UConn

STEM Education for Teens, Adults, and Teachers

nrca students in waterThe Natural Resources Conservation Academy (NRCA) is a group of three linked projects that focus on connecting STEM education for high school students with natural resource conservation at the local level. With over 130 land trusts in the state and each of its 169 municipalities having a Conservation Commission, Connecticut has a long history of local conservation. NRCA provides an assist to these efforts, while educating students and teachers about the science and issues surrounding natural resource protection. The TPL is joined by the foundational NRCA project, the Conservation Ambassador Program (CAP), and the Conservation Training Partnership (CTP). CAP brings high school students from around the state to campus for a week-long intensive field experience at the UConn main campus, from which they return home to partner with a community organization on a conservation project of their own design. CTP moves around the state for two-day training of adult-student teams that teaches them about smart phone mapping applications and their use in conservation. The teams then return and implement a conservation project. Together the three programs have educated 308 participants and resulted in 187 local conservation projects in 105 towns, involving 119 community partner organizations.

Article by Chet Arnold

Connecticut Institute of Water Resources

photo of a stream taken by UConn student Molly Cunninghma
Photo: Molly Cunningham

What do taking a trip to the beach, testing a well, and planting a new garden have in common? You guessed it—water. UConn is home to a state-wide organization focused on providing Connecticut’s citizens with information and research about all the water resources we encounter in our daily lives.

As the state’s land grant university, UConn’s College of Agriculture Health and Natural Resources became the home of the Connecticut Institute of Water Resources (CTIWR) in 1964, and it is housed in the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment. The institute seeks to resolve state and regional water related problems and provide a strong connection between water resource managers and the academic community. CTIWR also shares water-related research and other information with the general public to bridge the gap between scientists and the community.

The institute is currently expanding and focusing more attention on community outreach with the arrival of new center director, Michael Dietz.

“Our goal is to increase visibility of the water research in language that the general public can understand and use in their daily lives,” says Dietz. “We want to become a one-stop shop for information about all kinds of water-related issues. Where can you go to get your water tested, up to date information about drought or water quality around the state, in addition to research reports and funding opportunities for scientists.”

Recent projects explored leaching of nitrogen and phosphorous from lawns, relationships between metals and organic matter in soils, and quantifying the impact of road salts on wetlands in Eastern Connecticut.

“UConn has some really talented water researchers from different disciplines who can help citizens in our state better understand issues that affect our water resources. Through CTIWR, we’ll make sure that these experts and citizens can come together, speak the same language, and learn from one another.”

Article by Jessica McBride, PhD

Reducing Winter Road Salt Use

snow plow on a street in Connecticut during winter stormExtension educator Mike Dietz focuses on protecting surface waters with green infrastructure techniques in his research and Extension work. Mike has been involved in the development of the Green Snow Pro program, and he is the Director of the Connecticut Institute of Water Resources.

The scientific studies continue to pile up, and confirm the same thing: road salt is causing lots of problems in our streams and groundwater. The majority of salt applied is sodium chloride, also known as rock salt. In the absence of a new “miracle” deicer, salt will continue to be the most cost effective product for the foreseeable future. Therefore, the only way to reduce the impacts will be to reduce the amount that gets applied, while still keeping surfaces safe for travel.

New Hampshire began the “Green Snow Pro” voluntary salt applicator certification program to train municipal public works employees and private con- tractors. This training includes information about the science of salt, the downstream impacts of salt, how to properly apply given weather conditions, and how to calibrate equipment. An additional key component of the New Hampshire program is limited liability release: a property owner who hires a Green Snow Pro certified contracted has liability protection from slip and fall litigation.

Given the success of the program in New Hampshire, the Technology Transfer (T2) Center at UConn gathered professionals from UConn Extension, Connecticut Department of Transportation, Connecticut Department of Public Health, municipal public works, and Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to adapt the program here in Connecticut. A pilot of the training was per- formed here at UConn in November 2017. UConn public works staff received a classroom and spreader calibration training. Mike Dietz maintains a monitoring station on Eagleville Brook downstream of campus. He was able to compare the amount of salt in runoff for the winter after the training, as compared to prior years (correcting for the number of storms). Substantial reductions were found: over 2,600 less tons of salt were used during the 2017- 2018 season, corrected for the number of storms. This resulted in a savings of over $313,000 in salt costs alone! A summary of these findings is currently under review at the Journal of Extension.

The statewide implementation of the Green Snow Pro program in Connecticut has begun: during the fall of 2018 the T2 center gave two separate trainings for municipal public works crews and more are being scheduled for this year. The group will continue to meet to work on the liability protection here in Connecticut, as well as expanding the offering to private contractors.

This effort has been a great collaboration of UConn educators, regulators, and public works professionals. The success of this program highlights the fact that education truly can have lasting environmental benefits.

Article by Mike Dietz

Welcome Abby Beissinger to UConn Extension!

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

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

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

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

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

Authors: Karen Snover-Clift and Abby Beissinger

Job Opening: Visiting Assistant Extension Educator – Natural Resources

nrca students in waterWe have an opening for a UConn Natural Resources Conservation Academy coordinator with a tentative start date of July 5th. Applications are due June 17th. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions (laura.cisneros@uconn.eduor 860-486-4917).

UConn Visiting Assistant Extension Educator, National Resources Conservation Academy

The Natural Resources Conservation Academy (NRCA) at the University of Connecticut is seeking applicants for the position of Visiting Assistant Extension Educator of the NRCA. The NRCA is housed in the College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources’ Department of Natural Resources and the Environment and is a partnership including the Institute of the Environment, and the Department of Extension’s Center for Land use Education and Research (CLEAR). The NRCA’s (http://nrca.uconn.edu/) mission is to engage high school students from across Connecticut in natural resource science and to provide transformative learning opportunities for students to interact physically, intellectually, and creatively with local environments while contributing to environmental solutions in their own communities. The NRCA Conservation Ambassador Program comprises two linked parts: a weeklong summer field experience at the University of Connecticut (UConn) and a subsequent conservation project. Students complete the program when they present their conservation work at the Connecticut Conference on Natural Resources.

Primary Responsibilities:

The successful candidate will be responsible for planning, implementing, and evaluating program services and activities; supervising the day–to-day operations of the program including developing and disseminating promotional materials as related to the NRCA; promoting the program through visits to CT high schools, education forums, workshops, etc.; coordinating recruitment and selection of students; providing assistance in the delivery of programming as needed; coordinating and managing all aspects of the summer field program; managing the hiring, training and supervision of summer program staff; recruiting community partners throughout the state to co-mentor students during conservation projects; tracking each students’ progress on community projects and assisting students as needed from project initiation to completion; preparing reports and additional administrative duties; exploring funding opportunities and writing proposals to public and private funding sources to enhance the NRCA. The successful candidate will work closely and under the supervision of Dr. Jason Vokoun, Professor and Head, and Dr. Laura Cisneros, Visiting Assistant Professor, Department of Natural Resources and the Environment, University of Connecticut, to coordinate efforts between the multiple programs within the NRCA.

Minimum Qualifications:

A Master’s degree or higher in a natural resource science, environmental science, environmental education or closely related field by the time of hire; experience working with youth and environmental education programming; proven ability to manage a team of co-workers, staff and volunteers; willingness to occasionally work nonstandard hours, including nights and weekends; excellent written and oral communication skills; excellent work ethic; good organization skills; ability to set and meet deadlines; ability to work independently; and proficiency with Microsoft Word, Excel and Power Point.

Preferred Qualifications:

PhD in scientific discipline; demonstrated experience in developing and delivering educational programs; proven ability to mentor students on community projects; experience in research or experimental design; and grant writing experience.

Appointment Terms:

This is an 80%, part-time, 11-month non-tenure track position with full benefits. The anticipated start date is July 5, 2019. The position is subject to annual renewal, based on performance and availability of funding. Applicants will be subject to a background screening.

To Apply:

Please visit https://academicjobsonline.org/ajo/jobs/13841. Applicants must submit a cover letter and curriculum vitae. Applicants should also request three (3) professional reference letters. Evaluation of applicants will begin immediately. For full consideration, applications should be received no later than June 17, 2019. Employment of the successful candidate will be contingent upon the successful completion of a pre-employment criminal background check. (Search # 2019576) 

For more information regarding the Natural Resources Conservation Academy, please visit the program website at http://nrca.uconn.edu/.

The best time to submit a soil sample

Article by Joseph Croze

soil samples in boxes along a bookshelf in the UConn Soil Nutrient Analysis Lab on the Depot Campus
Soil samples waiting for analysis at UConn. Photo: Joseph Croze

As most of you are probably already familiar with, the University of Connecticut is home to the UConn Soil Nutrient Analysis Laboratory. This lab is staffed by Dawn Pettinelli, the manager, and myself, the technician. We also have a few part time and student employees throughout the year that help with the receiving, spreading, and sieving of soil samples; among other things. We offer an array of tests designed to help homeowners, community gardeners, farmers, etc… maximize the efficiency of their soil to produce the greatest yields in whatever plant or crop they are growing, from silage corn to turf. We can test for soil organic matter content, textural fractionation, soluble salts, Nitrogen, and Carbon. We also provide tests for plant tissues and corn stalks. However, our most vital and popular test is the Standard Nutrient Analysis. This is a relatively comprehensive test that allows us to make limestone and fertilizer recommendations. We check the pH, add a buffering agent and then retest the pH. From there we are able to determine the soils capacity to resist the change in pH, this allows us to make an accurate and precise limestone recommendation, in lbs/1000 square feet, or lbs/acre, depending on the desired crop production. The second part of the Standard Nutrient Analysis is the actual nutrient content. Soil samples are analyzed for micro and macro nutrients; Potassium, Calcium, Phosphorus, Magnesium, Aluminum, Boron, Copper, Iron, Manganese, Zinc, and Sulfur. Samples are also screened for Lead. Using the nutrient results, we are able to make fertilizer recommendations based on what is being grown. We give results in N-P-K format, and also provide organic alternatives.

We get calls year round from customers asking if they can submit a soil sample, and the answer is always yes! You can submit a soil sample any time of the year, we receive soils from throughout the country (although we have to be careful of areas under certain quarantines). Generally, it only takes around a week from when we receive a sample for us to send out the results. As you might imagine, Spring is an extreme exception. We are so busy and backed up with thousands of soil samples right now, we are expecting a 3 week turn-around time. We understand that everyone is eager to get their hands dirty and work on their lawns and gardens, but waiting until Spring to submit soil samples isn’t the best idea.

Continue reading….

Risk Management Technology: Robotic Milking Machine

Article by Evan Lentz

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.

Ten Tips for the April Gardener

Ten Tips for the April Gardener

flower

Click on highlighted links for additional information.

  • Prune old, leggy growth from heather (which flowers on new growth in late summer) but prune heath (which sets its flower buds in late spring) just enough to shape it in the early spring.
  • Start dahlia tubers in pots indoors in a cool spot. Pinch back tips when they reach 6” and transplant outdoors when the ground temperature reaches 60°F.
  • Inspect houseplants for pests and use low-toxicity insecticidal controls as needed.
  • Place seedlings in cold frames around April 25 or later to harden off.
  • Continue to directly sow​ ​peas, ​carrots, ​radishes, ​lettuces, ​and​ ​spinach every two weeks through mid-May for staggered harvests.
  • Spread​ ​fertilizer​ ​under​ ​apple​ ​trees​ ​and​ ​small​ ​fruits​ ​except​ ​strawberries​ ​which​ ​are​ ​fertilized​ ​in late​ ​August.
  • Apply pre-emergent crabgrass weed control when the forsythia bloom.
  • Early spring is a great time to spot spray or hand-dig dandelions. If spraying, choose a product that won’t kill grass. If digging, wait until after a rain, when soil is soft.
  • Celebrate​ ​Arbor​ ​Day​ ​on​ ​April​ ​26th​ ​by​ ​planting​ ​a​ ​tree. Choose planting sites based on exposure to sun, shade, wind and distance from water source.
  • Check for raised mole tunnels in the yard and plan to put down a grub control product as necessary (the presence of moles does not mean there is a grub problem) between mid-June and mid-July.

For more information contact the UConn Home and Garden Education Center.

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.

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.