, fox, and deer, among other species.

All in all, the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge was a delight to visit. Its extensive history and beautiful array of wildlife offers a pleasant respite from the noise of the city. It is hailed as an “urban miracle” among locals and visitors, many of whom volunteer with programs, trail maintenance, and staffing the visitor’s center. It is a spot well worth a visit, an island of natural wonders in a large urban sea.

By Dana Goin

Federal funding to UD supports oyster farming in Delaware’s Inland Bays

Celebrating UD’s efforts to support aquaculture in Delaware’s Inland Bays are David Small, DNREC secretary; Sen. Tom Carper; Sunny Jardine, UD's College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment; Ed Lewandowski, Delaware Sea Grant; Chris Bason, Center for the Inland Bays; and Kathy Beisner, U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Celebrating UD’s efforts to support aquaculture in Delaware’s Inland Bays are David Small, DNREC secretary; Sen. Tom Carper; Sunny Jardine, UD’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment; Ed Lewandowski, Delaware Sea Grant; Chris Bason, Center for the Inland Bays; and Kathy Beisner, U.S. Department of Agriculture.

U.S. Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) joined local and state officials, representatives from the University of Delaware and the Center for the Inland Bays to announce two federal grants to support the development of oyster farming in Delaware’s Inland Bays.

“These grants from the U.S. Department of Commerce and USDA Rural Development will look into the business potential for Delaware shellfish aquaculture,” said Carper. “Oyster farming is a win-win for Delaware, since oysters improve water quality and farming will create another local industry that provides jobs. There is good work being done in Delaware by both public and private partners, and these grants will help further that research.”

The U.S. Department of Commerce awarded $164,341 to the University of Delaware to study the economics of ecosystem services from aquaculture and estimating consumer willingness to pay for oysters marketed as local and marketed as improving water quality.

“We are all extremely excited to see oyster aquaculture come to our state, because oysters have the potential to be both good for the economy and good for the environment and it is somewhat rare that you see these two things go hand in hand,” said Sunny Jardine, assistant professor of marine science and policy in UD’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment (CEOE). “Having oysters in the water improves water quality, because oysters filter nutrient pollutants out of the water, such as nitrogen and phosphorous, which come from agricultural and urban runoff and pollute our water bodies.”

At UD Jardine is coordinating with other scientists and economists including: George Parsons, an environmental economist in CEOE; Joanna York, a marine ecologist in CEOE; John Ewart, Delaware Sea Grant aquaculture specialist; and Kent Messer and Maik Kecinski, experimental economists in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

Also, USDA Rural Development awarded the University’s Sustainable Coastal Communities Initiative a $28,287 Rural Business Enterprise Grant to work with the firm ab+c Creative Intelligence to research and develop a branding strategy for Inland Bay aquaculture products that will be used by all the new shellfish farmers to brand and market their products to restaurants and customers.

“With funding support from USDA Rural Development, we have initiated an effort to develop a strong, local market share for Inland Bays aquaculture products,” said Ed Lewandowski, Delaware Sea Grant’s coastal communities development specialist. “Creating brand affinity with consumers and brand equity for producers will be absolutely critical to gaining successful product entry and then sustaining this market success.”

Setting the stage for shellfish

More than 10 years of applied research, demonstration and technology transfer work guided by Delaware Sea Grant (DESG) in cooperation with the Delaware Center for the Inland Bays (CIB), and Delaware State University has documented the value and benefit of shellfish aquaculture as a means to improve the quality of the Inland Bays estuary and to enhance local seafood production and economic development.

During 2013, DESG participated in a shellfish aquaculture stakeholder work group organized by the CIB to conduct spatial planning for bottom lease siting, and to draft statutory code and regulatory language to reinstate a bottom leasing system for commercial shellfish aquaculture for the Inland Bays.

Other participants included the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, Delaware Department of Agriculture, Sussex County Economic Development, Local on the Menu/Farm to Table Program, recreational fishing interests, commercial clammers, and prospective shellfish aquaculturists.

Sea Grant participated in monthly meetings of the spatial planning and policy sub-committees, coordinated a policy paper “Shellfish Aquaculture in Delaware’s Inland Bays: Status, Opportunities and Constraints,” and participated in meetings to brief Delaware state legislators. Completed draft statutory code changes were incorporated into legislation (House Bill 160) that was submitted to the General Assembly in June 2013.

HB160 was passed unanimously by the House and the Senate in June and the bill was signed into law by Gov. Jack Markell on Aug. 28, 2013. The aquaculture regulations were published in August 2014.

About Delaware Sea Grant

The University of Delaware was designated as the nation’s ninth Sea Grant College in 1976 to promote the wise use, conservation and management of marine and coastal resources through high-quality research, education and outreach activities that serve the public and the environment.

UD’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment administers the program, which conducts research in priority areas ranging from aquaculture to coastal hazards.

Article originally published on UDaily, click here.

Fighting Poisons With Bacteria

 The effort to save rice is but one use of microbial bacteria in protecting or enhancing agricultural plants. Credit Harsh Bais/University of Delaware
The effort to save rice is but one use of microbial bacteria in protecting or enhancing agricultural plants. Credit Harsh Bais/University of Delaware

Excerpt from The New York Times

When Harsh Bais grows rice plants in trays of water in his greenhouse at the University of Delaware, he can easily spot the ones that have been exposed to arsenic: They are stunted, with shorter stems and shrunken, yellow-tinged leaves.

Dr. Bais is working to develop rice plants that take up less arsenic, a common contaminant in the fields of his native India and other Asian countries. Chronic exposure to arsenic has been linked to heart disease, diabetes and genetic damage associated with elevated risk for cancer.

Read more on The New York Times website.

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UDRF awards 11 new projects

BME-Day_Emily-Colburn_Lab-111113The University of Delaware Research Foundation (UDRF) has funded 11 projects by UD faculty in areas ranging from triple-negative breast cancer to storm hazards.

A private corporation chartered in 1955, UDRF sponsors an annual funding competition for early career, untenured, and tenure-track faculty across the sciences and engineering at the University.

Investigators are eligible for grants of up to $35,000. The awards include $25,000 in UDRF funding, which is matched by $5,000 from the provost and $5,000 from the awardee’s respective college dean.

“For decades, the University of Delaware Research Foundation has provided valuable seed funding to tenure-track faculty early in their careers,” said Charlie Riordan, vice provost for research. “This year’s cadre of award recipients includes faculty members from five colleges highlighting the breadth of research excellence at UD. The funding will be used by our new colleagues to collect preliminary research data necessary for them to prepare nationally competitive proposals in the current hyper-competitive federal and private sector research funding climate.”

The funded projects include the following:

  • A first step toward a new breast cancer treatment — Emily Day, assistant professor of biomedical engineering, will explore the potential of photothermally active spherical nucleic acids (SNAs) as a next-generation therapy for triple-negative breast cancer, an aggressive disease that grows quickly and metastasizes early.
  • Designing nanostructures for advanced thermoelectric materials — Joseph Feser, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, will analyze the scattering of heat particles called phonons from embedded nanostructures to identify the characteristics that will advance the design of thermoelectric materials with ultra-low heat flow for use in power generation and refrigeration.
  • Why are women more likely to leave STEM fields? — Chad Forbes, assistant professor of psychological and brain sciences, will focus on understanding why women who are initially the most invested and motivated to succeed in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) faculty positions and other careers are ironically the most likely to leave such fields.
  • Uncovering the neurobiological mechanisms of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) — Dayan Knox, assistant professor of psychological and brain sciences, will test the hypothesis that enhanced interactions between the glucocorticoid receptor, to which the stress hormone cortisol binds, and enzyme kinases in the ventral hippocampus during fear memory consolidation leads to abnormal fears.
  • A coupled wave-ocean modeling system to assess coastal Delaware storm hazards — Tobias Kukulka, assistant professor of physical ocean science and engineering, will validate a hydrodynamic model for predicting coastal storm surges during tropical cyclones and northeasters by comparing simulations of currents and surface waves along the Delaware coast with existing observations.
  • Advancing physical rehabilitation after stroke — Susanne Morton, associate professor of physical therapy, will test whether traditional physical therapy paired with safe, non-invasive brain stimulation (transcranial direct current stimulation – tDCS) can improve the recovery of motor function in stroke patients compared to traditional therapy alone.
  • Investigating ionic liquid – gas uptake — John Newberg, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry, will shed light on the interaction of molecules at the gas-ionic liquid interface using a transformative new technology known as ambient pressure X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (APXPS) housed in UD’s Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Laboratory (ISE Lab).
  • Using optogenetics to uncover osteocyte behavior — Christopher Price, assistant professor of biomedical engineering, will apply optogenetic techniques, which use light to control cells engineered to express photoactivatable ion channels, in a novel study of bone cells (osteocytes). Such techniques have been used to map neural signaling and behavioral pathways in living organisms and now will be applied to musculoskeletal research.
  • Determining whether sex impacts neonatal immunity — Jaclyn Schwarz, assistant professor of psychological and brain sciences, will test the hypothesis that boys may be more vulnerable than girls to neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism, ADHD, schizophrenia and cerebral palsy because of the increased numbers of microglia, or resident immune cells, in the brain that may make boys vulnerable to early life events that impact the immune system.
  • Understanding how silicon can affect arsenic levels in rice — Angelia Seyfferth, assistant professor of plant and soil sciences, will examine the impact of increasing dissolved silicon in rice paddies as a mitigation strategy to decrease the uptake of arsenic by rice, one of the most important food crops in the world.
  • Creating a new drug screening model — John Slater, assistant professor of biomedical engineering, will develop a methodology to fabricate highly vascularized microfluidic systems embedded in synthetic matrices to mimic the architecture and transport properties of native tissue. The synthetic model will be implemented for high throughput drug screening applications to lower the cost associated with new drug development.
  • The Neural Basis of Reward Learning — Timothy Vickery, assistant professor of psychological and brain sciences, will examine how learned associations between rewards and visual stimuli play a central role in human decision-making. Human neuroimaging (fMRI) will be used to assess the connectivity of human visual regions with reward learning regions during high or low monetary outcomes.

Photo by Evan Krape

The 2014 State Fair Storify Board

The University of Delaware was well represented at the 2014 Delaware State Fair!

Take some time to check out all the awesome comments and photos that went out over the course of the 2014 Delaware State Fair on the UD Storify page and thanks to everyone who participated using the #statefairUD hashtag!

See you in 2015!

Three UD scientists among Thomson Reuters’ 2014 Highly Cited Researchers

highlycitedThree University of Delaware professors — Pamela Green, Blake Meyers and Cathy Wu — are among the world’s top scientists, according to the recently launched Thomson Reuters Highly Cited Researchers list.

According to Thomson Reuters, Highly Cited Researchers is a compilation of influential names in science that spotlights some of the “standout researchers of the last decade.”

Deriving from InCites Essential Science Indicators, a subset of the Web of Science, Highly Cited Researchers presents more than 3,000 authors in 21 main fields of science and the social sciences.

The researchers on the list earned the distinction by writing the greatest numbers of reports officially designated by Essential Science Indicators as Highly Cited Papers — those ranking among the top 1 percent most cited for their subject field and year of publication — between 2002 and 2012.

Thus, the listings of Highly Cited Researchers feature authors whose published work in their specialty areas has consistently been judged by peers to be of particular significance and utility, according to Thomson Reuters.

This new compilation of Highly Cited Researchers updates a previous site, originally known as ISIHighlyCited, first launched in 2001. The older collection identified researchers according to total citations to their work.

This time, Thomson Reuters analysts decided on a different approach, relying on the Highly Cited Papers compiled by Essential Science Indicators.

Pamela Green

Green is a professor and holds the Crawford H. Greenewalt Chair in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. She is also a professor in the School of Marine Science and Policy in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment with joint appointments in the departments of Biological Sciences and Chemistry and Biochemistry.

She leads a laboratory at the Delaware Biotechnology Institute (DBI) where her research is focused on post-transcriptional mechanisms that regulate the expression of genes, primarily in plants, but also in marine organisms and human cells. She is particularly interested in the fate of mRNA molecules because of their pivotal role as intermediates in the gene expression process.

Her work investigates the regulatory roles of microRNAs, RNA degradation, ribonucleases, and environmental stress responses.

Blake Meyers

Meyers is the chair of the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, and he is the Edward F. and Elizabeth Goodman Rosenberg Professor of Plant and Soil Sciences. He also leads a laboratory at DBI.

The research of the Meyers lab is focused on plant genomics, studying and characterizing small RNAs and their regulatory roles. The lab’s research utilizes novel approaches and applications of bioinformatics and next-generation sequencing, with an emphasis on understanding the biological functions, evolution, and genomic impact of small RNAs, plus their interconnected functions in DNA methylation and as modulators of gene expression. These studies take place in rice, Arabidopsis, maize, Medicago, soybean and other species.

Cathy Wu

Wu is the Edward G. Jefferson Chair of Bioinformatics and Computational Biology, the director for the Center for Bioinformatics and Computational Biology (CBCB), the director of the Protein Information Resource (PIR) and a professor of computer and information sciences and also of biological sciences.

Her research interests include bioinformatics and computational biology, biological text mining, biological ontology, systems biology, and bioinformatics cyberinfrastructure. She is the principal investigator or co-principal investigator on a number of consortium projects, including the UniProt Consortium that provides an international protein sequences and functional resource with over 4 million page views per month from over 400,000 unique sites worldwide.

Collaborations

The three researchers have had a number of collaborations with one another over the years.

Meyers and Green just completed their 34th co-authored paper together, in addition to having had numerous grants funded together. Their collaborative work is facilitated by the intermingling of lab members in shared office space.

The two also serve as advisers on the graduate committees of each other’s students and are currently wrapping up a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) project with joint funding.

Together with Wu, all three researchers are involved in the National Science Foundation (NSF) Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) Program at UD.

Wu and Meyers are involved in a $2.2 million grant provided to UD from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to look at the production of biofuels in which they focus on aspects of analysis of gene expression and systems biology. Wu and Meyers also work together on the bioinformatics graduate program, which Wu leads, and Wu is on the thesis committee for several of Meyers’ bioinformatics graduate students. Green is on the admissions committee for the bioinformatics graduate program.

Meyers explained that a common theme for all of them is large-scale biology. “While we each have our own areas of specialization and this ‘theme’ of large-scale biology plays a role of varying importance to our labs, we have many approaches in common. These are mainly related to bioinformatics and computational analyses, but are also connected to data generation, and laboratory methods and biological systems in the case of Pam and me,” he said.

Five UD students receive NSF Graduate Research Fellowships

DENIN-Fischel_Matt-Plant_Root_ResearchMatthew Fischel, a doctoral student at the University of Delaware, is busy this summer researching the ability of wetland plants to sequester heavy metal contaminants in the face of sea level rise at a community near Wilmington.

Fischel, whose hometown is Hockessin, Delaware, aspires to become a professor in the natural sciences, following in the footsteps of his adviser, Donald Sparks, S. Hallock du Pont Chair in Plant and Soil Sciences and director of the Delaware Environmental Institute.

“I want to be able to shape the future in environmental research and help train the next generation of scientists,” Fischel says.

He’s well on his way, as one of five UD students who have won prestigious Graduate Research Fellowship Program awards from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The oldest graduate fellowship of its kind, now in its 62nd year, the program has a strong track record of selecting recipients who achieve high levels of success in their future academic and professional careers, with past fellows including numerous Nobel Prize winners and other leading innovators and educators.

NSF Fellows benefit from a three-year annual stipend of $32,000 along with a $12,000 cost of education allowance for tuition and fees (paid to the institution), opportunities for international research and professional development, and the freedom to conduct their own research at any accredited U.S. institution of graduate education they choose.

Fischel, both honored and excited to be selected for the national award, says the fellowship provides the flexibility he needs to conduct research he’s interested in and which will help improve the natural world.

“The University of Delaware is proud of our NSF Graduate Research Fellows and looks forward to their continuing accomplishments,” says James Richards, vice provost for graduate and professional education. “These exceptional students are on a trajectory to become tomorrow’s leaders.”

UD’s 2014 NSF Graduate Research Fellows

The following UD students and alumni were named fellows and plan to pursue research in the following fields and graduate schools, according to information provided by NSF:

  • Peter Attia, engineering (materials), University of Delaware
  • Austin Bart (Honors), software systems and software engineering, Virginia Tech
  • Matthew Fischel, geosciences and geochemistry, University of Delaware
  • Michael Orella, chemical engineering, University of Delaware
  • Jeffrey Smith, life sciences – ecology, Yale University
  • Additionally, Diana Haidar, who received her bachelor’s degree at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, was named a fellow and is pursuing her graduate work in mechanical engineering at the University of Delaware.

Five UD alumni received honorable mention. They included Christine Gregg (Honors), currently a graduate student in mechanical engineering at the University of California-Berkeley; Douglas Kenny, a graduate student in chemistry at UD; Kelsey Lucca (Honors), a graduate student in developmental psychology at Duke University; Joshua Martin, a graduate student in materials science and engineering at Northeastern University; and Sarah Solomon (Honors), whose field of study is psychology-cognitive neuroscience.

Article by Tracey Bryant

Photo by Evan Krape

This story can also be viewed on UDaily.

Master Plan: A Vision and a Roadmap for the Next 25 Years

canr-master-plan-thumbnailThe College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) Master Plan results from a year-long discussion with members of CANR’s Advisory Board, administrative leadership team, students, faculty, staff, alumni, legislators, and other external stakeholders.

With a commitment to continuous quality improvement, CANR embarked on the development of a Master Plan to enable the College to prepare its graduates to address the world’s grand challenges in agriculture and natural resources 25 years into the future. The Master Plan is a flexible, “living document,” from which we will derive specific action plans. It also includes individual unit plans with performance measures, against which we will measure progress.

To read through the document in its entirety, click here:

Master Plan: A Vision and a Roadmap for the Next 25 Years [ pdf ]

University Farmers Market to run Thursdays, June 19 through Sept. 25

The University of Delaware Farmers Market will be held Thursdays, beginning June 19, at Mentors' Circle.
The University of Delaware Farmers Market will be held Thursdays, beginning June 19, at Mentors’ Circle.

Celebrating its fifth season, the University of Delaware’s summer Farmers Market is back at Mentors’ Circle from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Thursdays beginning June 19.

The Farmers Market, to be held every Thursday through Sept. 25, offers a wide variety of locally grown produce, spices, baked goods and more.

Along with items from more than 21 local area farms, the market includes a Chef’s Table where visitors can sample and take home unique summer recipes.

The Farmers Market will once again have UDairy Creamery alongside offering delicious ice cream, perfect for a sweet summer treat.

New to the Farmer’s Market this year is UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, which will have fresh plants and flowers for sale.

In case of inclement weather, the Farmers Market will move its operations to Friday, also at Mentors’ Circle.

Acceptable payment methods include points, flex, and cash.

ANFS 2014 Graduate Picnic

On Friday, May 9, 2014 the Animal and Food Sciences department held their annual end of the semester picnic to celebrate their 2014 graduates.

During the picnic students read a poem about their time with the department and at the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Here is a link to the poem “Ode From the Class of 2014.”

Many thanks to Dr. Limin Kung for sharing the photos he took during the event.

UD faculty members incorporate new ethics modules into their courses

Pictured are (from left, front row) Tom Powers, Julie Maresca and Seth Shabo; (second row) Erin Brannick, Lindsay Hoffman and Belinda Orzada; (third row) Chris Williams, Victor Perez and Raymond Peters; and (back row) Randy Wisser and Donald Sparks.
Pictured are (from left, front row) Tom Powers, Julie Maresca and Seth Shabo; (second row) Erin Brannick, Lindsay Hoffman and Belinda Orzada; (third row) Chris Williams, Victor Perez and Raymond Peters; and (back row) Randy Wisser and Donald Sparks.

In 2013, the Center for Science, Ethics and Public Policy (SEPP), with support from the Delaware EPSCoR program, sponsored a grant competition to integrate consideration of ethics and policy into undergraduate and graduate instruction at the University of Delaware.

Fourteen faculty proposals were selected for funding, and their projects have been implemented during the 2013-14 academic year.

According to SEPP’s director, Tom Powers, associate professor of philosophy, the goal of the program was to support new modules in existing or planned courses that introduced or explored themes of research ethics, bioethics, environmental ethics or policy, science policy or other social, legal or ethical issues relevant to the subject matter of the course.

The curriculum development awards averaged $3,000 each. Some of the new modules and courses were implemented during the fall semester, while others took place this spring.

With support from their grant, Tracey Quigley Holden, assistant professor of communication, and graduate student Michaele Myers revised the engineering and science sections of COMM 212 “Oral Communication In Business” to help students address ethical issues in science through public speaking and to be mindful of the ethics of their own presentations.

“The students were at first a bit apprehensive about the new materials,” Holden said, “but they immediately saw the value of including ethics in their research and presentations. What we saw was a terrific boost in class discussions of the ethical implications of scientific research and the way it is presented to the public. Their level of thinking in regard to assessing published research and science journalism is much higher, which is a great outcome.”

Others who received curriculum development grants include the following:

Erin Brannick, assistant professor of animal and food sciences, made changes to ANFS 467/667, “Biomedical Communication,” to introduce weekly “integral ethics” discussions and a research ethics forum, with guest speakers and student case studies and presentations.

Lindsay Hoffman, associate professor of communication, will be integrating modules into an existing course on technology and politics in a spring 2015 class. The modules will explore common themes in information technology and democracy and will introduce an overarching ethical framework.

Jeff Jordan, professor of philosophy, introduced a new module in PHIL 344, “Science and Religion,” to help students inquire into the appropriate role for science in a pluralistic democracy. He focused on the social and moral limits, if any, which properly restrain the teaching of science in public secondary schools.

Julie Maresca, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, added a module to CIEG 437, “Water Quality Analysis,” on the ethical and practical considerations involved in writing and implementing environmental policies. She tapped the knowledge of state and local government and water resources experts and invited guest speakers to the class.

Kent Messer, associate professor of applied economics and statistics, expanded and enhanced the integration of ethics, science, economics and environmental policy into the curriculum of APEC 100, “Sustainable Development.” He developed an innovative three-stage module related to environmental ethics.

Belinda Orzada, professor of fashion and apparel studies, teaches the capstone course for the apparel design program, FASH 484, “Design Expressions.” She developed a module with readings on sustainable and ethical design options, with a special focus on the environmental impact of the apparel industry.

Victor Perez, assistant professor of sociology and criminal justice, developed a course titled “Environment and Health.” It focused on embodied health social movements and explored ethics and policy issues when citizens are involved in performing their own scientific and nonscientific research.

Raymond Peters, assistant director of the Honors Program, developed new modules in science ethics and policy for UNIV 495, an honors degree capstone seminar titled “Big Ideas and Elegant Solutions: Creativity in the Sciences.” His students studied some famous cases of scientific creativity, including its “dark side,” and explored the systems approach to human error and individual responsibility.

Andrea Sarzynski, assistant professor in the School of Public Policy and Administration, developed a module for UAPP 325, “Public Policy Analysis,” to focus on the ethical analysis of policy problems and solutions. Her approach was to present ethical policy analysis as a key analytical tool and incorporated student activities in problem-based learning.

Alexander Selimov, associate professor of foreign languages and literatures, created a new course in Spanish and Latin American literature and culture with an experimental title: “Exploring Bioethics through Literature and Film.” Drawing on a wide range of sources in cultural production and ethics, this course offered students an opportunity to study a number of challenges in light of the advances in biotechnology and life sciences.

Seth Shabo, assistant professor of philosophy, teaches PHIL 380, “Moral Accountability,” which examines the nature of moral accountability in connection with such concepts as free will, blameworthiness, excuses, forgiveness and hypocrisy. He introduced empirical studies on emotions such as resentment, moral indignation and guilt and explored their roles in our practice of holding people responsible for their conduct.

Chris Williams, associate professor of entomology and wildlife ecology, introduced modules to ENWC 413/613, “Wildlife Policy and Administration,” on Aldo Leopold’s land ethic and the conflict between conservation and preservation of natural resources, aspects of hunting and an exploration of the recent controversy over the need to increase biofuel and food production from agricultural lands.

Randy Wisser, assistant professor of plant and soil sciences, teaches PLSC 467/667, “Genetics Breeding.” He developed lessons on the ethics and science policy surrounding genetically modified foods, the global exchange of genetic diversity and the patenting and commercialization of plants and animals.

About Delaware EPSCoR

EPSCoR, the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, is a federal grant program led by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to help states develop their research capabilities and institutions. It has served as a successful model for similar programs adopted by a number of federal agencies that sponsor scientific research.

The University of Delaware, Delaware State University, Delaware Technical Community College, and Wesley College are partners in Delaware’s EPSCoR Research Infrastructure Improvement (RII) grant, the goal of which is to engage science, engineering, social science and policy experts in a vibrant, globally competitive, research and education community to address environmental and energy challenges and capture the economic and societal benefits of the research.

Article by Beth Chajes

Photo by Ambre Alexander Payne

UD students get hands-on animal experience during lambing season

Students in the University of Delaware’s Department of Animal and Food Sciences 417 Capstone Course spent the beginning of the spring semester on the farm in the early morning hours of the day or into the early evening on “lamb watch,” keeping an eye out to see if any of the pregnant ewes in the UD flock were about to give birth.

Under the guidance of Lesa Griffiths, professor in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences, and Larry Armstrong, farm manager, the students spent the month of March — which was peak time for lambing this year — watching over the 52 ewes, which produced 93 lambs. The figures were up from the 81 lambs from 42 ewes last year.

Larry Armstrong and Kaitlyn Lutz work with UD's lambs.
Larry Armstrong and Kaitlyn Lutz work with UD’s lambs.

The 30-member class was divided into groups with four or five students per group and an honors student liaison, as the class is also an Honors Program capstone course. Each student had to sign up for six lamb watches during the lambing season in addition to their regular lab meetings once a week.

The earliest shift was from 6-7:30 a.m. and the latest was from 8-9:30 p.m. Each student had to write in a barn journal to provide an update on what they did and what they noticed for the next students scheduled to arrive at the farm, and Griffiths said that before spring break, there had been over 320 entries in the journal.

Griffiths said that if a lamb was born on a group’s watch, that group would take care of the lamb for the semester.

“They are responsible for making the decision as to when it’s appropriate to ear tag and dock their tails. They weigh and record birth weights, 10-day weights, 30-day weights, and they’ll administer their vaccines,” said Griffiths.

She added that this real world, hands-on experience is critical to the development of the students.

Several UD Department of Animal and Food Sciences students spent the beginning of the spring semester on "lamb watch."
Several UD Department of Animal and Food Sciences students spent the beginning of the spring semester on “lamb watch.”

“They really learn because when it comes to animal care, there is a much greater responsibility in terms of making sure the task gets done and playing your role,” said Griffiths. “You really have a responsibility and a level of accountability to the other people in your group and to the animals. I think the students learn a lot of people skills, communication skills and time management skills, as they have to relay information accurately and quickly.”

Armstrong noted, “After lambing, the students take an integral part in the challenges that arise from raising one of the world’s oldest domestic animals. The labs have been structured, yet are organic and fun at the same time.”

He added that the students “have done an amazing job of learning management skills and protocols from Dr. Griffiths then helping me to apply their newly learned skills in very real world situations. They learn, teach each other and confidently perform tasks that will put them above and beyond others in their future careers.”

Casey Foreman, a senior in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, said that lamb watch was mostly to make sure everything was proceeding as normal with the ewes and to notify Armstrong or Griffiths if one was having problems delivering.

“The ewes are usually able to give birth without any assistance. Once she has had the lamb, we can go in and clean off the lamb’s nose and mouth to make sure that it is able to breathe. Then we leave it alone so that the ewe can clean it off and begin to take care of it,” said Foreman.

Foreman, who has witnessed three births this lambing season, said her favorite part about the class is working with the animals. “We get to interact with the lambs, weighing them to keep track of their growth, giving them ear tags, and docking their tails. We also have to move the ewes, with their lambs, to different parts of the barn as the lambs get older. From the maternity bay with the pregnant sheep to a jug, an individualized pen where the mom can bond with her baby, and then to a mixing pen where groups of ewes and their babies are brought together again.”

During one particularly difficult lambing session this year, they had to call the University of Pennsylvania’s New Bolton Center for assistance, and it just so happened that the center sent a familiar face — Kaitlyn Lutz, a UD alumna who graduated in 2007 with a degree in animal science and pre-veterinary medicine and is a second-year resident at New Bolton.

“To walk in and see her there was really nice,” Griffiths said, “not only because she’s an alum but because she’s interested in small ruminants and it’s not always easy to find a veterinarian with expertise in sheep.”

Lutz said that she currently trains veterinary students on all livestock species — sheep, goats and dairy and beef cows — and because UD is a client, she explained, “The involvement I have here is all on the veterinary side and we come down once a week to take care of any lambing issues and any sick animals. And if there are students here, they get to become involved.”

Lutz said it is great to come back to UD and see the facilities and interact with the people. “It’s really nice to have that involvement and then to also know that when I come back, I can be so proud of what the University of Delaware has to offer,” said Lutz. “All of the facilities are great, the people here are great, and it’s nice to bring vet students here to teach them using such a great facility with good management and have that interaction now that I’ve learned more — and am still learning from the people here.”

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos by Danielle Quigley

4-H offers nutrition, physical activity, shopping savvy training to Delaware youths

Through the UD Cooperative Extension Food Smart Families program, teenagers discuss the value of nutrition.
Through the UD Cooperative Extension Food Smart Families program, teenagers discuss the value of nutrition.

The University of Delaware Cooperative Extension will set out to provide 2,500 children ages 8-12 with 10 hours of nutrition, physical activity and shopping savvy education by Oct. 31 thanks to funds awarded by ConAgra Foods to the National 4-H Council.

Delaware was one of five states nationwide chosen to receive funding from the National 4-H Council to establish a Food Smart Families program.

Using curriculum from Cornell Cooperative Extension, Sue Snider, nutrition and food safety specialist with Cooperative Extension, adapted it to create Delaware’s 10-hour curriculum, which is offered statewide and made up of five two-hour sessions.

The five sessions are:

  • “Drink Low-Fat Milk and Water Instead of Sweetened Drinks!” This lesson will teach children the importance of drinking healthy beverages, especially milk and water, rather than soda and energy drinks. The children will get to make and try a strawberry smoothie.
  • “Eat a Rainbow: Eat More Vegetables and Fruits!” This lesson will use food models and veggie bingo as a subtle way to encourage children to eat more fruits and vegetables. The children will make and taste calabicitas, a delicious veggie stir-fry that features a rainbow of vegetables.
  • Make Half Your Grains Whole: Eat More Whole Grains!” More whole grains equals more fiber in the diet. Children will compare various grains and get to try oatmeal pancakes as part of this lesson. Learning to read nutrition facts labels will help children find the whole grain and see how much fiber it contributes to the product.
  • “Healthier Foods Fast: Eat Fewer High-Fat, High-Sugar Foods!” Making “blubber burgers” will help children visualize the amount of fat in many fast food offerings. Comparing menus for healthier options will educate the children about better choices. Broccoli bean quesadillas will be prepared to expose the children to a quick homemade alternative to fast food.
  • Power Up the Day: Eat Breakfast!” Breakfast parfaits are a quick, easy, on-the-go breakfast that will dispel the “I don’t have time” myth when it comes to breakfast. “Breakfast Olympics” will teach children to compare breakfast options in a fun and interactive way.

Kathleen Splane, extension agent and the state program leader for family and consumer sciences, explained that the curriculum will be taught at places like summer camps and schools. “In April, we’re starting in schools, we’re doing some spring break sessions and we’re conducting trainings in after school care centers, all kinds of different places — anywhere we can reach these 8-12 year olds,” said Splane.

Mark Manno, state 4-H program leader, said he believes summer camps offer a great opportunity for the programming. “A lot of camps end early and they have after care. We are letting them know that we’ll come in for two hours at no cost and do this really cool curriculum with your kids,” said Manno.

Splane also said that another important component of the project is that teenagers will be working alongside adults to deliver the curriculum and that the students will learn leadership skills and self-confidence.

In addition to the lessons for the children, there will also be an opportunity for the parents to get involved with the program. Splane said that in addition to the 10 hours of learning, there will be an additional five hours of interactions with the children and their families, which will vary depending on the children.

“Some of them are going to be community events but the idea is to have the families receive groceries for them to be able to carry out some of the recipes that we do,” said Splane. “We’re also looking to do some supermarket shopping spree kinds of things where families compete by going up and down the aisles of a grocery store and finding the ingredients for the least amount of money to create a recipe that we give them.”

Adults and teens were trained in the curriculum on April 1 and April 3 in Dover and April 8 in Newark, with another session scheduled there April 15. Programming will begin later in April.

“We’re looking forward to it being a fun event,” said Splane. “Many of the children that are going to be reached are low-income so that’s a big component.”

Splane also pointed out that all seven professionals for the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFPNEP) and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) will be teaching the program statewide during the summer as well.

Kayla Martell is working as the project director for Splane, doing a lot of the work with the teens. So far, 30 teens, who are given a stipend for their work, and adult educators have been trained.

For more information contact Kathleen Splane at 302-730-4000 or email ksplane@udel.edu.

Article by Adam Thomas

New AGcelerate program provides CANR freshmen with support

The CANR Agcelerate program features activities on campus and off campus, including the planting of beach grass at the Delaware shore.
The CANR Agcelerate program features activities on campus and off campus, including the planting of beach grass at the Delaware shore.

Last fall, University of Delaware faculty members Erin Brannick and Tanya Gressley welcomed the inaugural 30-member class to the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) AGcelerate Program.

Funded through the President’s Diversity Initiative, the AGcelerate program is designed to foster a sense of community, to prepare students for academic success by giving them peer and faculty mentors, and to help them make important contacts in the real world to secure internships and promote career development.

“We just opened it up to freshmen this year and we have about 30 freshmen enrolled. We paired them all with peer mentors, so we have 22 peer mentors that are a part of it, also,” said Gressley, associate professor in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences (ANFS).

Brannick, assistant professor in the department, added that the program is “tailored for individual support. We have students that may want to be a part of this program for the tutoring that’s offered here on South Campus.”

Brannick added that group tutoring sessions are held once a week on Tuesdays, from 5-7 p.m. in 049 Townsend Hall.

In addition to tutoring, the students also get mentoring from peers and can request a faculty mentor, in addition to their regular faculty member adviser.

Brannick explained that the peer mentoring is more focused on having the freshmen learn the ropes of the University, while the faculty mentors help give the students career attention and career planning advice.

The program also brings resources directly to the students. For instance, Joyce Henderson, assistant director at the University’s Career Services Center, spoke to program members about opportunities available to them.

“We do a weekly discussion thread through our campus site that usually relates to either campus resources or to how students learn and study, giving tips and advice about any detailed support that they can share with each other,” said Brannick. She added that the group also has weekly prize giveaways, such as gift cards to bookstores or restaurants on Main Street, to encourage the students to contribute to the discussions.

In addition, Brannick said many of the students enjoy the fact that the group is close-knit. “The students have indicated that another major factor for them is just the friendships and that idea of camaraderie in the group and feeling like they have other people to go to when they need help, or knowing who to approach when they’re looking for assistance beyond what they can find on their own,” said Brannick.

The group also participates in off-campus excursions, such as going to Milburn Orchards in the fall, and in service learning activities, such as planting beach grass at the Delaware shore.

Gressley said the hope is that students who are taking the program as freshmen will come back and serve as peer mentors for the next group as they continue their college careers.

There are also funds allocated to “support travel to conferences and internships and in the future we hope to kind of team up a little bit to help get them internships in their fields,” said Gressley. “This year is predominantly about academic success but then as they mature, we want to get them to hit the ground running. Once they’re running, we’ll focus more on leadership skills and career building.”

Brannick added that the program is designed to “support students as they develop so it’s everything from hitting the ground running and finding everything that you need around campus to being successful and to wanting to stay at UD and at our college. And there is that next phase about how to develop themselves while they’re here to become leaders.”

The AGcelerate program is teaming up with Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences (MANRRS) to host two booths at Ag Day on April 26 and they will host a MANRRS reunion panel on May 2 in the Townsend Hall commons from 11 a.m.-1 p.m., with a panel discussion from 11 a.m.-noon and lunch from noon-1 p.m.

AGcelerate has open enrollment and is open to CANR students in all fields of study.

Those interested in applying for the AGcelerate program should email the group at AGcelerate@udel.edu.

Article by Adam Thomas

April 11-13: Lawn mower tune-up

The University of Delaware’s Alpha Gamma Rho (AGR) fraternity for agriculture and the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) Club are once again offering a push lawn mower tune-up service on Friday, April 11, and Saturday, April 12, rain or shine.

The event will be held at the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) campus, with pick up on Saturday and Sunday, April 13.

Over 6,300 mowers have been serviced at the event since 2000.

The tune-up — provided by trained students and alumni members of the clubs — includes washing the mower, an oil change, spark plug replacement, air filter cleaning, and blade sharpening. Service performed is tune-up only; no repairs will be performed and no riding mowers will be accepted.

Richard Morris, UD farm manager and adviser for AGR, said it is a good idea to have a lawn mower tuned up every year in order to make it last longer. He also noted that the event has a lot of repeat customers and most of them are easy to find.

Jason Morris, a sophomore in CANR, said that there will be around 30-40 volunteers this year, including current members of AGR, each of whom will volunteer for a minimum of 15 hours, and SAE, and also some AGR alumni.

The cost of the tune-up is $38. Payment in the form of cash or check may be made at drop off.

Drop off times are from 2 to 8 p.m. on Friday, April 11, and from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday, April 12.

Customers can pick up their mowers on Saturday from 1 to 6 p.m. for the first 300 mowers taken on Friday, or on Sunday, April 13, from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. for the remaining mowers.

All mowers must be picked up by 2 p.m. on Sunday. The owners of any mowers not picked up by Sunday will be charged a storage fee.

Richard Morris said that he wanted to “thank the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources for letting us take over their parking lot and for having the full support from the dean and the college.”

Lawn mowers may be dropped off and picked up in the parking lot behind Worrilow and Townsend halls on UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources campus at 531 S. College Ave., just north of the Fred Rust Ice Arena. Look for signs for the tune-up.

For more information, contact Tim Schofield of AGR at tschof@udel.edu or 610-883-0531.

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

UDairy Creamery to hold annual Alumni Weekend ice cream flavor contest

icecreamaIn honor of Alumni Weekend at the University of Delaware, the UDairy Creamery is featuring its annual ice cream flavor contest.

The contest will determine the 2014 limited edition “Dela-bration” flavor that members of the campus community can create.

UD alumni, employees and students have the opportunity to submit flavor ideas they think should make up “Dela-bration,” the official ice cream of Alumni Weekend.

The winning flavor will be available to taste and purchase during Alumni Weekend.

The new flavor will also be announced at the Alumni Weekend Lunch with the YoUDee mascots on June 7 on The Green.

In addition to free access to Alumni Weekend activities, the creator of the winning flavor will also receive an UDairy Creamery prize pack.

Last year’s winning flavor was submitted by Gretchen Wolfe, of the Class of 2001, and featured vanilla ice cream with chocolate chips, almonds, chocolate covered pretzels and dark chocolate fudge.

Her description read, “This flavor symbolizes the cycle of a UD student becoming an alumnus. Students start as a blank slate (vanilla), go ‘nuts’ (almonds), get wrapped up in studies (pretzels), find out how sweet life can be (fudge), and then leave a little bit of themselves behind on campus (the chocolate chips).”

Entrants are encouraged to consider varieties of flavor combinations for their “Dela-bration” flavor submission — Neapolitan or chocolate swirl, brownies or ginger snaps, or fruit or fudge? They can let their imaginations run free and enter for a chance to win free access for them and a guest to all Alumni Weekend activities from June 6-8.

Submit ideas online at this site or pick up an entry form at UDairy Creamery, located off of South College Avenue at the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources on the north side of the Fred Rust Ice Arena.

UD Alumni Weekend

Held the first weekend after Commencement each year, Alumni Weekend is a tradition that is growing in popularity and in size.

The weekend encourages alumni, friends, and families to return to campus and celebrate the qualities that make UD unique. It also provides an opportunity to reconnect with friends and professors and to witness the remarkable changes at the University over the past few years.

More than 5,300 Blue Hens and friends attended in 2013, participating in activities such as Mug Night, the Blue Hen 5K, reunions, President Patrick Harker’s State of the University address, the R&B Lounge and the Alumni Wall of Fame Ceremony. More information is available at the Alumni Weekend website.

UDairy Creamery

The UDairy Creamery, established in 2008, produces premium ice cream made with the milk from the cows on the farm at UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

Founded on science, sustainability and entrepreneurship, the UDairy Creamery encourages discovery learning, with UD students involved in every aspect of making and selling ice cream “from the cow to the cone.” Get more information at the UDairy Creamery website.

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

UD Botanic Gardens announce annual benefit plant sale

SummerThe 22nd annual University of Delaware Botanic Gardens Benefit Plant Sale will be held on Friday and Saturday, April 25-26, on the South Campus in Newark.

The sale will be held from 3-7 p.m. Friday and from 9:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday – the latter in conjunction with Ag Day — in the fenced area across from Fisher Greenhouse. Admission is free.

Those with interest can view the plant sale catalog at the UDBG website to see an array of summer’s grande dames of horticulture — the hydrangea, a prime selection of magnolias, maples and iris, along with hundreds of additional select treasures.

UDBG Friends enjoy an exclusive day to shop at the sale on Thursday, April 24, from 3-7 p.m. To enjoy other exclusive member benefits, join the Friends online or contact Melinda Zoehrer at 302-831-0153 or BotanicGardens@udel.edu.

Hydrangeas featured

The featured plants, hydrangeas, though a small portion of the many ornamental shrubs available to modern gardeners, embody all the best attributes of horticulture as a hobby and, for some, an obsession. This beautiful group of plants exhibits a stunning diversity of species and cultivated varieties that satisfy a wide range of tastes and garden settings. All members of the genus share a common name, but in some cases the similarities end there.

The impressive floral prowess of many hydrangeas is arguably their most exciting and endearing feature. Interestingly, the impressive diversity of the family means this characteristic is itself subject to a number of different factors. These traits, long admired by hydrangea aficionados, include flower color, size, shape and the season in which they are at their best.

Next, the specific growth habit, growth rate and mature size of the various hydrangeas dictate their appropriate landscape placement. Finally, their varying foliage characteristics, from spring through fall, combine to provide a plethora of exciting options. When it comes to hydrangeas, there is truly something for everyone.

The genus hydrangea consists of over 70 species worldwide, but the best choices for Mid-Atlantic gardens can be narrowed down to five main groups. Each group consists of one or more “hallmark” species that exemplify their prime ornamental features and any number of named varieties, known as cultivars.

The first four groups consist of shrubby plants and include Smooth hydrangea (H. arborescens), Oakleaf hydrangea (H. quercifolia), Panicle hydrangea (H. paniculata) and the classic lacecap and mophead types (H. macrophylla and H. serrata), whose colorful blooms have graced gardens for centuries.

The fifth and final group includes the handsome pair of vines known as Climbing hydrangea (H. anomala ssp. petiolaris) and its cousin the Japanese hydrangea vine (Schizophragma hydrangeoides).

Each group offers its own personality, distinct ornamental attributes and respective place in the garden.

About the hydrangea groups

First, Smooth hydrangea is a native shrub found in shady forest nooks throughout the Mid-Atlantic and Southern states. It becomes a prominent garden feature each May as large creamy flower clusters cover its leafy framework.

This plant, perhaps best known by the popular variety Annabelle, often droops to the ground under the weight of its floral might. Dedicated breeding work in recent years has led to the availability of pink flowered types such as Invincibelle Spirit and Bella Anna.

The second group also consists of a shrubby denizen of the southeastern United States. Oakleaf hydrangea is so-named for its deeply cut foliage that mimics the familiar look of many oak tree (Quercus spp.) leaves. This fascinating textural attribute alone would be a great reason to grow this species, however it also offers an excellent display of white, conical flower panicles in late spring.

Fall brings yet another season of interest as the leaves take on gorgeous shades of burgundy, orange and scarlet. Many selections have been made for flower size and growth habit over the years. These even include an intriguing cultivar with glowing chartreuse foliage known as Little Honey.

The next group of hydrangeas is one that has enjoyed renewed popularity in recent years. The Panicle, or PeeGee hydrangea, is a feature of older farmsteads and the confines of “grandma’s garden.” It is an Asian import that became quite popular during Victorian times. Athletic in its physiology, it is a plant of impressive growth rate that springs into aesthetic action during mid to late summer.

Prominent white flower panicles decorate the landscape at a time when most other trees and shrubs have faded into the background. Interest in this old favorite has been rekindled by newer varieties bred for compactness and reduced size at maturity — perfect qualities for today’s smaller gardens.

The exquisite, showy blooms of the fourth group represent the quintessential concept of the genus hydrangea. Bigleaf hydrangea (H. macrophylla) and Mountain hydrangea (H. serrata) are closely related species that serve similar ornamental roles. The first species has been cultivated for centuries and offers flowers in either a “mophead” (ball-shaped) appearance or a “lacecap” (flat or horizontal) arrangement. Cultivars have been bred in a dizzying array of color combinations, including white, pink, red, blue and purple.

Mountain hydrangea differs mainly in its smaller stature and proclivity toward the “lacecap” floral type. These species are the hydrangeas famous for exhibiting varying flower color depending on soil chemistry. Acid soils (higher pH) encourage flowers that tend toward blue, while neutral to basic soils (lower pH) lead to pink flowers. Newer reblooming varieties such as Endless Summer all but guarantee a captivating floral show from spring through fall.

Finally, two additional species typify a decidedly non-traditional concept of hydrangeas. Both are climbing vines quite adept at scrambling up walls, fences and even the sides of buildings. Though differing in small fairly obscure botanical traits, Climbing hydrangea and the Japanese hydrangea vine are used similarly in the landscape. Both offer lacey white flower clusters in late spring and add a new dimension to how hydrangeas beautify our gardens.

UD Botanic Gardens

The UD Botanic Gardens are open year-round to provide ideas and inspiration, or for a quiet stroll.

UDBG contributes to an understanding of the relationships between plants and people through education, research, cooperative extension, and community support.

Article by Jason Veil, UDBG curatorial graduate teaching assistant

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

UD group visits New Zealand to learn about differences in agriculture

NZ0916A study abroad program in New Zealand during Winter Session brought together undergraduate learning and Cooperative Extension experience, two major aspects emphasized by the University of Delaware’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

This unique study abroad program blended classroom, experiential and extension education to deliver a unique discovery learning experience focused on New Zealand agriculture.

The five-week trip was led by Lesa Griffiths, professor in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences, and Susan Garey, animal science extension agent, who explained that the students divided their time between classroom learning and field experience as they traveled to farms and dairies to learn about the differences in farming and agriculture practices between the United States and New Zealand.

Garey said that she liked how the trip tied together the extension and undergraduate aspects of education. “We have the formal lecture in the classroom but getting out to the farm and looking at the blades of grass and seeing how pastures yields are measured and how you determine where to move the cows next in the grazing system, I just think really drives the point home to students.”

The students learned so much about New Zealand dairy and agriculture that two who went on the trip were able to present at Middletown High School at the annual meeting of the Delaware Holstein Association. The students talked about New Zealand agriculture and more specifically, about the dairy industry, such as typical farm size, how milk is marketed and the main products of the industry.

Pasture growth

Griffiths explained that the UD students learned a lot about pasture growth on their trip, both inside and outside of the classroom. Because the animals consume the grass available to them from pasture on farms in New Zealand, rather than being fed grain or harvested feeds, as is the case in America, understanding pasture growth is vital for that nation’s farmers.

The students stayed at Lincoln University in New Zealand, where they visited a 600-cow demonstration farm built to serve as a model for dairy farmers in the region.

Griffiths said the demonstration farm “serves more of an extension role — a place to try new pasture species, closely monitor pasture growth and animal performance, determine environmental impacts and share information with dairy farmers.”

Students learned from the farm manager about the concept of a pasture feed wedge, a graph of the current pasture status by ranking each paddock’s average pasture cover, she said.

“While the graph made it easy to see how much grass is out there for cows to consume, it was not so easy for students to visualize how the farmer gets his/her data on pasture grass production,” said Griffiths. To help farmers and students understand this, the farm staff would walk the pastures every Tuesday.

We showed up at the dairy and walked and measured weekly growth in each of the 21 paddocks. We stopped along the way and learned to evaluate the grass itself,” said Griffiths.

Jenna Wilson, a sophomore majoring in pre-veterinary medicine and animal biosciences, said it was clear that the farmers cared dearly about their grass. “They really want the grass to produce well so that the animals produce well. They talked about when they cut it and when they grow it, where they grow it, and how they divide up the pasture.”

Garey added that the need for animals to feed themselves through pasture originated out of necessity because the farmers “don’t have the soil types to grow as much grain as we do here.”

Dairy differences

One of the biggest differences the group learned about was in the management of dairy farms. “New Zealand exports a lot of milk but one of the big cultural differences is New Zealanders are not large consumers of fluid milk,” said Garey, who explained that a majority of that nation’s dairy production is exported in milk powders that are headed to Asia, as well as in baby formula and in products such as cheese and butter.

Garey added that while dairies in America tend to milk their cows 305 out of 365 days of the year, the New Zealand dairies milk their cows around 223 days a year.

Wilson explained that a big difference between the two countries is that New Zealand farms tend to be more hands off and have fewer buildings for the animals.

“They don’t really interact as much with the animals as we do — except for dairying, obviously, because they have to bring them in twice a day. But a lot of the time, they just put the animals out in the pasture and leave them there until they need to shear them or breed them,” said Wilson.

Deer farms

Another difference between the two nations is that in New Zealand there are deer farms.

“At the deer farm that we went to, the farmer was raising them for the velvet. Antlers in the velveting stage get shipped to Asia for medicinal purposes. When they get older they use the deer for meat,” said Wilson, who added that these farms are easy to spot because they have very high fences to prevent the animals from jumping out.

Garey added that the deer on those farms are red deer, which differ from the white tailed deer found in Delaware.

Garey said the deer farms are what she calls a sign of “Kiwi ingenuity,” explaining that because deer — along with other animals — were brought to New Zealand from England, they had no known natural predators and their population exploded. Some New Zealanders decided to trap the animals and farm them in order to harvest either their velvet or their meat, usually focusing on one or the other.

“They do well in the harsher country so it’s a way to use the variability of land,” said Garey. “The south island of New Zealand is very diverse from the flat plains to high country and hill country. The high country environment is much harsher and that would not be good land, necessarily, for milking dairy cattle, but deer can do well in those environments.”

Because of the variability of the land, the farms also have multiple uses, sometimes housing sheep, deer and cattle, instead of focusing on one species.

Article by Adam Thomas

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

UD professor competes in Can-Am Crown Sled Dog Race

sleddogsaWhen the University of Delaware’s Eric Benson entered the 22nd annual Can-Am Crown Sled Dog Race in Maine, the only thing that he did not want to see at the end of the run was the Red Lantern, which is given to the slowest team.

Luckily for Benson, he had put in enough training and his dogs ran fast enough to avoid receiving that “prize.”

Benson, associate professor in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences, and his six-dog team finished in 20th out of 26 teams, running the 30-mile race in 4 hours and 19 minutes.

Benson said that he was happy with the result, especially because he and his dogs do not race a lot.

Benson co-owns Maryland Sled Dog Adventures LLC with his wife, Catherine. Maryland Sled Dog Adventures focuses on teaching people about dog sledding and most of the events are on weekends, which also is when the races are usually held.

Maryland Sled Dog Adventures works many Girl Scout and Boy Scout troops, teaching the children about dog sledding. While the opportunity provides the young people hands-on experiences and gives the dogs training, these runs are generally for short distances, not the long 30-mile slogs through the snow that CAN-AM race entailed.

“Our normal business has us doing a lot of short distance, stop, short distance, stop, which is kind of the exact opposite of what we want,” said Benson. “On a given day when we’re running things for Girl Scouts, we might total six or seven miles, when we needed to get up to 30 miles and have the dogs run continuously.”

To supplement the training, Benson said they “did a couple of trips this winter where we went up to Maine and we would run 18-20 mile stretches.”

The week before the race, the team trained in Edmonton, Canada, and did 16-30 mile runs every other day in order to train under similar geography and temperature conditions that they would encounter during the race.

sleddogsbAll of the dogs on the team – made up of four dogs owned by Benson and his wife and two dogs owned by friends — are Siberian Huskies, while a lot of the other dogs in the race were Alaskan Huskies.

Benson said that this put his team at a disadvantage because while Siberian Huskies are a registered, pure breed, Alaskan Huskies can be bred with faster types of dogs. “What that lets people do is mix in German short haired pointer, German shepherd, whatever they want — even greyhound — to get the speed that they need. So in any race when they’re in the same field, they will be faster,” said Benson.

The dogs that raced in the Cam-Am were Benson’s dogs Acadia, Sammamish, Beaver and Vale, and his friends’ dogs, Lumos and Yoda.

The dogs trained with Benson throughout the winter, both locally and on trips to Maine. This winter was especially good for training locally because of the numerous storms.

“We did some training here with snow,” Benson said. “We normally assume that we will do all of our training in this area with the wheeled carts, but this year, I think we had seven or eight times we were able to get out and sled. Previous years, we’ve had zero.”

As for his role on the team, Benson said that for this particular course, the first eight miles were on an old railroad track that was converted to a trail and so from the beginning he had to slow the team down by pumping the brakes in order to save their strength.

After the flat beginning, the team moved into hills and Benson said he started what is known as pedaling, pushing the sled with one foot while the other stays on the sled’s runner. “You give a stride to help the dogs along. The other thing you do is sometimes you carry a ski pole and as you’re running along, you’ll use the ski pole to help add a little bit of energy to the team,” said Benson.

Towards the end of the race, at about mile 22, the elevation started to rise. “From mile 22-28, it was a tough run. A lot of helping the team, a lot of running up the hills, a lot of pedaling, a lot of poling,” said Benson.

As for how he got involved in the sport, Benson said it started when his dog Zoe, who has long since retired, wouldn’t tire out on normal walks around the block. They got into it with a very simple cart and two dogs — the other was named T-Bone — and then started adding dogs and equipment to get to where they are today.

Benson said that it is a little tricky to balance such an intensive hobby with his job as a professor, but that sometimes the two worlds collide nicely. “I did bring some of the sled dogs in last fall for my emergency animal management class when we were talking about working dogs, and that was actually a neat tie-in,” said Benson.

“Working dogs, including sled dogs, are managed very differently from companion animal dogs and having had the sled dogs, I really understand a bit more about that,” he said. “We’re kind of in a transition zone because our dogs are still pets, which is not traditional working dog mentality, but we’ve transitioned more toward a traditional working dog structure and so that definitely fit well for discussions in the emergency animal management class.”

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos by Catherine and Eric Benson

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

UD students spend winter in Hawaii studying whales

whale1While most Delawareans were inundated with cold and snow this winter, using shovels and plows to get out of their driveways, University of Delaware student Rebecca Moeller was busy working in the warm sunshine with whales in a place known as something of a tropical paradise: Hawaii.

Working in Maui through an internship with the Ocean Mammal Institute, Moeller, a senior majoring in animal science and minoring in wildlife conservation in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, said she spent three weeks tracking pods of humpback whales to see what effect boats had on their behavior.

She explained that during four-hour shifts, either from 8 a.m.-noon or 1-5 p.m., she and her team would be stationed on a cliff about a half a mile offshore, or at another location right on the shore, equipped with binoculars and looking for pods of whales.

“We would try to find one pod and then we would keep track of that pod for 20 minutes. Once we had a 20-minute period without a boat near the pod, we would keep track of the behaviors when there was a boat within half a mile, and then again once the boat was out of range for 20 minutes,” explained Moeller.

Tracking behavior wasn’t the only thing Moeller did during her internship, however; she also learned how to use a theodolite — a surveying instrument used to track coordinates — in order to pinpoint the locations where they spotted the pods.

Moeller said that team members would usually work with four or five pods a day and they would do an analysis of the pods at the end of every day.

“We would map them and then record how much down time there was and how many surface behaviors there were,” said Moeller. “Then at the end of the internship, we had to write a research paper using all of the data that we had collected.”

The interns also had to take a three-hour class every night after completing all of their work. So while it’s natural for everyone to hear Hawaii and automatically think of rest and relaxation, Moeller stressed that she spent the majority of her time hard at work.

“We were able to go snorkeling, but that was about the only thing that we had time for. I mean, the condos that we stayed at were right on the beach so we were able to appreciate the beauty of it, but we didn’t get much down time,” said Moeller.

Not that that was a bad thing, especially since she was able to fulfill a lifelong dream. “Ever since I can remember, I wanted to be a dolphin trainer. A lot of people have that phase, only I never really grew out of it. I’ve always just really loved marine mammals,” said Moeller.

She added that the internship would also help her after graduation as she enters the career field.

“In my future endeavors I really want to work in conservation biology for marine mammals and this definitely helped push me in that direction because I always knew that I wanted to be involved with dolphins and whales and porpoises,” she said. “Having this experience kind of showed me that conservation biology is definitely the direction that I want to go.”

Moeller was joined on the trip by another UD student, Alessandra Fantuzzi, a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Article by Adam Thomas

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

Charter student completes research in Seyfferth’s lab

seyfferth-venkataramanWhen Rohith Venkataraman, a junior who attends the Charter School of Wilmington, decided to search for research being conducted by University of Delaware professors, he did not know what he would find. By chance, he came across Angelia Seyfferth’s research and sent her an e-mail asking if he could help out in her lab.

Now, about a year since that e-mail was sent, not only has Venkataraman completed his research with Seyfferth, assistant professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, and Gang Li, a postdoctoral researcher in Seyfferth’s lab, but that research helped him place first in the plant science section of his school’s science fair. He will now be presenting his research project at the 19th annual Delaware Technical Community College Science Expo in February.

“It’s safe to say that email was a great decision,” said Venkataraman. “Dr. Seyfferth has been encouraging and helpful right from the get go and I have had a wonderful research experience under her guidance and Dr. Li’s tutelage.”

The research began last summer when Venkataraman worked with Seyfferth and Li on a plant science project dealing with the arsenic uptake mechanism in rice plants. Venkataraman said that Seyfferth’s previous work suggested that one can decrease the amount of arsenic assimilated by a plant if one adds silicic acid to the growth media of rice plants.

“This promising research could lead to new ways of growing rice in areas with high arsenic contents in the soil,” said Venkataraman. “As a means to confirm literature and test our own variables, we designed and grew plants over a period of 3 weeks, 6 weeks, and 9 weeks. The plants were then flash frozen and stored in a freezer for further RNA analysis of oxidative stress genes and total arsenic content analysis.”

Venkataraman said that the procedure for extracting RNA and analysis was “quite complex. There were many steps each requiring careful attention to details. The procedure required adding small quantities of many solutions and centrifuging the tissue numerous times.”

As for his favorite part of the project, Venkataraman explained that he enjoyed assisting Li with changing the nutrient solutions for the plants and assisting with the liquid nitrogen flash freezing.

“The attributes of chemicals and their properties have always amazed me,” said Venkataraman. “I have always looked forward to Dr. Seyfferth’s insight on scientific aspects of the research, which she has enthusiastically shared with me. Dr. Li has guided and explained about various processes that we were working on. Both of them have expanded my horizon of knowledge and made my experience at the lab and research something that I have looked forward to.”

Seyfferth said that she was “impressed by Rohith’s questions and scientific inquisitiveness, he is a highly motivated young student.” Seyfferth added that she is “eager to continue providing research opportunities for high school students across Delaware.”

As for his plans for after high school, Venkataraman said that he is not sure what he wants to do yet but that he is exploring studying molecular biology along with a pre-med track.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo by Danielle Quigley