Agriculture

Risk Management Tools: Helping Connecticut Farms Grow

Horsebarn Hill at UConn
A view of Horsebarn Hill at sunrise on July 20, 2017. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

“Agriculture is inherently a risk filled profession,” says Associate Extension Educator Joseph Bonelli. “Utilizing risk management is a tool for farmers to minimize the impacts of threats they can’t completely control by reducing the impact of certain dangers on their farm business.”

UConn Extension has a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Risk Management Association (RMA) grant for farmers and growers, specifically focusing on crop insurance and its options. USDA offers fewer disaster assistance funds, and wants farmers to take a greater interest in managing their risks and related financial impacts. The program is designed to create a safety net for operations through insurance for weather incidents, pests, or a lack of market.

The beauty of the programming is that Extension educators can weave in other topics of interest in areas of risk management for farmers. Examples include production risk, plant diseases, or labor. RMA covers any practice that mitigates risk on a farm operation.

“I enjoy helping farmers develop solutions to problems,” Bonelli states. “I ask them what keeps them up at night. For many farmers its problems that risk management can help them mitigate. Extension helps farmers understand the tools that are available, and grow the farm for the next generation.”

Mary Concklin, Visiting Associate Extension Educator for Fruit Production and IPM, is the co- principal investigator on the RMA grant with Bonelli. An advisory board of 12 people meets annually to provide input on programming. Members of the committee include Extension educators, Farm Bureau, the Department of Agriculture, and industry organizations.

Programs offered include workshops and one-on-one sessions with technical advisors. The RMA program has a suite of educational resources. A video series was created featuring farmers from different sectors of agriculture discussing how crop insurance has helped their operation. A monthly e-newsletter was recently introduced. Each issue showcases a farmer, and provides tips that farmers can immediately put into practice.

Agricultural producers appreciate that RMA programs have an impartial approach, and are not trying to sell anything. Program instructors serve as technical advisors and a sounding board.

UConn Extension is part of a network of information through our association with other land grant universities and Extension systems, and brings in outside expertise as it’s needed by our farmers. Risk management is also incorporated into other UConn Extension programs for agricultural producers.

Connecticut farmers have experienced a tremendous shift from wholesale to retail marketing. The demands on farmers and growers to understand how to promote and market value added crops has added another level of responsibility, where before farmers only focused on production. Direct marketing brings another whole area of risk through product liability and competition.

Not all national crop insurance programs fit Connecticut agriculture. Farmers need to make an informed decision
based on the facts as to whether or not a policy fits their business, and should be purchased. Bonelli and Concklin provide feedback to USDA on the reasons why Connecticut farmers choose not to purchase insurance, with the goal of improv- ing federal programs available.

“We try to be on the leading edge of what’s new to help farmers be more productive and financially viable,” Bonelli concludes. “It’s rewarding that UConn Extension is part of the success and resiliency of farmers in our state. No one organization is responsible, we’re part of a team working with the farmers to grow their businesses.”

Article by Stacey Stearns

Connecticut Grown Strawberries Ripe for Picking

Connecticut grown strawberries in cartonsFresh from the field, Connecticut Grown strawberries are now ripening and ready to eat. Strawberries are the first fruit available in Connecticut and signal the arrival of summer for many residents who look forward to visiting one of the state’s pick-your-own farms.

“Visiting a Connecticut strawberry patch to pick your own is a wholesome, family fun activity,” said Bryan P. Hurlburt, Connecticut Department of Agriculture Commissioner. “This type of activity supports local farms and farm families while generating millions of dollars in agritourism for the state’s economy. And, the best part of it all is that you get fresh Connecticut Grown strawberries to eat at home.” 

While it’s early in the season, producers are reporting that picking is quite good. “Despite the amount of record breaking rain in April and early May, the strawberries crop is now experiencing excellent weather for maturing to ripening. The season is off to a great start and it appears that the production will be right in line for a successful strawberry season,” said Nancy Barrett, owner of Scantic Valley Farm in Somers, CT.

It’s a good idea to call ahead, or check the farms website, for daily updates as weather conditions impact availability. Sweet and juicy strawberries are also available now at farmers’ markets and farm stands throughout the state. Find one near you at www.CTGrown.gov/strawberry.

When ripe, strawberries smell wonderful and taste even better. As members of the rose family, this perennial plant is a good source of vitamin C, manganese, folate, and potassium. They are also loaded with antioxidants.

Strawberries should be plump and firm with a bright red color and natural shine. The color and fragrance of the berry, not size, are the best indicators of flavor. Once you get your strawberries home, wash them and cut the stem away to store in a cool place. If you plan to keep them in the fridge for a few days, wait to clean them until you plan to eat them. Rinsing them speeds up spoiling.

Strawberries can be used to make jams, jellies, shortcake, pie and more. They can also be pickled, especially when picked green or unripe, or frozen to use later in smoothies. Find more recipe ideas to create your own delicious dishes by visiting our Pinterest page at https://www.pinterest.com/GrowCTAg/.

Make plans to visit a Connecticut strawberry patch this weekend to create lasting memories and delicious, healthy dishes.

Article by Connecticut Department of Agriculture

Evan Lentz: Intern Spotlight

Evan Lentz and Casey Lambert spent the summer of 2018 as undergraduate interns scouting for diseases and insects at vineyards and small fruit farms throughout the state with the iPiPE grant through the National Institute for Food and Agriculture.

iPIPE is the Integrated Pest Information Platform for Extension and Education. It’s a weather and pest-tracking tool for growers to use. The program uses technology to categorize endemic pests, users, and data. Extension Educator Mary Concklin has a two-year iPiPe grant.

“We collected information on farms, uploaded it to iPiPE, and shared our results with the growers,” Evan says. “I got to know many of the farmers and

their day-to-day routines. Some of them really cared that we were at the farm, and we were a resource to help with their problems.”

Evan graduated in May of 2019 with a major in Sustainable Plant and Soil Systems, and a minor in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. He starts graduate school in the fall. “I highly recommend Extension internships to anyone, in any major,” he concludes.

Article by Stacey Stearns

Wine Passport App

CT Wine passport logoThe Passport to Connecticut Farm Wineries is a popular program where par-ticipants receive a stamp at each winery they visit. Participants that collect a cer-tain number of stamps from participating Connecticut Farm Wineries are eligible for more than 60 prizes, including a two- week trip for two to Spain.

The Passport season runs from the first Friday in May through the first Sunday in November each year. It’s
a program of the Connecticut Farm Wine Development Council and the Connecticut Department of Agriculture. Wine Passport participants must be 21 years or older.

Dr. Michael O’Neill, Associate Dean and Associate Director of UConn Extension facilitated a process with the UConn Department of Computer Science capstone projects to create a mobile app for the Passport. The Passport app will be available in the spring of 2019, and there will be special prizes for those using the app in its inaugural year. Paper passports are also available for those preferring the traditional model. Follow @CTFarmWineries on Facebook for more information, or visit PassportToCTFarmWine.com.

Article by Stacey Stearns

Welcome Abby Beissinger to UConn Extension!

Abby BeissingerUConn Extension and the Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture are proud to announce our newest team member, Abby Beissinger. Abby has accepted the position of Plant Diagnostician in the UConn Plant Diagnostic Laboratory. Her first official day was May 28, 2019.

Abby attended the University of Wisconsin and received a B.A. in Anthropology in 2011. During her undergraduate studies, she focused on agriculture and sustainable development, and implemented development projects in Costa Rica, Mexico, and Uganda. Abby spent two years as an AmeriCorps volunteer teaching urban agriculture and gardening to youth in Massachusetts, and a summer with the Student Conservation Association leading trail crews in Chicago. From her work, she realized she was drawn to plant pathology and how plant diseases impact human livelihoods.

In 2016, Abby graduated from Washington State University with a M.S. in Plant Pathology. Her research focused on how management decisions of Potato virus Y impact the epidemiology and etiology of the virus. She then relocated to University of Connecticut to run the Conservation Ambassador Program in the Department of Natural Resources & the Environment. She fostered a statewide volunteer network of 90+ community partners including schools, non-profits, and government agencies to mentor high school students conducting long-term conservation projects. She enjoyed helping students make an environmental impact, and was drawn back to plant pathology to support growers and agricultural networks.

Abby is an example of the winding path people take to discover plant pathology, and is excited to serve as UConn’s Plant Diagnostician. In her spare time, Abby can be found in her garden growing food and flowers, painting, dancing, or exploring cities and their greens spaces.

Please join us in welcoming Abby to UConn Extension! Please visit our website for more information on the Plant Diagnostic Laboratory.

Authors: Karen Snover-Clift and Abby Beissinger

Strawberry Season in Connecticut!

By Diane Wright Hirsch

Senior Extension Educator, Food Safety

 

strawberries
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

One of the best things about early summer in Connecticut is strawberry season. It just makes no sense to buy California berries at the supermarket in June or July. I once saw a post on a local farm’s Facebook page where a customer shared a picture of two strawberries cut in half….the Connecticut berry was deep, dark red in color and looked to be juicy and fresh. The supermarket berry was pale and dry looking. Seriously, it is not a difficult choice!

In an article on the University of Illinois Extension web site, Drusilla Banks and Ron Wolford gathered some facts on the history and lore of the strawberry. Some thoughts to ponder when working on your strawberry patch—or filling your bucket at the local pick-your-own:

  • “Madame Tallien, a prominent figure at the court of the Emperor Napoleon, was famous for bathing in the juice of fresh strawberries. She used 22 pounds per basin, needless to say, she did not bathe daily.
  • The American Indians were already eating strawberries when the colonists arrived. The crushed berries were mixed with cornmeal and baked into strawberry bread. After trying this bread, Colonists developed their own version of the recipe and strawberry shortcake was created.
  • The strawberry was a symbol for Venus, the Goddess of Love, because of its heart shapes and red color.”                    urbanext.uiuc.edu/strawberries

Picking your own berries (PYO)

Strawberries are ready to harvest when they are a bright shiny red color. If they are greenish or whitish, leave them on the vine. They will not ripen further after harvesting. Very dark berries are likely to be overripe—you will need to eat them on the day you pick.

Harvest safely

First, don’t pick if you are sick. Stay home and let someone else do the picking. Before heading out to pick the berries, wash your hands. If you go to a PYO operation, ask if they have handwashing facilities. In a pinch, can you use a hand sanitizer? Hand sanitizer should not be a substitute for washing hands with soap and water. Dirty, wet or sweaty hands are not much safer when rubbed together with a glob of hand sanitizer. In addition, hand sanitizers are not effective against all types of microorganisms: especially viruses such as the Norovirus. So, whenever possible, wash your hands the old-fashioned way.

Pick berries that are bright red and leave those that are overripe, mushy or moldy. If you are planning to make jam or jelly, don’t think that you can get by with shoddy, overripe berries—you might end up with shoddy, overly-soft jam:  you will never end up with a product that is of better quality than the fruits or vegetables that you started out with.

Refrigerate the berries as soon as you can after picking. This will help with shelf life. But, do not wash the berries first. If washed, the berries are more likely to get moldy in your refrigerator.  Store unwashed berries loosely covered with plastic wrap in the coldest part of your refrigerator for two to three days at most. Always wash them before eating. To wash, place berries in a colander and rinse under cold running water. Do not allow berries to soak in water—they will soak up the water, lose color, flavor and vitamin C.

Freezing Strawberries

For the best results, pick fully ripe, firm berries with a deep red color. Throw out any immature or unripe berries or those with rot, soft spots or mold. Wash and remove caps.

You may choose to freeze your berries with or without sugar. While many choose sugar-free because of perceived health benefits, keep in mind that for high quality results, packing in sugar is your best choice. Unsweetened packs generally yield a product that does not have the plump texture and good color of those packed with sugar. The fruits freeze harder and take longer to thaw. While some fruits are acceptable when packed without sugar, strawberries are best packed with sugar. The exception is if you are freezing berries to make into jam at a later date (and of course, if you must use sugar free products as part of a health regimen).

Unsweetened Dry Pack (for making jam later)

Simply pack the washed and drained fruit into a container, seal and freeze. A tray pack is an alternative that may make the fruit easier to remove from the container. Spread a single layer of fruit on shallow trays and freeze. When frozen, promptly package and return to the freezer. Be sure to package the fruit as soon as it is frozen, to prevent freezer burn. Use bags or hard plastic containers made for use in the freezer.

Whole Berries Sugar Pack

Add three-fourths of a cup of sugar to one quart (one and one-third pounds) of strawberries and mix thoroughly. Stir until most of the sugar is dissolved or let stand for 15 minutes. Put into plastic freezer bags or freezer container.

Sliced or Crushed– Prepare for packing as for whole strawberries; then slice or crush partially or completely. To one quart (one and one-third pounds), berries add three-fourths of a cup of sugar; mix thoroughly. Stir until most of the sugar is dissolved or let stand for 15 minutes. Pack into freezer bags or hard plastic freezer containers.

If you want to make strawberry jam, visit the National Center for Home Food Preservation.  You will find a tested recipe for strawberry jam as well as many other canning recipes.  Extension now recommends that all jams and jellies be processed in a water bath canner.  This means that you must use glass jars with two-piece canning lids. The five-minute process will minimize the chance that molds and yeasts will spoil your jam. Shelf life will improve and you won’t waste all your hard work and precious berries.

For more information about safe handling of fresh-picked strawberries, contact the UConn Home and Garden Education Center at 877-486-6271 or www.ladybug.uconn.edor the National Center for Home Food Preservation for canning and freezing information at www.uga.edu/nchfp.

Farm Labor: Insurance & Liability

Farm Labor: Insurance & Liability

Article by Evan Lentz

With the new growing season approaching, now’s a good time to review the risk management plans for any operation. Farms without risk management plans in place may take this time to review their risks and determine if there is a new approach which may help to prevent or mediate challenges they’ve faced in the past. One component of any strong risk management plan is insurance. There are many types of insurance, and often a lack of understanding about insurance, liability, and the laws surrounding them can make proper utilization an arduous task. To shed some light on the world of insurance and liability as it pertains to farming, below you will find a chart detailing the different types of insurance available to agricultural stakeholders. The table is followed by a few suggestions on ways to reduce your liability. The following is borrowed from the Cornell Small Farm Program’s Guide to Farming:

The primary goal of risk management as it pertains to farm liability insurance is to protect your assets from claims and lawsuits that may result from injury to persons or damage to property from accidents that are associated with your business. Effective risk management depends on combined efforts and close communication between yourself and your insurance company. Look for an agent with whom you are comfortable, who is well known and respected, who understands agriculture and businesses, and who will work with you to reduce your potential for risk.

When considering your risks, be sure to review the list below and describe your risks completely to your agent. You will not need all of the types of protection listed below, but it is important to know your options when shopping for insurance. Match your coverage to your needs for risk management.

General Liability Insurance 

Covers injuries to people and property for which your farm is judged liable and mitigates your losses from lawsuits

Automobile Insurance 

Covers vehicle damage while in your vehicle or to another vehicle while traveling

Home Owners Insurance 

Typically covers fire, theft, personal property, lightning, riot, aircraft, explosion, vandalism, smoke, theft, windstorm or hail, falling objects, volcanic eruption, snow, sleet, and weight of ice. Usually flood and earthquake need to be purchased separately

Farm Insurance 

Covers barns, rental housing, equipment, animals, and other farm assets

Workers’ Compensation Insurance 

Required if you have employees or interns

Product Liability Insurance 

For damages that may arise from the consumption, handling, use of or condition of products manufactured, sold, handled, or distributed by your business

Contract Liability Insurance 

Covers the assumption of the liability of another party through a contract or facility use agreement. For example, you may be required to provide a certificate of insurance to buyers that includes $1 million in product liability and additional insurance

Environmental Pollution Insurance 

Covers clean-up of manure, or pesticide spills

Crop Insurance 

Can protect against annual production losses due to weather, pests and other insurable causes of loss. Federally subsidized coverage can be purchased from a certified crop insurance agent. Disaster programs provide up to 65% coverage for crops where crop insurance is unavailable and is provided by county USDA Farm Service Agencies

Life Insurance 

To help your family in case something happens to the bread winner

Health Insurance 

For yourself and family in case you need medical care

Business Interruption Insurance 

Will provide living expenses if you are hurt and cannot work

Vendor’s Insurance 

Will cover your liabilities if you are selling at a farmers’ market or trade show

Umbrella Liability Coverage 

A liability insurance policy. It provides extra insurance protection over and above your existing policies and typically carries a high deductible

 

Ways to Reduce Your Liability:

  • If you have people coming to your farm, keep your property in good repair.
  • Minimize or eliminate dangerous situations. This might include: aggressive animals, manure pits, moving vehicles or equipment parts, etc. Fence off hazards wherever possible.
  • Bio-security is recommended. Provide booties and hand wipes for visitors who enter barn areas.
  • When selling or serving foods, make sure all regulations are met and carry product liability insurance.
  • All workers on your farm are required to be covered by workers compensation, even if they work for free! So if you have interns, apprentices, or employees, you are required to carry insurance for them (The only exception is if your farm is set up as a 501(c)3 non-profit).
  • Test your water supply annually for bacteria if your water is being used for washing produce or processing.
  • Negligence is when you fail to take normal steps to eliminate hazards or you create a hazardous situation and fail to address it.
  • Avoid making false statements or publishing incorrect information that may damage a person’s reputation as this can result in libel suits. Be careful of advertising claims or comparing your operation to others in a negative way.
  • Manage your production techniques according to recommended best management practices.

 

Crop Insurance – The Farm Safety Net

“Agriculture is an inherently risky business. Farmers and ranchers need to regularly manage for adverse weather and financial, marketing, production, human -resource, and legal risks.

Federal crop insurance is the pre-eminent risk management solution for farmers and ranchers, providing effective coverage that helps them recover after severe weather and bad years of production. For some farming and ranching operations, crop insurance is the difference between staying in business or going out of business after a disaster. For the next generation, crop insurance provides the stability that will allow them to begin farming.”

– USDA

When did GMO become a dirty word?

man shopping in a grocery store aisle
Companies place the non-GMO label on their product as a marketing tool, either feeding off the fear generated by misinformation, or the demands of their consumers. (Stock photo via Anthony Albright, Flickr/Creative Commons)

Do you know someone with diabetes? While most people may associate GMOs with food products, their use actually began in the medical field with insulin.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved GMO insulin for use in October of 1982 after rigorous testing, clinical trials, and review. Prior to that, diabetics used insulin obtained from the pancreas of cattle or swine. Supplies were dwindling, and there was fear that the insulin shortage would result in negative health ramifications for patients. The recombinant DNA technology used, that we now refer to as GMOs, provided a safe and effective alternative. In fact, GMO insulin is a closer match to human insulin, and patients who could not tolerate insulin from a cow or pig can utilize GMO insulin without negative side effects.

Despite the benefits of GMOs, 80% of respondents to the 2018 Food and Health Survey Report from the International Food Information Council Foundation are confused about food or doubt their choices because of conflicting information. The report found that context of GMOs influenced consumer judgment. The Pew Research Center found that 49% of Americans think genetically modified foods are worse for one’s health. In short, many people may fear or be suspicious of GMOs, but there is a history of important effects that most people would applaud. Insulin is such a case.

Scientists create GMOs by changing the genetic code of a living being in some way. Plant and animal genetics have been altered for thousands of years through breeding. New technology lets scientists select a specific trait, instead of changing the entire genetic makeup. The medical, agricultural, and environmental fields all have GMO products.

Accepting or rejecting GMOs is an individual decision. However, all decisions consumers make should be based on facts. An overwhelming majority of scientists believe that GMOs are safe, according to the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine. Information from science-based sources can be hard to find in the flood of information available on the Internet.

With that in mind, experts in agriculture, health and natural resources at the University of Connecticut (UConn) have established a web site (https://gmo.uconn.edu/) providing science-based information to help consumers make their own decisions about GMOs.

A handful of food products have approved GMO versions sold in the United States. These include: apples, canola, corn, papaya, pineapple, potatoes, salmon, soybeans, squash, and sugar beets. Insect resistant and herbicide tolerant crops are the two most common features in GMO varieties. Only specific varieties have a GMO version in many of these products, for example, the Arctic apple. The Flavr Savr tomato was introduced in 1994 as the first GMO food product, but is no longer sold because it lacked flavor.

Consumers benefit from GMOs. Although the benefits aren’t always noticeable when you’re browsing the grocery store, they include:

  • Improving food safety of products,
  • Lowering consumer food prices,
  • Protecting food supplies from insects,
  • Limiting food waste on the farm and in your fridge,
  • Reducing the carbon footprint needed for food production, and
  • Keeping the environment healthy.

Despite the benefits, negative perceptions about GMOs are wide-spread. Consumer knowledge and acceptance of GMOs has not matched the pace of adoption by the agricultural community. Experts in the field concur that GMO communication campaigns have failed to answer the “what’s in it for me” question for the public. The majority of campaigns only cite the benefits to farmers, and feeding a growing global population. Consumers commonly reference changes to nutritional content, or the creation of allergens as concerns with GMOs, although there is no evidence of either.

I notice negative perceptions about GMOs in the supermarket, when foods are labeled as non-GMO even though it’s impossible for them to contain GMOs. Salt doesn’t have any genetics to modify, although you’ll find some salt labeled as non-GMO. Cat litter is another example of a product that can’t have GMOs, but is labeled non-GMO.

Companies place the non-GMO label on their product as a marketing tool, either feeding off the fear generated by misinformation, or the demands of their consumers. People without a clear understanding of GMOs spread misinformation on the Internet. Much of what is shared lacks science-based facts and the rigors of peer review. A common tactic is connecting scientists to biotechnology corporations. Ironically, many of the campaigners in the anti-GMO movement are paid to share these messages.

Consumers should form their own opinions about GMOs from the wealth of available science-based information and experts. Instead of accepting and spreading misinformation, shouldn’t we ask more questions, and turn to reliable sources instead?

Article by Stacey Stearns

The American Chestnut Tree: A GMO Story

American Chestnut Trees once dominated our landscape. Then, a blight wiped most of them out. Researchers are using science to try and discover a way to revive these majestic trees. Watch the video to learn more.

Funding for this animation is from the UConn Extension Bull Innovation Fund and Northeast AgEnhancement.

Extension Educators Recognized

Last week we recognized several of our educators for their contributions to Extension.

Tom Worthley and Mike O'Neill
Tom Worthley receives the Arland Meade Communications Award from Associate Dean Mike O’Neill. Photo: Bonnie Burr
Diane Wright Hirsch and Mike O'Neill
Diane Wright Hirsch receives a longevity award from Associate Dean Mike O’Neill. Photo: Bonnie Burr
Richard Meinert and Mike O'Neill
Richard Meinert receives a longevity award from Associate Dean Mike O’Neill. Photo: Bonnie Burr
Umekia Taylor and Mike O'Neill
Umekia Taylor receives a longevity award from Associate Dean Mike O’Neill. Photo: Bonnie Burr
Mike O'Neill and Pam Gray
Pamela Gray receives a longevity award from Associate Dean Mike O’Neill. Photo: Bonnie Burr
Sarah Bailey and Mike O'Neill
Sarah Bailey receives the Doris Lane Award from Associate Dean Mike O’Neill. Photo: Bonnie Burr

Sarah Bailey received the Doris Lane Award.

Tom Worthley received the Arland Meade Communications Award.

Longevity Awards: Diane Wright Hirsch, Richard Meinert, Umekia Taylor and Pamela Gray.

Thank you all for your service to Extension!