Food

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.

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

Real Farmers, Real Risks: Sentiments from Freund’s Farm

Tucked away in the northwestern most corner of the state, Freund’s Farm sits on 600 beautiful acres, proudly serving as one of Connecticut’s most notable and progressive dairy farms. The farm was started in 1949 by Eugene and Esther Freund. The operation has grown over the past 70 years and now boasts a herd of nearly 300 happy, healthy Holsteins. The family has done well to evolve with changing times, outfitting their operation with solar power to help reduce costs and their impact on the local environment. Freund’s Farm also employs the use of robotic milking machines which greatly improves the efficiency of the milking process while keeping their cows content and productive.

In 1970, the Freunds took advantage of a surplus of an unlikely resource, cow manure, with the invention of Cow Pots. These thoughtful and eco-friendly pots have become a favorite of gardeners from all walks due to their biodegradability, making seed starting a breeze. The resourcefulness of the family over the years has made them a leader in sustainability, receiving the US Dairy Sustainability Award of Outstanding Resource Stewardship. Freund’s Farm has also established a successful bakery and farmer’s market, providing their local community with fresh local food. Despite the often-risky nature of dairy farming in CT, the Freund family continues to solidify their position as an industry leader due to their ingenuity and dedication.

UConn Extension had an opportunity to talk with Ben Freund of Freund’s Farm about some of the risks associated with dairy farming in Connecticut and the role that insurance plays to alleviate some of the associated stressors. The biggest risk to dairy farming is often the weather, a factor that can hardly be controlled. However, market variability is a risk to which there are a range of mitigation strategies. Both the costs of inputs and the market price of milk fluctuate often. The Freunds work closely with insurance agents to customize government subsidized insurance plans to meet the farms needs and guarantee the price of milk for a certain period of time. The flexibility of the plans allows the farm to maintain operations even when the market price of milk does not meet expectations. Ben Freund asserts the insurance is “an important tool” and that “having some sort of risk mitigation on the farm is worthwhile to understand and use”. You can watch Ben Freund’s entire video at the CT Risk Management website under the “Resource Library” tab.

Take the Climate Change Challenge with UConn Extension

CEAD imageConnecticut Environmental Action Day (CEAD) is a one-day conference that seeks to inspire students to take the #ClimateChangeChallenge and then post their actions using #ExtendtheChange to encourage friends and families to do the same. CEAD is sponsored by UConn Extension with our partners from UConn’s Department of Marketing, Department of Anthropology, and UConn PIRG.

The goals of Environmental Action Day are:

  • Increase students’ understanding of the environment and natural resources.
  • To foster students’ capacity to become environmentally responsible citizen by increasing their understanding of principles governing individual and collective action.
  • To provide students with access and educational opportunities from UConn.

CEAD is on Friday, March 29th in the Student Union at the UConn Storrs Campus and features workshops for middle school students, and a climate change challenge for UConn students. Approximately 100 middle school students from Coventry, Ellington, and Mansfield are attending. Each middle school student will attend two workshops in the morning. During the afternoon, they will reconvene in small groups facilitated by UConn students to commit to environmental action in their communities that will reduce climate change.

UConn students are invited to join CEAD at the Student Union and sign the action pledge to extend the change. Students are also encouraged to share their climate change challenge actions on their social media accounts, using the hashtag, #ExtendtheChange.

Suggested climate change actions anyone can pledge include:

  • Reuse and recycle
  • Ban the bag (plastic)
  • Conserve energy (turn off lights!)
  • Use public transportation, walk, or bike
  • Eat locally
  • Plant a garden
  • Plant trees, green roofs and other vegetation
  • Inform and educate others

Those not on the UConn campus can join us in the #ClimateChangeChallenge by taking the pledge at http://bit.ly/CCC_UConn to help #ExtendtheChange. For more information on CEAD visit http://extension.uconn.edu/ead.php or email Marc.Cournoyer@uconn.edu.

UConn Extension is on a collaborative journey. We co-create knowledge with farmers, families, students, communities, and businesses. We educate. We convene groups to help solve problems in the areas of food, health, and sustainability. Join us.

National Nutrition Month; a time to celebrate school food!

Kale Yeah child at schoolWhen you think “local food” do you also think “school food”? You should. About 25% of food served by Hartford Public Schools is local.

This helps the local economy, and bolsters hometown pride. Lonnie Burt, Senior Director of Child Nutrition for Hartford Public Schools explains that, “Purchasing local products is important on so many levels; it has a positive impact on our community and the residents.”

Knox Inc, a community organization and farm in Hartford, sells vegetables like bok choy, collard greens and fresh cilantro directly to Hartford Public Schools. Brunella Ibarrola, Assistant Director of Nutrition Support for Hartford Public Schools Food and Child Nutrition Services, shares that students are thrilled when they see “Hartford grown” on the menu. “When students become aware that a vegetable has been grown right in Hartford by Knox’s Incubator Farmer program, they become really excited and proud of their city!”

Local food purchasing requires building relationships and UConn Extension’s Put Local on Your Tray program is a matchmaker for many of these connections. The Tray Program helps Connecticut school districts serve and celebrate locally grown products.

“Schools want to increase their farm to school programming, which is where we come in; and when we are able to establish a partnership between a school and a farm, it benefits the larger community” says Molly Deegan, Put Local on Your Tray Coordinator.

Besides the benefits for the community, the students are learning valuable lessons in the cafeteria – a space that is sometimes overlooked as part of the learning environment in a school. Using local products allows “students [to] gain knowledge about local farmers and their products which are grown in their community” shares Maureen Nuzzo, Director of Food Services, Old Saybrook Public Schools. Old Saybrook is one of 59 school districts serving nearly 300 schools that have taken the pledge to source and serve local foods. Programming which highlights local foods, gets students involved in, and excited about, school lunches and nutrition. With National Nutrition Month in March, it’s a great time to celebrate local food and that’s just what UConn Extension’s Put Local On Your Tray program is all about.

When Maggie Dreher, Director of Nutrition Services for Avon Public Schools, Canton Public Schools, & Regional School District #10 served local kale from Sub Edge Farm (the first of many local produce items) she had no idea that just months later she would be hosting a district-wide event that put the farm on display. On March 21st, Maggie will be hosting a Jr. Chef competition featuring two teams per school district (6 total) where they will be challenged with a “chopped style mystery box,” where local produce from Sub Edge farm will be featured.

Through a combination of technical assistance and promotional materials, the Tray team works with schools to build a culture of health in the cafeteria, celebrate school nutrition programs, and support local agriculture. Put Local On Your Tray is a project of UConn Extension, in partnership with the CT State Department of Education, FoodCorps Connecticut, and New England Dairy & Food Council (NEDFC).

Real Farmers; Real Risks: Interview with Norton Brothers Farm

 

Norton Brother’s Farm is a seventh-generation family-owned fruit farm located in Cheshire, Connecticut. The farm has been owned and operated by the Norton family since the mid-1700s and boasts a long-standing, proud history with the town of Cheshire. Bridsey Norton, father of the Norton Brothers (Judson and Donald) who operated the farm until 2001, also served the town of Cheshire as first selectmen. The farm now rests in the capable hands of Tim Perry. Together, with help from the family, Tim continues the tradition of providing the local community with fresh fruit, vegetables, and an impressive range of homemade farm-market goodies.

This proud Connecticut farming family currently operates on about 107 acres of land, producing everything from apples, peaches, and pears to blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries. Their expansive pick-your-own operation begins in June with their various berry crops and runs through to the fall, where locals can choose from an overwhelming 34 varieties of apples. Hayrides, pumpkins, and scarecrows offer families a fun and immersive experience during the harvest season. When the Christmas trees and holiday decorations arrive, patrons can find their way to the family’s dairy barn farm stand for the perfect holiday gift, whether it’s local cider, jams, and farm-fresh pies or one of their carefully curated seasonal gifts. The Norton Brother’s farm has something for everyone throughout the year. They invite you and your family to come join them for a wholesome, local experience: farm tours, birthday parties, or even just a family picnic.

Farming is a risky business and even a farm as historically successful and well-loved as the Norton Brother’s farm faces its share of challenges. To find out a bit more about the Norton Brother’s farm, UConn Extension reached out to Tim Perry to see what happens behind the scenes. When asked about some of the biggest risks that he faces, Tim sings the same tune as many other Connecticut farmers: weather, weather, weather. “The weather is hard to predict and out of your control. And it’s becoming more unpredictable – from 22 inches of rain in a month to frost before bloom. It used to be that we had a frost every 10 years, that’s not the case anymore”, says Tim. When asked about risk management he says it’s really a toss-up, “You can try frost protection. Depending on your operation it can cost up to $100,000. I know people who get the fans, get the heaters, and still lose everything. Plus, oil is at about $4 per gallon now.” A lot of times it’s about doing the best you can and rolling with it. But what about when preventative measures aren’t enough?

We asked Tim about crop insurance as well. We wanted to know if he utilizes crop insurance, the role it’s played in mediating farm risks and if he would suggest it to other people. It turns out he is a huge proponent of crop insurance. He stated that they now have every crop insured, “Peaches are the largest users of crop insurance. It’s almost a yearly thing now. Not that we’re getting rich from it, but it helps to offset costs.” This is also the first year that they are trying out insurance for blueberries, “As far as we know, we’re the first ones to have blueberry crop insurance, at least with the company we use.” He says that crop insurance is a tool for farmers, just like a tractor or the sprayers. They utilize it to the best of their ability. But what about the costs, difficulties, or aversions to crop insurance?

He says, “You have to spend to benefit”. Saying that most people will always try to shoot for the lower end of the scale for premiums, “…but you’re not going to start seeing benefits till you spend a bit more on the premiums.” As far as the aversions to crop insurance, what have you heard? Again, he says it’s all part of the business, “It may be more paperwork, but take the time. No one has a better idea of what’s going on on your farm than you. You know what you pick, you know what you produce. Spend the time with the companies and make sure you pick the plan that right for you.” All in all, it seems that Tim has taken the time to educate himself on crop insurance. It’s also apparent that crop insurance plays a recurring role in mediating risks at the Norton Brother’s farm. To hear more about Tim Perry’s take on crop insurance, check out his video on the UConn Risk Management’s website under the resources tab. And to learn more about the Norton Brother’s farm itself, you can visit their website at www.nortonbrothersfruitfarm.com, or check them out in person at 466 Academy Road, Cheshire, CT.