Education

GMO 2.0: Science, Society and the Future

GMO panel flyer

GMO 2.0: Science, Society and the Future

Wednesday, April 24th

7 PM, UConn Student Union Theater, Storrs, CT

Finding understandable science-based information on GMOs is challenging for the public. Our project goal is to bridge the information gap surrounding GMOs with farmers and the general public.

Moderator: Dean Indrajeet Chaubey, UConn CAHNR

Speakers:

  • Paul Vincelli, Extension Professor & Provost Distinguished Service Professor, Department of Plant Pathology, University of Kentucky (focus area: overview of risks and benefits of genetically engineered crops)
  • Robert C. Bird, Professor of Business Law and Eversource Energy Chair in Business Ethics, UConn School of Business (focus area: Ethical/Legal/Social Implications of GMOs)
  • Yi Li, Professor, Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture, UConn CAHNR, (focus area: GMO technologies/CRISPR)
  • Gerry Berkowitz, Professor, Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture, UConn CAHNR (focus area: GMOs and big agriculture in the US?)

Download the flyer.pdf.

The event is free, but RSVPs are appreciated.

Spotlight – Farm Labor Shortages: Years in the Making

Spotlight – Farm Labor Shortages: Years in the Making

 

For some time, concerns regarding the availability of reliable farm labor have reached the ears of UConn’s Risk Management team. When considering the vast range of risks that agricultural stakeholders face throughout the year, labor shortages may very well be the most detrimental to the industry in the long term. Even weather, which presents itself as a risk without any control measures, cannot compare to the impacts that large-scale labor shortages would have on agriculture and in turn the rest of the country. But how did we get to this point? Many people may wish to blame certain policies, citing the need for labor reform, others may point to the modernization of society and a general trend away from agrarian living. To understand how American agriculture has arrived at this juncture, one must examine the basic nature of the farming process, labor trends over the past 50 years, and challenges faced by the current farm labor force.

Farming at its most basic level is a biological process, more specifically a diverse group of biological processes with human and other influences (UC Davis). Whether the products of an operation are fruits and vegetables harvested from plants or the meat of animals, all agriculture is at the mercy of the biological processes that have evolved over time. These processes, such as growth and development, abide mainly by the rules encoded in their DNA. Many of these processes are slow, intricate, and beyond the scope of everyday farmers. When combined with other highly variable factors such as weather, these processes become somewhat cumbersome to predict or manage. The high variability and seasonality of agricultural operations present a fundamental issue in finding reliable labor. Set schedules are often nonexistent. Workload and the duration of jobs is determined not by farmers/employers but rather the above-mentioned biological factors. This is what distinguishes farm labor from most other sectors and vocations. The very nature of the business is highly variable, volatile, and require a particular type of worker – one who not only understands the job and its limitations, but one who incorporates the job into the entirety of their everyday lives. Therefore, the first limitation on farm labor is that there are only certain types of individuals who want to perform such work.

The second limitation on farm labor has come through the development and diversification of modern job markets. When looking at low-income or developing countries, the majority of their labor force is agricultural (UC Davis). As nations progress and developed technology, other types of jobs become available and draw workers away from agriculture. High-income countries not only have a more diverse job market, but many of these jobs now require more human investment to perform (UC Davis). Jobs in medicine or technology often require schooling or training which is up to the potential laborer to pursue. In contrast, 43% of the farm workforce lack high school diplomas or equivalencies (USDA, 2017). This need for more human investment in the job is often accompanied by increased wages. This is the incentive. People are willing to invest more of their time and money in a job that requires a different set of skills because they will in turn be able to earn more. As job markets continue to expand and progress, there are more options for those seeking employment. Where farming used to occupy the majority of our nation’s labor force, now only 11% of jobs reside in agriculture and related fields (USDA, 2017). There are simply more jobs that need doing.

Employment in Agriculture (Left); Age of Farm Laborers (Right) – USDA ERS

 

Due to the first two limitations which greatly influence those willing to pursue jobs in agriculture – first by appealing only to a certain type of individual and second by creating a wide range of job alternatives – most of the farm labor force has occupied a relatively narrow demographic for quite some time and this demographic is aging. The median age of the farm workforce is now at 40, up from 36 only ten years ago. Only 16% of farm workers are under the age of 25, suggesting a general disinterest in the industry by young people (USDA, 2017). Still, history demonstrates that where there is work that Americans won’t perform, immigrants will. Looking at the current farm workforce in America, 50% are unauthorized foreign-born individuals, mainly hailing from Mexico. These individuals have historically fallen under the migrant work category, with influxes during the growing season. However, this trend is also changing. The migrant farm workforce has now shifted to a semi-settled workforce (USDA, 2017). It appears that the need for more reliable farm labor has appealed to the migrant workforce enough that they are willing to seek permanent residences in the US. And yet, this demographic faces its own set of concerning limitations that continues to threaten the stability of farm labor in America. 

Without getting into the politics of immigration and labor, it is safe to say there are a number of barriers facing our farm workforce, which seems counter intuitive considering how much American agriculture relies on these individuals. To stabilize the farm workforce and stave off further labor shortages, there are three possible arenas to focus attention. The first would be to remove barriers that face the current migrant workforce, taking advantage of the fact that there are people willing to do the jobs that most Americans no longer wish to do. The second would be to incentivize younger Americans to participate in agriculture, through increased minimum wages and other benefits. The third option, which is not so far off, is eliminating the need for a farm workforce by automating agriculture on a large scale. Below are some links to more information on the farm labor issue. You may also contact your local Extension office.

https://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/farm-economy/farm-labor/#laborcostshare

https://arefiles.ucdavis.edu/uploads/filer_public/ad/74/ad7450e7-80ab-4cf7-a147-6b80c2e614a7/chapter_1_the_farm_labor_problem_4-4-17.pdf

It’s Spring – Head Outside!

picture of a bridge on a trail that says let's be adventurers

Finally the weather is getting warmer and we can wake up from our winter hibernation. With milder temperatures, heading outside is a great plan. We are fortunate to live in Connecticut and have access to many beautiful parks, beaches and trails.  Here are some moderate to vigorous activities to get us started in the right direction for the Spring season. Hope to see you out there!

https://www.eatright.org/fitness/exercise/workout-ideas/spring-into-action

This message is brought to you by the UConn Extension PATHS team – People Active on Trails for Health and Sustainability. We are an interdisciplinary team of University of Connecticut extension educators, faculty, and staff committed to understanding and promoting the benefits of trails and natural resources for health, community & economic development and implementing a social ecological approach to health education

Join UConn for a Panel Presentation on GMOs

UConn’s College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources is offering two events on the science of GMOs next week that we welcome you to attend.

GMO 2.0: Science, Society and the Future is on Wednesday, April 24th in the UConn Student Union Theater on the Storrs Campus at 7 PM.

The panel features four experts that have research connections to GMOs, and will be moderated by Dean Indrajeet Chaubey from the UConn College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources. Panel topics include the risks and benefits of genetically engineered crops; ethical, legal, and social implications of GMOs; CRISPR and other GMO technologies; and the future of GMOs and big agriculture. It’s open to anyone interested in attending.

The goal of the panel presentation is to provide science-based, and unbiased information on GMOs, and the misinformation around them. The panelists will present information in a non-science format for those unfamiliar with the terminology and nuances of the subjects.

GMOs: Answering Difficult Questions from your Customers is being held on Thursday, April 25th at 7 PM at the Tolland County Extension Center, 24 Hyde Avenue, in Vernon.

This presentation is specifically for farmers, but all are welcome to attend. Dr. Paul Vincelli from the University of Kentucky will give a presentation on the risks and benefits of GMOs, and answering questions about GMOs. His presentation will be followed by a question and answer session.

Both events are free for anyone to attend, but registration is requested for planning purposes. For more information on the events, or to register please visit https://gmo.uconn.edu/events/ or call 860-486-9228.

Real Farmers, Real Risks: Interview with Preston Ridge Vineyards

Preston Ridge Vineyard is a beautiful vineyard and winery located in Preston, Connecticut. The owners and team members at Preston Ridge work hard to produce a wide variety of grapes and have an impressive line of local Connecticut wines. Their tasting room and outdoor wedding venue immerse guests in the prestige of the Connecticut countryside. And an extensive events schedule including live music, food trucks, and yoga assure there is something for everyone to enjoy. Because of the highly curated atmosphere and pristine vineyard, it may be hard for guests to imagine the difficulties and risks associated with grape production in Connecticut.

Over the years, Preston Ridge has taken advantage of the resources provided by UConn’s Extension center. Annual nutrient and soils tests have allowed them to make more informed decisions about fertilization while scouting services provided by the extension office help determine the level of risk posed by a range of plant pests. UConn Extension spoke with Sean Kelley of Preston Ridge recently about an unforeseen risk they faced this year and the role that crop insurance played for them.

The Story:

Earlier this summer UConn Extension was contacted by Sean Kelley who said that multiple rows of a particular grape variety were displaying some very concerning symptoms. After review by extension specialists, it was determined that the symptoms were characteristic of herbicide damage, specifically 2,4-D. This was puzzling because herbicides had not been used on the vineyard and the localized damage was not consistent with drift from neighboring farms. The damaged vines were located around the venue’s wedding ceremony area which gave the only clue to the cause of the issue.

 

Preston Ridge does their own ornamental landscape and lawncare, except for the area used for wedding ceremonies. A private lawncare company is charged with keeping this area in pristine condition. Before visiting to Preston Ridge, the lawncare company had used their equipment on another client’s lawn. This other client had applied the herbicide 2,4-D prior and therefore contaminated the equipment. With the grass clippings and equipment still wet and contaminated with 2,4-D, the company tended to Preston Ridge Vineyard where the herbicide was spray with clippings towards grape vines. Here the herbicide was able to volatilize and damage the incredibly sensitive crop. Timing and weather conditions created a perfect storm of conditions allowing a localized herbicide drift situation.

Preston Ridge contacted their crop insurance provider to have the damage assessed. The fruit was removed from the vines in an effort to conserve the vigor of the perennial crop. Months later, the vines seem to be bouncing back and they hope that the vines will make it through the winter. Preston Ridge opted not to file an insurance claim in this situation but stated that they have had crop insurance sine they opened and will continue to do so. Sean Kelley asserts that, “you never know what could happen in this business”, referencing an article he read about a vineyard down south who had all their grapes stolen days before harvest, and suggests that crop insurance is a vital part of all agricultural operations.

Job Opportunity: Visiting Assistant Extension Educator

Extension word mark

University of Connecticut – Connecticut Trail Census – Visiting Assistant Extension Educator, Anticipated

Position Type: Non-tenure-track faculty

Position location to be determined.

Read the job description below online at

https://academicjobsonline.org/ajo/jobs/13540

 

The College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources, Department of Extension is seeking to fill an anticipated position opening for a Visiting Assistant Extension Educator to serve as Project Coordinator for the Connecticut Trail Census.  The Connecticut Trail Census is a volunteer-based data collection and education program on multi-use trails in Connecticut that encourages data informed decision-making & promotes resident participation in trail monitoring & advocacy.  The Trail Census includes trail use counts recorded by infrared pedestrian counters, trail user intercept surveys administered by trained volunteers, and public education programs.  The project is statewide and serves community leaders and decision makers including local elected officials, planners, economic development professionals, trail advocates, trail maintenance professionals, environmental, health and outdoor activity advocates, as well as the general public. The Census was developed as a partnership program between the University of Connecticut, the Connecticut Greenways Council, the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, the Naugatuck Valley Council of Governments and local trail advocacy organizations. More information can be found at https://cttrailcensus.uconn.edu/.

Job duties include developing, conducting and evaluating programs related to trails, outdoor recreation, community health, planning, and active transportation to meet the goals of the Trail Census and working closely with the Project Advisory Committee to oversee all aspects of the project including planning, fundraising, data analysis and communication, community outreach, budgeting, administration, evaluating and reporting, and oversight of project staff, volunteers, and interns as needed.  The Coordinator will design, deliver and teach culturally relevant community-based educational programs through a variety of methods. 

The Coordinator will work closely with a wide variety of UConn and external statewide project partners involved in trails related programs and projects.  The Coordinator will be expected to be actively involved in grant writing, and to develop a diverse portfolio of educational materials for Extension clients and scholarly materials for professional peers. The successful candidate will be comfortable being the public face of the program, and be able to effectively convey aspects of the program at meetings and public speaking engagements, and by authoring articles and reports. The successful candidate must have reliable transportation with the ability to travel extensively throughout Connecticut to meet with partners and oversee program equipment and functions.  Mileage reimbursement will be provided.

MINIMUM QUALIFICATIONS

•          Master’s Degree in the field of community development, urban and community studies, natural resources, geography, community planning, public health, outdoor recreation, or related field.

•          Demonstrated experience researching and writing managing, or administering grants

•          Demonstrated experience managing programs including budgeting, reporting and evaluation

•          Excellent written and verbal communication skills

•          Experience developing and teaching education programs for diverse audiences

•          Proficiency with Microsoft Excel, Word, and PowerPoint

•          Personal transportation and the ability to travel extensively throughout Connecticut required.

•          Ability to work occasional evening or weekend hours.

PREFERRED QUALIFICATIONS

•          Demonstrated interest in trails, non-motorized transportation, public health, recreation, or sustainability

•          Experience developing, managing or promoting trails or experience with trail oriented volunteer and advocacy organizations

•          Experience managing staff, interns and volunteers

•          An understanding of non-motorized traffic count and analysis techniques

•          Experience with survey design and implementation

•          Familiarity with grants or funding sources related to trails, health, and natural resources

•          An understanding of data management and statistical analysis and related analysis and visualization software such as SPSS, STATA, and Tableau

•          Familiarity with the Cooperative Extension System and the land-grant university system.

•          Experience with ESRI/ArcGIS, Qualtrics, Photoshop, Illustrator, or InDesign, WordPress or social media management

APPOINTMENT TERMS

This is an anticipated full-time (100%) non-tenure track, 11-month position opening contingent on available funding. This position is grant-funded and has an end-date that is subject to annual re-appointments contingent upon satisfactory performance and funding availability. This position includes an outstanding full benefits package including employee and dependent tuition reimbursement at UConn. Salary will be commensurate with successful candidate’s background and experience. This position is anticipated to start Spring 2019.

TO APPLY

Select “Apply Now” to be redirected to Academic Jobs Online to apply. Applicants should submit a letter of application that addresses qualifications identified in the advertisement, a resume or curriculum vita, writing sample, and a list of three references with contact information. Please demonstrate through your written application materials how you meet the minimum qualifications and any of the preferred/desirable qualifications you may also have.

Please reference Search #2019478 in your application submittal.   Screening will begin immediately and will continue until a suitable candidate is found.  Preference will be given to candidates that apply within the first three weeks. 

Employment of the successful candidate will be contingent upon the successful completion of a pre-employment criminal background check.  (Search # 2019478)

All employees are subject to adherence to the State Code of Ethics, which may be found at http://www.ct.gov/ethics/site/default.asp.

___________________________________________________________________

The University of Connecticut is committed to building and supporting a multicultural and diverse community of students, faculty, and staff. The diversity of students, faculty, and staff continues to increase, as does the number of honors students, valedictorians and salutatorians who consistently make UConn their top choice. More than 100 research centers and institutes serve the University’s teaching, research, diversity, and outreach missions, leading to UConn’s ranking as one of the nation’s top research universities. UConn’s faculty and staff are the critical link to fostering and expanding our vibrant, multicultural, and diverse community. As an Affirmative Action/Equal Employment Opportunity employer, UConn encourages applications from women, veterans, people with disabilities, and members of traditionally underrepresented populations.


Application Materials Required:

·         Curriculum Vitae

·         Letter of Application

·         Writing Sample

·         Three References (no actual letters, just names and email addresses help popup

Further Info:

http://www.extension.uconn.edu/

Risk Management Technology: Robotic Milking Machine

On October 26, 2017, UConn Extension and CT Farm Risk Management program teamed up to host the Robotic Milking Conference at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, CT. The conference program boasted an impressive lineup of farmers, researchers, and industry professionals. All seemed to advocate highly for the incorporation of the technology into the dairy industry. The event was attended by a range of local CT dairy farmers, most of whom who have already employed the technology in their dairy farming operations.

Robotic milking machines are hardly a novel technology, being commercially available since the early 1990’s. Since then, the technology has evolved to include a range of benefits to both the farmers and cows alike. The robotic milking machines are voluntary meaning that the cows only get milked when they are ready. Upon entering the system cows are weighed and the teats are cleaned. The systems utilize a quarter-milking strategy, allowing for each teat to be milked individually. After the milk has been extracted cows return to the herd.

 

Much data is provided during the milking process that gives farmers a better idea on the health of the cows as well as the quality of milk collected. This information allows farmers to make more informed decisions about the herd and provides for the early detection of health problems. Measurements such as somatic cell count, total plate count, and milk fat percentage determine the quality of milk. Farms which have adopted the use of robotic milking machines tend to see an increase in both somatic and total plate count within the first year. This is especially important for larger farms where somatic cell count tends to be lower than in smaller operations.

 

As times change, it is important for businesses to evolve. Robotic milking machines are playing an integral role in the evolution of this industry. The availability of reliable labor in agriculture is becoming incredibly pressing issue. This technology provides for the adaptation to a changing environment and allows farmers to spend their time doing more important things such as marketing and developing plans for the ever-growing agrotourism industry. For more information on this technology please visit the UConn Extension or CT Farm Risk Management website.

Poultry Care Video Series

Do you own chickens? Our poultry care video series with retired Extension Educator Dr. Mike Darre can answer your questions. There are 10 videos, topic include: how to hold your birds, how to inspect your birds, determining if your chicken is a good layer, watering systems, nest boxes, feeding, housing and heating, bird litter, housing, and the egg cleaning and quality check. You can watch the entire series on our YouTube channel.

Spotlight – Soil Degradation

One of the most pressing resource related issues around the world is the continual reduction in the percentage of arable land. Currently, 37% of land worldwide is considered agricultural, only 10% is deemed arable, or plowable, and suitable for crop production (World Bank Group, 2015). The shrinking percentage of suitable farm land is a direct result of soil degradation, which is attributed to tillage practices and the use of agrochemicals in intensive agriculture. Overgrazing of rangelands, natural occurrences such as wildfires, and non-agricultural human activities such as road salt applications also contribute to the degradation of soils, making mediation efforts cumbersome. Although the degradation of soils is a multifaceted process with a range of negative effects, effects tend to be closely tied with one another making the process as a whole degenerative.
 

The current intensive agricultural systems in place throughout the world aim to maximize production through increased inputs, such as labor and agrochemicals, while reducing waiting periods between crops. Large-scale annual crop production relies primarily on conventional tillage methods such as the moldboard plow, an implement that cuts a furrow slice of soil (around 8 inches in depth). The furrow slice is lifted, flipped, and dropped back down, inverting the soil profile. Simultaneously, this implement forms a hardpan layer of compacted soil beneath the disturbed portion. Both the inversions and hardpans negatively impact the soil’s structure. A compromised soil structure carries its own concerns and at the same time predicates multiple downstream effects.

A soil’s structure refers to the arrangement of fine soil articles into groups called aggregates. Many soil activities such as water movement, heat transfer, and aeration are directly impacted by the formation and arrangement of aggregates which results from a range of slow biological, physical and chemical processes. Aggregates are delicate and become destroyed in frequently disturbed soils such as those in annual cropping systems. Destruction of aggregates increases the bulk density of a soil. As bulk density increases water infiltration, water holding capacity, aeration, and root penetration decrease, making it more difficult for crops to access resources essential for growth.

The regular application of agrochemicals in cropping systems further diminishes the health of soil. Agrochemicals include herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers, and other soil amendments. One of the main concerns with the addition of these chemicals is their interaction with soil organisms. Soil macro- and microorganisms include bacteria, fungi, and earthworms; all contribute to a healthy plant rhizosphere and provide a range of benefits within cropping systems. These organisms are very sensitive to variation in their environment such as changes in pH, salinity, and the carbon:nitrogen ratio. These inputs represent rapid cyclic environmental shifts to which soil organisms cannot acclimate or adapt to. Instead, the diversity of soil organism diversity is diminished.

Soil organisms play a range of roles in the development and maintenance of a healthy soil profile, which in turn affects the growth and development of crops. Microorganisms such as bacteria fix nitrogen, making the largely inaccessible pool of atmospheric nitrogen available for plant uptake. Fungi, like mycorrhizae, form mutualistic associations with plant roots, extending their network of nutrient and water uptake. Larger organisms such as earthworms help to form soil aggregates by creating macropores and producing worm castings. Many insects also contribute to the formation of soil aggregates as well as help reduce the weed seedbank via predation. Healthy, natural soil systems are engineered by a consortium of organisms and by design are able to provide the needs of plants. However, in some cropping systems, this level of provision is deemed inadequate, prompting the need for agrochemicals and at the same time impacting the functionality of the soil.

Soil degradation is not limited to artificial systems. There are several factors, both natural and human induced, contributing to the percentage of degraded land around the world, outside of agricultural systems. Wild fires, which occur regularly in arid regions, burn vegetation which help to hold soils in place. Climate change, combined with lack of management in fire-prone areas, has dramatically increased the frequency and intensity of these fires, increasing the potential erosion. Mismanagement and overgrazing of rangelands in dry regions also diminishes soil-stabilizing vegetation, creating the same potential for erosion. In more temperate regions, road salt application during the winter months has become cause for concern as these salts become distributed into the ecosystems affecting both soil structure and soil organisms.

The effects of soil degradation are not discrete, often tied to each other in a continuum in which some agricultural practices initiate a predictable sequence of events that ultimately leads to diminished soil health. Conventional tillage methods and the use of agrochemicals seem to be the catalytic events for such series of events in annual cropping systems; affecting soil structure, organic matter content, and the health of soil organisms. These in turn compromise the functionality of soils as the medium for crop growth and development. There is wealth of information on alternative practices that aim to reduce the impact of agriculture on soil health. For more information on soil conservation and alternative agricultural practices please visit the UConn Extension website or contact your local extension office.

Despite the evidence supporting the continual degradation of soils due to agricultural activities, there is little consideration for the viability of suggested remediation practices in regard to the effects on food production, farmers and the agriculture industry as a whole. Reducing tillage and agrochemical input is not a solution for many agricultural systems as some crops simply do not perform well in no till systems, while reduced agrochemical input would greatly compromise crop yields. Considering the importance of agriculture to society at large, farmers, who may be the most hardworking and underpaid individuals in the world, utilize available options to maintain soil health while still maintaining a productive and economically feasible operation.

From the farmers perspective, this is often represented by tradeoffs. Farmers are not ignorant to the concept of soil degradation or the importance of soil health. In fact, they understand the impact of these much better than anyone else. Operations which use agrochemicals and employ conventional tillage methods still take steps to maintain soil health. Many of these cropping systems utilize conservation practices such as the incorporation of cover crops or selection of organic agrochemical alternatives. Elizabeth Creech of NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service) wrote an informative piece entitled “The Dollars and Cents of Soil Health: A Farmer’s Perspective” which depicts many of the challenges farmers face when it comes to maintaining soil health. For more information please follow this link: https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2018/03/12/dollars-and-cents-soil-health-farmers-perspective.

Join Us for #UConnGives

UConn Gives logo

UConn Gives is BACK for year two. And we need your help to grow our programs, and continue serving Connecticut communities. Put your paws in by supporting UConn 4-H, the UConn Extension Master Gardener Program, the 4-H Sports and Nutrition program, or the Natural Resources Conservation Academy on March 27-28, 2019. 

Extension program collage

All four of these programs work in communities statewide, and we need your help to increase their impact. Please consider donating $1 (or more) to the program(s) of your choice.

#AllPawsIn