agriculture

Helping Connecticut Farmers Succeed: A Collaborative Journey

Billy Collins on farm
Billy Collins at Fair Weather Acres. Photo: Winter Caplanson

“Educating farmers in sustainable, profitable and environmentally-sound food production practices benefits every man, woman and child in the country directly, on a daily basis, by helping to maintain a safe and secure food source. Knowledge of effective IPM practices helps prevent excess application of pesticides by otherwise frustrated growers,” Jude Boucher says.

The name Jude Boucher is synonymous with vegetable production in Connecticut. Jude joined UConn Extension in 1986 as the Extension Educator for vegetable crops Integrated Pest Management (IPM).

Jude provided cutting-edge solutions to growers on pest management and crop production problems, keeping them competitive on the local, regional, and national level. A multi-faceted approach is used in vegetable IPM that reaches a vast number of growers, not only in Connecticut, but; throughout the Northeast. During the growing season, Jude worked with numerous farms to improve their business and address crop issues as they arose. From conventional to organic farms, new farmers to experienced farmers; Jude worked with everyone and improved their economic viability and production.

Diversifying a Traditional Farm

Jude assisted Fair Weather Acres in Rocky Hill in diversifying and building resiliency to the challenges Mother Nature provided. The farm is over 800 acres along the Connecticut River. Jude advised Billy and Michele Collins on ways to diversify their marketing efforts and the number of crops they grow, after flooding from Hurricane Irene in 2011 washed away much of the crops, and left the farm in debt.

Originally, the farm received IPM training on three crops: beans, sweet corn, and peppers. With diversification, Billy began producing 55 different varieties of vegetables. Jude taught him pest management for his new crops, and the Collins hired an Extension-trained private consultant to help monitor and scout pests and implement new pest management techniques.

“I encouraged and advised Michele on developing a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) venture on their farm and introduced them to other successful CSA farm operators,” Jude says. “Michele started the CSA with 120 members in 2012, and – through a variety of methods – has exceeded 500 summer CSA shares.”

Michele and Billy give back to Extension by speaking at state and regional conferences, hosting twilight meetings, research plots on their farm, and UConn student tours. “Jude has been an integral part of the growth and diversification of our farm. His extensive knowledge and passion for agriculture, coupled with his love of people and farmers in particular, made him an unrivaled asset to Connecticut agriculture,” Michele says. “Jude taught us, advised us, and offered us unlimited guidance in many areas including IPM, alternative farming concepts, marketing, and agribusiness just to name a few.”

Building a New Farm

Oxen Hill Farm is a family enterprise in West Suffield that began when the Griffin family inherited an idle hay and pasture farm with the intent of creating an organic vegetable and cut flower farm.

“Besides small-scale home vegetable and flower gardens, they had no experience operating a commercial vegetable and cut-flower business,” Jude says. “They signed up for training with me, and the first year, 2009, started with an acre of organic vegetables and cut flowers.”

Despite the challenges of their first year, they expanded their business in 2010, growing from 36 CSA members to over 150. Oxen Hill enlarged their acreage onto their parents’ home farm, to almost 20 acres of crops, and learned to grow everything from artichokes to zucchini. The farm continues to flourish.

Finding a Better Way

Jude worked with farmers throughout the region on deep zone tillage (DZT). “DZT allows a grower to prepare a narrow seedbed, only inches wide, rather than exposing the surface of the whole field to wind and rain,” Jude explains. “Farms can also till deeply, right under the crop row to loosen any hardpan that has formed after years of using a plow and harrow. This allows the soil to absorb and retain more water and allows the plants to extend their roots deeper into the soil. The system also improves soil quality over time.”

Due to his work, there are Extension programs in every New England state advocating the use of DZT, and over 45 growers in the region have switched to DZT. Although he retired in 2017, the work of Jude carries on in the farmers across the state. They organized a grower’s organization, and are looking forward to working with our new vegetable crops Extension educator, Shuresh Ghimire, who started on July 1st.

Article by Stacey Stearns

Quantifying Water Use

Angie Harris“New York City is surrounded by water,” Angie Harris says, “I realized it was a great source of beauty, transportation, and recreation. But it was also contaminated and deeply problematic.” Angie grew up in Queens, New York. She realized water was a crucial resource of concern while an undergraduate at New York University studying environmental sciences.

The interdependent relationship of farming, water and land was also intriguing to Angie. Precipitation and ecology are critical to success in farming. She earned her masters’ degree in environmental science at the University of Rhode Island and worked as a research fellow at the Environmental Protection Agency in the Global Change Research Program. Angie joined UConn Extension two years ago as the Program Coordinator for the Agriculture Water Security Project.

The Agriculture Water Security Project is part of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)’s Regional Conservation Partnerships Program and promotes conservation assistance to agricultural producers. The program facilitates Extension’s work in ensuring farmers are thinking about and preparing for drought.

“I serve as a resource for farmers, gardeners, and homeowners to guide and advise them on water conservation and drought preparedness and management. I also serve as a network builder and connect them to other existing resources and organizations,” Angie says. She uses a combination of her education, and personal experience as a full-time farmer for three years in her role on the project. “My mission is to increase the adoption of conservation practices and activities throughout the state.”

Extension is assessing how much water farmers use, and completed a statewide water use survey on irrigation practices and water availability concerns. Next, a pilot metering project at 12 farms tracked their weekly water use for two years. The farms included vegetable, dairy, and nursery and greenhouse operations.

“The farmers kept diligent records and it was inspiring to see how they became scientists and water managers. A curiosity emerged around water use and they demonstrated that they really wanted to know how much water they were using and when,” Angie says.

A key turning point in the water project came at the end of 2016, a serious drought year for Connecticut. UConn Extension hosted a drought listening session for farmers at the Capitol and documented their concerns and ideas in a clear way that was communicated with the state Department of Agriculture and NRCS.

Connecticut developed a state water plan over the last few years. Mike O’Neill, associate dean for outreach and associate director of UConn Extension, served on the planning committee and represented agriculture in the plan’s development.

The next step for the Agriculture Water Security Project was helping farmers prepare drought plans and connecting them to financial assistance from NRCS. A total of 10 projects were provided financial assistance related to developing more robust and secure irrigation infrastructure. Projects included new wells and buried irrigation pipeline.

“We helped a couple of farms access funding to install wells, and it continues to be rewarding to see how pleased the farmers are to have the new resources,” Angie mentions. The Extension project continues to offer irrigation and drought planning resources for farmers.

“I’m excited to see farmers living out their values around land stewardship and food production in thoughtful and creative ways. There is always something that people can do, or a small action they can take to be a mindful citizen,” Angie says. “There is always more to learn, for farmers and residents. For instance, knowing how much water it took to make your jeans or plastic food packaging – it’s important for all of us to continue our learning around the impacts of our actions and consumption.”

Angie led UConn Extension’s initiative around the 40-Gallon Challenge, a national call for residents and businesses to reduce water use on average by 40 gallons per person, per day. It quantifies impacts on the linkage between small actions and water use.

Citizens nationwide are encouraged to participate in the 40-Gallon Challenge by enrolling at http://www.40gallonchallenge.org/. Materials were developed and promoted by Angie and Casey Lambert, a student intern, that quantified water saved by various actions residents can take in their home and yard.

Connecticut is no longer in a drought. But the work of stewardship continues. Angie’s goal is to prepare farmers and residents before water resources become a crisis. By encouraging everyone to simplify, we hone in on the essential needs and ensure successful growing seasons in the years to come.

This project is sponsored by USDA, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Award identification 68-1106-15-05.

Article by Stacey Stearns

Strengthening Connecticut Farms

Yoko Takemura and Alex Cooper from Assawaga farm enjoy showing off the fruits of their
labor. (Photos courtesy of Assawaga farm).

Over recent years a new cohort of farmers has cropped up in our small state. “New”, “Beginning”, “First-generation”, “Early stage”— these growers have been met by a growing number of training programs to help them get started, improve their production skills, and enhance the viability of their businesses. This is a group of avid learners who are always on the lookout for training opportunities, both online, and in a hands-on classroom setting. Most demonstrate a strong interest in sustainable production of specialty crops to sell directly to consumers through Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs), farmers’ markets, and farm stands.

In response to the training needs of new farmers, UConn Extension launched the Solid Ground Farmer Training Program, featuring classroom trainings, online tutorials, and state-wide events targeting growers who range in experience from 0 – 10 years of farming. Since 2012, UConn Extension has received over $1.1 million through USDA’s Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Grant Program to develop new farmer trainings and resources.

The UConn Extension team hires and schedules trainers, advertises the program, provides in-person staff support at each training, and steers collaboration with the New CT Farmer Alliance and CT NOFA. Partners set training priorities, help recruit participants, and ensure that trainings are happening across the state so that growers can access this learning opportunity in small group settings. These partners include: Grow Windham, Killingly Agricultural Education Program, Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, Community Farm of Simsbury, Common Ground (New Haven), Green Village Initiative (Bridgeport), Knox (Hartford), and Listo Para Inciar-Urban Agriculture Program, a sister project led by German Cutz, Associate Extension Educator in Fairfield County.

Current and aspiring farmers are welcome to attend as many trainings as they like. Yoko Takemura and Alex Carpenter from Assawaga Farm (Nipmuck for ‘in between’) in Putnam typify clients in the program. Summer 2018 will be their first year of production. Their farm will feature certified organic Japanese vegetables to be sold in Boston area. After attending six Solid Ground trainings, Yoko explains: “As a new farmer, there are many things you don’t know that you don’t know. So, these programs encourage you to ask new questions you hadn’t previously thought of before and therefore to be better prepared for the season. Since many of the trainers are local, the content of the trainings is more relevant (versus online content) and it’s great that you can follow up with them after the training!”

In its first year (winter 2016-17), the Solid Ground Training Program delivered 28 trainings and events with a cumulative attendance of more than 500 participants. Over 30 trainings are currently scheduled for 2018. All trainings are free and open to growers of all backgrounds. UConn Extension provides translation services for Spanish-speaking attendees. Experienced farmers lead training classes such as Season Extension, Eco-Focused Farming, Post-Harvest Handling, Finding Your Market, and Irrigation for Small Farms. Extension educators and professional consultants deliver trainings on Farm Financial Recordkeeping, Soil Health, Cover Crops, Tractor Safety and Maintenance, Fruit Production, and Pesticide Safety.

“The 4-hour intensive Planting and Growing Cover Crop training with Eero Ruuttila was really great because even though his examples were on large scale farms, there were so many ideas that could be translated into my small-scale farm. I thought 4 hours was long, but I definitely wanted it to be longer,” says Yoko. The Solid Ground Program also provides one-on-one consultations with specialists in the areas of farm finance, soil health, and vegetable production. These consultations are intended to build on the knowledge and skills acquired through trainings in the classroom.

     This project is sponsored by the USDA-NIFA Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program Award #2016-70017-25416

Article by Jiff Martin

Cloe Labranche: 4-H Alumni Spotlight

Meet 4-H Alumni and UConn undergraduate Cloe Labranche. We met with her and chatted about her 4-H experience, and what she is up to at UConn.

Cloe Labranche (left) and Laura Irwin at the 2017 Little International Livestock Show at UConn.
Cloe Labranche (left) and Laura Irwin at the 2017 Little International Livestock Show at UConn.

How did you become involved with 4-H? Can you tell us about your 4-H experience?

I came from a non-ag family and found out about 4-H when I was eight years old from a neighbor. I was very interested in larger animals, and I was lucky to find a dairy club close to my hometown of Ellington. I joined the Merry Moo-er’s of Enfield a year later, and was involved with them until I aged out of 4-H.

Did you visit UConn for a 4-H event prior to attending UConn?

My 4-H club was full of wonderful leaders who pushed me to take advantage of as many 4-H experiences as possible, including the ones at UConn. I showed at the UConn poultry show and Dairy Day, along with various workshops that were held throughout the years. I spent a lot of time at UConn before I came here as a student.

Why did you apply to UConn? What are you majoring in, and when is your expected graduation?

I am a sophomore majoring in Animal Science and will be graduating in May 2020. I applied to UConn because I knew that the connections I made here in my 4-H years would open up many opportunities for career options. I also knew that the Ag program here is unlike any other.

Did 4-H influence your choice of university or major?

4-H played a major part in my decision; however; I think I would have ended up here regardless. I knew I wanted to work with animals before I knew about 4-H, and I also come from a family of UConn alumni.

What was the most challenging part of 4-H?

The most challenging part of 4-H was doing things out of my comfort level. I had many mentors who pushed me to do things that I might not have pushed myself to do in my youth. I was lucky to have people to encourage me to join the CT Quiz Bowl team, show at the Big E, attend the Citizenship Washington Focus trip, run for club and county officer positions, and many more. After 4-H, I have learned to push myself to do things that I might not have done otherwise. Doing so helps anyone make the most out of 4-H, college, and life.

What was the most rewarding part of 4-H?

The opportunities. Every single aspect of 4-H that I took advantage of made me a stronger person with skills I will use forever. It opened up a world of career options that made me excited for my future in animal science, and I hope to become a passionate worker when I begin my career, whatever that may be.

What is your favorite 4-H memory?

I attended the National 4-H Dairy Expo Trip in Madison, Wisconsin when I was 16. After a long day of educational workshops and hands-on activities, the whole group of 4-Hers from all over the country gathered in the dining hall of our housing area and had a square dance. I can’t think of a time I had more fun.

Is your course work at UConn building off of your 4-H experience?

Yes. This is something I notice especially now as a sophomore, where my classes are becoming less generic. I have had a slight advantage in almost all of my classes I have taken this semester because of the knowledge I have gained throughout my 4-H years.

After you earn your degree, what are your plans for the future? 

I would love to work with animal genetics, or possibly biosecurity and research with animal products. If you ask me again in a month, that answer might be different, because I have many interests within animal science careers. All I know is that I would love to do anything where I can help create more sustainable agriculture in the world.

Can you tell us about some of your other interests?

I have a passion for music and have been playing piano and guitar for 12 years.

Anything else you think we should know?

I would not be the person I am today without 4-H.

New Farmers Offered a Blizzard of Training Options in Winter 2017-18

growing crops in tunnel
Photo: Charlotte Ross

The Solid Ground Farmer Training program kicks off its second season this month. This program will deliver over 30 trainings designed for new and beginning farmers from December 2017 to March 2018. Current and aspiring farmers are welcome to attend as many free trainings as they like, many of which are led by Connecticut farmers. Training topics include Financial Record Keeping for Farm Businesses, Vegetable Production for Small Farms, Growing Crops in Low and High Tunnels, Finding Your Market, Eco-Focused Farming Practices, Cover Cropping, and many more. Last year the program reached over 300 new growers in the state!

Funded through the USDA Beginning Farmer & Rancher Development Program, these trainings are coordinated by UConn Extension and are designed to provide a solid foundation of knowledge on which new farmers can establish and grow their farm businesses. Come learn about tried and true methods as well as brand-new techniques from seasoned farmers, Extension specialists, and professional consultants.

Trainings are free and take place around the state at agriculture partner organizations in Bridgeport, Hartford, Killingly, Windham, Bethel, New Haven, and Simsbury, making them accessible to farmers state-wide.

In addition to winter trainings, the Solid Ground Program also offers one-on-one consultations with

tunnels on a farm
Photo: Charlotte Ross

specialists in the areas of Farm Finance, Soil Health, and Vegetable Production. The Agricultural Re$ource Fair, another piece of the program, takes place in early February and brings together Farmers and agricultural service providers for meaningful presentations around funding for farmers on both the state and national level.

The full calendar of trainings is listed on our Solid Ground webpage: newfarms.extension.uconn.edu/solidground

Please contact Charlotte Ross (charlotte.ross@uconn.edu) and Chelsey Hahn (chelsey.solidground@gmail.com) with questions and to RSVP!

UConn Extension works in all 169 towns of Connecticut with a network of over 100 educators and scientists. Over 2,900 volunteers leverage the ability of Extension to work in every community.

Videos Showcase Farm Energy

aerial view of Oakridge barn

Renewable energy has a lower environmental impact than energy generated by burning fossil fuels. Connecticut has a goal to secure 27% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020.

Recently, four videos on farm energy were produced to showcase different options available to Connecticut Farmers. Ace Begonias in Bethany has an energy-efficient lighting project. Full Bloom Apiaries in Franklin installed solar panels and an energy-efficient project. Oakridge Farms in Ellington installed solar panels on their dairy barn. Paley’s Farm Market in Sharon also installed solar panels.

Farmers considering improving energy efficiency or generating renewable energy on the farm should first address current equipment performance. The highest cost savings comes from energy efficiency: the cheapest power is power not used. A farm energy audit can help a farm determine if equipment upgrades will save energy and money through greater energy efficiency.

However, investment in reducing energy use or converting to renewable sources can often be costly. Maintenance, repairs, and costs to replace components such as the inverters should be estimated. Producers need to work through the income tax deductions, depreciation benefits, and the sale of renewable energy credits to determine if the investment is financially feasible. There are several funding sources for audits, feasibility studies, loans, and grants for energy efficiency and renewable energy projects on Connecticut farms.

The Connecticut Farm Energy Program (CFEP) serves as a resource for information about funding, incentives and financing on-farm energy projects. CFEP provides technical assistance to eligible Connecticut producers in applying for USDA Rural Development Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) grants. REAP is a federal program to foster economic development and growth through grants and guaranteed loans.

UConn Extension funded production of the videos in partnership with Connecticut Farm Energy Program, USDA Rural Development, and Energize CT. The videos can be viewed online at http://s.uconn.edu/farmenergy.

Nutrient Management Planning

Article by Richard Meinert

Photo: Rich Meinert

In the simplest form a Nutrient Management Plan is an inventory of the nutrients produced on the farm or needed by crops that are, or will be, produced, and a list of planned applications needed to distribute those nutrients to individual crop fields to support the growth of the desired crop, for all fields on the farm. Historically these plans were pretty simple. A farm would apply manure by spreading it on the fields until they ran out, then they would apply fertilizer where they thought they would need it with little regard for how an individual application would affect the field, the crop or the environment. Today fertilizer is too expensive to waste and excess nutrients in a field are more likely to run off to contaminate ground or surface water. The goal of the Extension Nutrient Management Planning Program is to help famers target their nutrients to the portions of the fields that need them.

The key to accomplish this is knowing what is there already. Remote sensing technology is the tool that can provide that information to farmers for each individual field at a cost they can afford. UConn Extension’s Nutrient Management Planning team is using this technology (aircraft mounted camera-like sensors) to help farmers use manure and fertilizer more effectively. Eleven farms across Connecticut are cooperating in this project to show farmers how remotely sensed imagery could be used to guide future manure and fertilizer applications. Farms agreed to allow UConn faculty access to 35 fields to take soil and crop samples and to allow their fields to be photographed during the growing season. Farms receive copies of all of the sample results during the growing season to make management decisions. During the winter farms come together as a group to see the imagery, discuss the results for their fields and to plan the next year’s manure and/or fertilizer applications using the analysis results and imagery to guide their decisions.

The photo above is an example of the aerial imagery used in this process, in this case an NDVI image. NDVI stands for Normalized Difference Vegetative Index. NDVI was originally developed to determine land cover differences in vegetation from space. However by bringing the sensors closer to earth and targeting individual crop fields the technology can pinpoint areas in the field that are stressed and likely to yield less crop. NDVI basically calculates a ratio of the amount of light reflected in various wavelengths. This ratio number is the mathematical value of the “greenness” of the plant. Darker green color is indicative of healthier plants. This ratio is calculated for each pixel present in the images, as shown by the enlarged section of the photo. Each pixel or square visible in the enlarged section represents a 50 X 50 cm (19.6 X 19.6 inch) potion of the field surface. The resulting values are then color coded into ranges so the well fertilized healthy vegetation in the field appears as dark green, the less well fertilized or less healthy regions vary from light green through yellow and the worst vegetation in the field shows as orange. Areas with little or no vegetation appear red. This color-coding makes it easy for the farmer to understand where the best areas of the field are located.

Capturing the imagery and calculating the NDVI is the easy part. Commercial companies provide imagery for millions of acres of farmland across North America each year. The challenging part of this project is answering the question, “So now what?” This is where Extension is focusing its attention. There are 4 labelled locations in the field image. These are the points in the field chosen by Extension faculty to represent the poor, better and best regions in the field. Using hand held GPS devices faculty and students visit each location and mark out a 5 X 10 foot region for detailed sampling and data collection. Plant population is counted, soil samples are taken, and plants are harvested, weighed, ground and analyzed for dry matter and nutrient content.

When all of the laboratory work, and other data is collected and collated we calculate the overall yield information for the various colored regions in each field. Since we have data on the yield and the soil we can make recommendations that give farmers a more accurate estimate of the nutrients that should be applied to the various regions of the field. Having identified areas of the field that don’t need fertilizer as well as those areas that may need more nutrients the farmer can better target the areas that need additional fertilizer and save on areas that need less. Some farms use the information to maximize production per acre so they can farm fewer acres. The point is that having accurate information allows each farm to manage the field in a way that best fits their need without guessing and without over applying nutrients and having them be lost and possibly cause pollution.

Currently this program is effective, but not affordable without grant funds from off-farm sources. There is insufficient demand from farmers in New England, so the cost for imagery is too high for an individual farm to justify. The grant project is paying to obtain the imagery, and introduce the technology to the farms. UConn Extension’s work allows us to understand the various costs and obstacles involved in adapting this process to New England farms, which tend to be much smaller and more widely scattered than Midwest farms. The team has purchased a drone and is working on programming hardware and training a pilot to fly the drone and turn photos into usable images. There is a significant amount of computer processing of imagery needed to create a field map usable for nutrient applications. This will be a large portion of the effort of the team for the 2017 crop season.

Preparing Agricultural Leaders for Drought

Article by Kim Colavito Markesich

Originally published by Naturally.UConn.edu

 

water meter install
Water meter installation. Photo: Angie Harris

While Connecticut residents live in a state with ample water resources, we are beginning to notice some changes in precipitation trends.

“Connecticut is very fortunate as we’re actually quite water rich,” says Angie Harris, research assistant in UConn Extension. “We are getting rainfall, but there’s a shift in what we are beginning to experience, and what scientists expect to continue, which is more intense rain events less frequently. This type of rainfall can lead to drought conditions for agricultural producers.”

In 2015, Connecticut requested over $8 million dollars in federal emergency loans to be made available for crop losses due to moderate drought conditions across the state.

Mike O’Neill, associate dean and associate director of UConn Extension, and Harris are working on a two-year water conservation project funded through the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Regional Conservation Partnership Program. Funding is provided through a $400,000 NRCS grant matched one to one by the College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources.

The UConn team is partnering with NRCS to promote conservation assistance to agricultural producers. The project goal focuses on agricultural water security by helping farmers prepare for drought, improve their irrigation efficiency and establish water conservation practices.

“In the past, NRCS did everything themselves,” O’Neill explains. “But now they are outsourcing some of that work because they realize we have partnerships in the community that can be effective in helping people implement agricultural conservation practices. I think this is a very innovative act on the part of the NRCS.”

Twelve pilot sites across the state have been identified to include a variety of agricultural operations including greenhouses, nurseries, vegetable growers and dairy and livestock farms.

“We’re really trying to target new and beginning agricultural operations because we feel they run the greatest risk of failure as a result of drought,” O’Neill says. “We look at what these operations can do in advance to make them more secure when a drought hits. If you can prepare farmers in advance, then when drought occurs, they’re not dealing with mitigation or lost crops, they will be able to weather the drought and be successful.”

The first step in the project involved review of the operations, followed by a site visit. Then the team installed a water meter at each site. The meter information is easily managed by farmers through an innovative text messaging data collection method developed by Nicholas Hanna, computer programmer with the College’s Office of Communications. The program allows operators to check their meter reading once weekly, quickly send the results via text messaging and receive a confirmation of their submission.

The readings are entered into a database associated with their number and farm name. By season’s end, the team will chart water usage tied to climate variables such as precipitation and wind, and will then review current watering practices and help owners develop strategies that manage water usage and prepare for drought conditions.

The NRCS will also use this data to help farmers access water saving strategies and equipment.

“In the end, we will be directing them to NRCS for financial assistance to implement conservation practices,” says Harris. The NRCS financial assistance programs are designed to help agricultural producers maintain and improve their water program in areas such as soil management and irrigation efficiency.

Some seventy-five agricultural producers have expressed interest in the program thus far, with the number growing weekly. To join the program, farmers complete a water use survey available online. A member of the team will conduct a field site visit. “If farmers are interested in getting a meter, we want to hear from them,” says O’Neill.

“We have a really great team working on this project,” he says. The group includes Rosa Raudales, assistant professor and horticulture extension specialist in the Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture; Mike Dietz, extension educator in water resources, low impact development and storm water management; and Ben Campbell, former assistant professor in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, currently an assistant professor and extension economist at the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

In another aspect of the project, the team is partnering with the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and the Office of Policy and Management to explore water needs for agriculture in Connecticut. This understanding could inform policy decisions for future agricultural development within the state.

“This is a teachable moment for us,” O’Neill says. “We feel like these agricultural producers are scientists. We have an opportunity to help farmers conserve water, increase profitability and preserve the environment. They treat their business as a science, and we are trying to work with them to help them enhance their science capabilities and make better choices.”