Photos by Michele Walfred and Jeremy Wayman and courtesy of Emmalea Ernest January 22, 2024
UD expertise, research shapes Delaware Agriculture Week conversations with the First State’s agricultural community
Irvin Handy is confident he’s attended nearly all of the Delaware Agriculture Week events in its 19-year history, held each January at the Delaware State Fairgrounds.
Handy graduated from the University of Delaware’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) in 1962 with a degree in agricultural engineering. He grows corn, soybean and wheat on an 1,800-acre family farm in Seaford along with his son and grandson, Christian, who joined his grandfather at the event everyone simply calls “Ag Week.”
Spanning three generations, the Handys attended agronomic sessions to earn continuing education credits or units (CEUs). In Delaware and neighboring states, agricultural stakeholders, including farmers, ranchers and crop advisors, are required to earn a certain amount of CEUs each year to continue doing business in their respective specialties.
On Wednesday, Jan. 10, the Handys obtained pesticide applicator credits and updates on laws, products and best practices. The Handys will consider implementing the recommendations on varieties, cultural practices and pest prevention — innovations that help maintain agriculture as Delaware’s largest economic driver, to the tune of $10 billion annually.
The amount of science on display is considerable. Across four days, CANR expertise presented a large share of the outreach to agriculture stakeholders, who chose from a variety of sessions to attend.
The general public might not fully appreciate how well farmers adopt new ideas and implement innovations that preserve profitability, environmental stewardship and public goodwill.
“We are the ultimate conservationists,” the elder Handy said of his profession. The Handys were two of approximately 1,650 people who attended.
This year, sessions on water use, irrigation and drainage management, as well as water-borne diseases in agronomic crops like corn, soybean and grains, were particularly relevant after the region experienced gale-force winds and torrential rains that reminded farmers that weather can be extreme.
At least it wasn’t snow. But for farmers, weather is always a factor — the unpredictable elephant in the room, or if you will, on the field. Delaware Ag Week's main mission is to offer practical solutions obtained from years of trials and research.
Attendees learned about new irrigation tools, adjusted planting times and termination, cover crop mixtures, scouting thresholds, biosecurity measures for commercial poultry growers, and upcoming crop varieties that perform better in stressful conditions were only a few of the topics addressed.
The delivery of field-tested research better prepares the region’s farmers to make informed choices as they plan for the upcoming growing season.
UD research outreach
Much of the research takes place in southern Delaware at the 341-acre Carvel Research and Education Center in Georgetown, which serves as the CANR’s ag experimental farm for fruit, vegetable and agronomic crops and where much of UD’s Ag Week planning takes place. Another 120 acres at the Warrington Irrigation Farm in Harbeson examines water, pest and nutrient management issues in agronomic crops.
More than 25 CANR faculty, extension researchers and experts were integral to the event. They were joined by a long line of UD research associates, postdoctoral researchers and UD graduate and undergraduate students who collect, analyze and report out their findings. Additional presentations came from the Delaware Department of Agriculture (DDA), Delmarva Chicken Association, guest speakers and partners from neighboring extension offices and other industry professionals.
Valuable sidebar conversations
Formal question-and-answer sessions follow most presentations, but important conversations also happen offstage through casual exchanges, feedback during breaks or at the catered lunch in the Delaware building where 80 or so industry exhibits were on display.
Drew Harris, Kent County agriculture agent for Delaware Cooperative Extension, agrees these conversations are important.
“One of my favorite things about Ag Week is connecting with stakeholders and also gaining some knowledge along the way,” Harris said.
Nick Adams, Cooperative Extension’s newest agriculture agent, previously attended Delaware Ag Week as a stakeholder. This year, Adams served as session moderator and chair for the Soil Health and Cover Crop sessions.
“This year demonstrated to me how much work goes into Ag Week,” Adams said. “From the beginning, organizing the sessions, lining up speakers, to organizing vendors, and moderating sessions, shows how well we all work together and what it takes to put on this event.”
Networking brought UD alumna Caroline May to Ag Week in her new role as garden manager of Food Bank of Delaware’s new location in Milford. Part of May’s role will tend to the facility’s one-and-a-half-acre vegetable garden.
“I came here to connect with farmers as we get ready to break ground at our newest location,” May said.
This was at least the fifth Ag Week for Nichole Krambeck, who placed a high value on meeting new people. Recently accepted as a fellow in the agriculture and natural resources leadership program LEADelaware Class VII, Krambeck recently launched a new business that provides scouting data collection and analysis service to area farmers. She found the integrated pest management sessions directly related to her work.
Krambeck is keenly interested in pest resistance and the “heads up” UD experts provide in terms of what works and what does not and trialing new products such as seed, chemicals and cultural practices that will be effective in the future.
“The extension agents are absolutely wonderful, as I’ve heard a few times, how extremely lucky we are to have them easily accessible to us,” Krambeck said. “A lot of their findings help me build out my framework when I am going across the fields, as far as making sure that the data I am collecting is relevant to the farmers.”
Delaware Ag Week concluded with the Delaware Farm and Food Coalition event held in Wilmington. The session celebrated 15 years of empowering urban agriculture. UD horticulture agent Carrie Murphy coordinates this partnership with DDA and the Delaware Center for Horticulture in Wilmington.
Delaware Ag Week is sponsored, planned and co-presented by the Delaware Department of Agriculture and Delaware’s two land grant institutions that form Delaware Cooperative Extension — the University of Delaware and Delaware State University.