Category: Research

Larry Armstrong speaks at the podium
Larry Armstrong received the 2024 Excellence in Service Award.

Celebrating excellence in agriculture and natural resources

May 16, 2024 Written by Dante LaPenta | Photos by Jeremy Wayman

As the spring semester headed into its final stretch, the University of Delaware College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) honored a few deserving faculty and staff. At the college’s Celebrating Excellence event, the 2024 stars of the show were Sue Barton, Larry Armstrong, and Kent Messer

“They are shining examples of true Blue Hen spirit, tenacity and ingenuity,” said CANR Dean Brian Farkas, who presided over his first college awards ceremony. “We are honored to have them as members of our CANR community and we’re better educators and administrators for having worked alongside them.

Barton was honored with the Excellence in Extension Award. Like her past fellow awardees, Barton demonstrated high impact of her programs; visionary leadership and anticipation of emerging issues; and integration of programs in partnerships with UD colleagues and outside clientele. 

Brian Farkas presents Sue Barton with the Excellence in Extension Award.
Brian Farkas, Dean of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, presents Sue Barton with the Excellence in Extension Award.

Barton is approaching her fourth decade of UD service, serving as a Cooperative Extension specialist and professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences. Barton’s work covers all three components of the land-grant university mission — teaching, research and extension; she developed research, outreach, and education to address landscape and environmental needs identified by the green industry. She’s in tune with local issues, serving a myriad of committees, boards, and commissions, including the Native Species Commission. Barton served as the principal investigator on applied research projects, played critical roles in developing UD’s Bachelor of Landscape Architecture undergraduate program, and worked closely with the Master Gardeners and Master Naturalist programs. She also led UD’s plant science and landscape architecture winter study abroad program to Brazil since its launch in 2008.  

“Sue provides such valuable information that we can, in turn, share with Delawareans,” shared Michele Walfred, a communications specialist and trained Master Gardener volunteer. “She gives us the right way to say something and the right imagery to persuade a home landscaper to make a big change. She convinces us so then it becomes easy for us to convince others around the state.”

The next awardee was Armstrong, who received a huge applause for earning the Excellence in Service Award. The longtime staff member was celebrated as an invaluable employee of the UD Newark Farm operation.

“His passion for agriculture extends far beyond management, as evidenced by his initiatives to improve soil health with buffer zones and cover cropping, and his facilitation of educational programs,” noted Farkas.

Several of Armstrong’s colleagues pointed to his undying commitment to UD students and the farm’s animals. It’s common for Armstrong, who manages the Webb Farm livestock unit, to work long days to make sure the undergraduate students on assignment and the animals are all okay. 

“He is fueled by a deep passion for agriculture, the land, and our natural resources,” continued Farkas. “Larry is a strong role model for any student or staff member that is lucky enough to work with him.”

Brian Farkas presents Kent Messer with the Excellence in Research Award.
Brian Farkas presents Kent Messer with the Excellence in Research Award.

The third member of the honored trio was Kent Messer, on whom the college bestowed the Excellence in Research Award. A nationally and internationally known researcher in the field of agricultural and environmental economics, Messer currently serves as UD’s S. Hallock du Pont Professor of Applied Economics. Since the moment that he joined UD in 2007, the Department of Applied Economics and Statistics faculty member has been on the move, publishing more than 120 peer reviewed papers and three textbooks. His colleagues marvel at Messer’s seemingly endless energy and capacity for taking on new projects. An ability to build collaborations is a hallmark of Messer’s research. 

“Many of his collaborators can relate to having ‘farm walk’ meetings on South Campus,” said Farkas. “As I understand, you can start the walk not sure if you’re interested in working on a new project and end the walk being convinced that it’s the best project of all time.”

Messer was the driving force and founding director of the Center for Experimental and Applied Economics. He co-directs the Center for Behavioral and Agri-Environmental Research, which has supported the research efforts of well over 150 individuals including many students. Messer’s efforts have raised significant external funds, but the  awards committee was perhaps most impressed with his efforts to share these resources. He has enriched the research of most of his departmental and university colleagues, students, and postdoctoral researchers — many of whom have gone on to become tenured professors and successful academics.

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