DE Ag Newsflash

Here’s a quick newsflash from the world of DE agriculture for you:

  • Mark Rieger has accepted UD’s offer to become the next Dean of the College of Agriculture & Natural Resources. I’m sure an official announcement will come soon. Until then, you can find out more about him on the “Official Dean Search” website page (I was personally impressed with his letter; however, you cannot access the video). You can also see the members of the search committee on this site (along right hand side).
  • There is a Senate Agriculture Committee meeting at Legislative Hall coming up on June 6 at 3pm. Previously mentioned bills regarding the Nutrient Management Commission (HB 286) and pesticide sales (HB 321) are on the agenda. Check this website for updates (times and meeting rooms change often!). Primary sponsors of these bills are both Republican; Rep. Dave Wilson and Rep. Harvey Kenton respectively, both from the Milford area.
  • In the poultry world, there’s a newly named President & CEO for Mountaire Farms, Inc. His name is Paul Downes and he most recently served as COO (Chief Operations Officer). See more here.
  • The longtime Vlasic pickle factory in Millsboro, DE  announced it’s closing this week. Not only will DE lose close to 300 jobs (150 full-time, 150 seasonal) but approximately 20 Eastern Shore farmers will have to decide whether to continue growing cucumbers. This plant opened in 1972, changed owners several times over the years, and apparently considered closing in 2010. However, a DE economic development grant of $90, 000 kept them open. Two years later, not the case. Michigan’s economic development office and union won the battle, which is where it will consolidate its pickle production. See the DE News Journal article here.
  • Have you visited a local farmer’s market yet? Many are opening statewide, including a new one slated for the Smyrna, DE area. I will blog more about this soon. In the meantime, see this Farmer’s Market Directory, offered by the DE Dept. of Ag. The strawberry season in DE has pretty much come to a close but broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, green and yellow squash, and blueberries are soon to come!
  • Speaking of which, have you seen the new DE Dept. of Ag website? It has a new, fresh look and it’s about time!!! Take a peek here:

Joint Agriculture Committee Update-Part I

After my post this week on HB 282, I realized there’s nowhere to find Delaware Ag Committee minutes unless you actually attend the meetings. What farmer or agvocate has time to do that, especially in the spring, when planting is top priority? And none of our media outlets cover these meetings regularly. I don’t always have time to go either, but I’m usually attending some other committee, so occasionally I can slip in. Therefore, I’d like to share the minutes of two previous Ag Committee meetings in March. These convened as “Joint Agriculture Committee” meetings, meaning the individual House and Senate Committee members came together as one. I’ll give you a short summary in a two-part series.


At the March 21 meeting, Secretary Kee seemed to lead the agenda (not the Chairs) and announced three pieces of legislation his department would like to implement in the near future:

  1. Replace one of the poultry representatives on the nutrient management commission with an equine industry representative (HB 282, which passed the House yesterday).
  2. Increase in the pesticide registration fee that manufacturers pay to the Dept. of Ag. (HB 321, just introduced Tuesday).
  3. Increase the fine for those who misuse pharmaceuticals in the thoroughbred industry. A second component to this would be an increase in license fees.

An update on the Young Farmers Program (YFP) was given. There are currently 10 young farmers with a total of 903 acres of land in the program. The State will loan up to $2.7 million at zero interest for them to buy their first farm. The farm will then remain in the Ag Lands Preservation Program (ALPP). In regards to this topic, the Secretary also mentioned the fact that the State has proposed to provide less funding to the ALPP, from $7 million to $1.5 million and to the YFP, from $3 million to $500,000.

In the poultry field, Secretary Kee gave an update on the Harim group, who bought Allen Family Foods. They have been operating profitably from week to week and may add another shift, which could provide more in state jobs. The Secretary then requested help to support the University of DE’s Lasher Lab in Georgetown, which is crucial to our state’s poultry industry because of its role in testing disease in Delmarva poultry flocks. They need $500,000 to continue their work. Several poultry representatives provided public comment to re-emphasize the needed support.

Legislators present were Chair Bunting (Senate) and Chair Atkins (House); Representatives Quinn Johnson, Harvey Kenton, Rebecca Walker, and Dave Wilson; Senators Bruce Ennis, Bob Venables, and Gary Simpson.

Who wasn’t there, but belongs on the committee? Representatives Bill Carson, Jack Peterman, Bobby Outten, Michael Mulrooney, and Senator Joe Booth.

Always interesting to see who attends and who doesn’t. Stay tuned for Part II soon……

DE House Agriculture Committee Update

As a quick follow-up to my previous blog, “Proposed Changes to DE Nutrient Management Commission”, House Bill 282 was released from the House Agriculture Committee meeting last Wednesday, April 25. In order to be released, it required a majority vote from the House Agriculture Committee members. Rep. John Atkins called the meeting to order. Rep. Dave Wilson, sponsor of the bill, quickly introduced the bill. Rep. Bill Carson made the motion to release this bill from committee. Rep. Quinn Johnson seconded. There was no discussion and no opposition. Other elected officials present were Rep. Bobby Outten, Rep. Harvey Kenton, and Rep. Jack Peterman. Secretary Ed Kee was in attendance as well as the Staff Administrator of the DE Farm Bureau, Ms. Pam Thornburg-Bakerian.  The bill will now be placed on the ready list or on the agenda, to be worked on the House floor. The meeting was adjourned.

Hopefully this won’t hurt poultry representatives in the long run when an important decision is made. However, I should share an article I read in the News Journal this week titled, “High prices, slow sales ground Delmarva poultry”…..

Check back for an update on DE Joint Agricultural Committee minutes soon.

Proposed Changes to DE Nutrient Management Commission

It’s hard to find a poultry farmer in New Castle County, which makes it hard to fill the Nutrient Management Commission. And so became House Bill (HB) 282, which changes the composition of the Commission.

As with many state boards and commissions, the Delaware Code relating to this Commission is very specific and can be very confusing. Bear with me! Currently, there are 15 total voting members on the Commission. One is the Director of the Division of Watershed Stewardship for DNREC. The 14 others are appointed by various elected officials. Of the 14 appointed, 7 must be full-time farmers. The 7 full-time farmers must be divided by county. For example, 2 must be full-time farmers from New Castle County, 2 from Kent County, and 3 from Sussex County.  Even more specifically, the 7 full-time farmers must consist of:

  • 1 dairy farmer
  • 1 swine producer
  • 3 poultry farmers
  • 2 row-crop farmers (1 grain and 1 vegetable)

If enacted, HB 282 would remove 1 poultry farmer from the Commission while adding 1 equine operation owner.  Currently, Delaware’s equine industry has no representation on the Commission. I’m assuming this change will cater to New Castle County because of a lack of poultry, swine and row-crop farming. In other words, representation for this county would have to come from the dairy and equine industries. While I understand the desire for representation of the equine industry and every county, I have concern for the representation of less poultry farmers. The fact is clear: poultry is Delaware’s #1 agricultural commodity. Of Delaware’s cash farm income, 73% was from broilers in 2009. We are 8th in the nation in the value of broiler production. As a matter of fact, broiler production began in Delaware. Need I say more?

Yet, this industry (and all of agriculture) is under pressure from federal regulation and environmental activists who say we need more rules for animal waste (i.e. nutrient management). Take yesterday’s DE State News, for example, which featured a guest commentary from a Washington DC environmental guru who blames agriculture as the top single contributor of nutrient pollution to the Chesapeake Bay. She cites poultry farmers specifically, claiming they grow too many birds and produce too much waste without controls on waste disposal. This is exactly the duty of the DE Nutrient Management Commission: to regulate activities involving the generation and application of nutrients in order to help improve and maintain the quality of Delaware’s ground and surface waters and to meet or exceed federally mandated water quality standards, in the interest of the overall public welfare. Therefore, I would advocate for more poultry farmers on this Commission; not less.

Have all other options been properly considered? Could the county representation requirement be changed? In other words, maybe there should only 1 full-time farmer from New Castle County represented? Perhaps the swine producer should be removed? I could be wrong, but I haven’t seen a large-scale pig farm in Delaware in a very long time (1980’s?).

DISCLAIMER: I guess I should go straight to the source. My grandfather co-chairs the Commission. I also have 3 family members who are poultry growers. I’ll do my homework. Until then, here’s a link to a list of members from the DE Dept of Ag website but it’s not current. This also made me wonder: Does the poultry industry have a registered lobbyist in Delaware to advocate for poultry growers in our state?  I looked it up under the Public Integrity Commission website. The answer is yes. It’s Bill Satterfield from the Delmarva Poultry Industry. I read their March 2012 newsletter, which explained that all current legislative efforts are focused in Maryland because of the dozens of bills that could affect the MD poultry industry. Too close for comfort, if you ask me……

All Good Things Must Come to an End

All within one event, several chapters came to an end this past Friday, March 16th:

  • A breakfast series, called “Friends of Agriculture”, sponsored by the University of DE Cooperative Extension. For several years, anyone from the community could come “listen and learn” to ag oriented speakers at early morning breakfast meetings. Previous speakers have been Governor Jack Markell, Senator Tom Carper, and the most recent presenter: DE Secretary of Agriculture, Mr. Ed Kee. The title of the presentation was, “Brazil’s Ag-to the Horizon”. The Secretary toured the country with 18 Delaware farmers to experience Brazilian agriculture first hand. The take-away? Brazilian farmers are good at what they do; ranking 5th in the world in grain production. However, they are grappling with transportation, preservation, and regulatory pressures. Much more so than American farmers. The Secretary concluded with this statement: “The Delaware and American Family Farm System is the world’s best ag system and we will continue to compete and thrive!”
  • The moderator for the series: Dr. Jan Seitz. She is the Director of Cooperative Extension and is retiring as of next month. She promises to remain a Delawarean in retirement and from what I understand, she has initiated a scholarship fund with the DE Community Foundation for in state students. She’s a strong advocate for Delaware agriculture, extension, and 4-Her’s!
  • The main supporter of the series: Dean Robin Morgan. She is the current head of the University of Delaware College of Agriculture & Natural Resources but also is retiring at the end of this academic year (May or June?). Her replacement has not been selected or announced as of yet but I’m guessing the announcement will come soon.

All of these good things are coming to an end. The continuation of the breakfast series will be up to the new Dean but perhaps it is time to revamp the series? I hope to broach the topic with some of the boards I serve on. Youth involvement or some sponsorships could make it happen.  Let me know if you have any ideas:

How Will We Feed & Fuel Ourselves?

The brisk temperature didn’t keep many away as friends of Delaware Agriculture trickled into Harrington Fire Hall last Friday morning for an early morning breakfast. It was nice to see so many youthful faces present from 4-H State Teen Council representatives, and DE FFA State Officers, to Del-Tech FFA members.

Jan Seitz, Director of Extension, jumped right into the program by introducing the 2012 George M. Worrilow Award winner, Dr. Jack Gelb. Known for his poultry research and publications, he is the Department Chair and a Professor for Avian Virology at UD. Seeming very humble, Dr. Gelb spoke about his interest in agriculture without coming from ag roots. Noting a strong interest in science, he rode the “1st green wave” of ecology and attracted to ag because of the inspiring people in faculty and extension areas. He also felt he could make a difference in ag. His comments really resonated with me, especially after the recent Yahoo article which cited agriculture as the number one most useless degree. The author obviously never met Dr. Jack Gelb and most likely has never bit into a juicy tender chicken breast grown on the Delmarva Peninsula.

Scheduled to headline the program was the Governor, Jack Markell and our senior U.S. Senator, Tom Carper. The Governor was a no-show and the Senator was late but the show went on. Replacing the Governor, DE Secretary of Agriculture-Ed Kee, spoke on the new programs recently initiated for DE farmers such as DRIP and the Young Farmer Program. He also announced that the recent CAFO (Confined Animal Feeding Operations) regulations DE proposed were officially approved. Senator Carper finally arrived and reminisced on the environmental woes of the Inland Bays, which occurred during the Castle administration and derived the need for a Nutrient Management Commission. The members of this commission were to represent various sectors of all involved in nutrient management processes; requiring all to have a seat at the table and collaborate on a state plan. With the recent CAFO proposal being approved, Carper called this a huge accomplishment and wanted to honor the chairmen of the board, who have served since its inception. He presented a “Congressional Record” to Dave Baker, Vice-Chair and Bill Vanderwende, Chair (and my grandfather).

From Left: Sen. Tom Carper, Dave Baker-New Castle County Farmer, Bill Vanderwende-Sussex County Farmer

He ended by mentioning economic prosperity and that our economy is rebounding; not due to the usual consumer buying and housing industries but instead due to manufacturing and agriculture industries. He said he is hopeful about our future and we should only be concerned with 2 questions going forward: How will we feed ourselves and fuel ourselves? He stated agriculture has the answer in biofuel and efficiency. Isn’t it a shame the Yahoo author wasn’t sitting in the audience….?

Christmas Tree Tax or Check-Off?

Have you ever been in the wrong place at the wrong time?  Or have you been a part of a conversation where someone misrepresents you? Christmas tree farmers across the country are currently victims of both.

Michigan is traditionally one of the top Christmas tree growing states, supported by their own Christmas Tree Association.  Growers there and across the country have been working with the USDA for several years to create a check-off program which would require growers to pay 15 cents for each tree sold. The pooled earnings would then be used in a promotion program to support Christmas Tree farms, similar to other check-off campaigns such as “Got Milk?” promoting the dairy industry, “Beef: It’s What’s for Dinner” endorsing the beef consumption and “The Incredible Edible Egg” encouraging egg sales and about 15 other USDA promotion and research boards for agricultural commodities. When a check-off program is approved, a board of industry representatives is formed to make decisions on how to promote or research the commodities involved (see a recent USDA check-off blog here).

This promotion program could have helped Christmas tree growers fight competition from artificial trees, which has plagued the industry for years. Because of lost market share, Christmas tree growers petitioned to set up its own promotional program after years of concern. And recent threats have come from environmental groups, who claim Christmas tree farms are bad for the environment, because of the loss of trees.

The whole conversation came to a halt right before Thanksgiving, as the White House announced its decision to reverse the decision to approve the check-off program. Apparently, conservatives, such as Rush Limbaugh, accused the USDA and federal government of spoiling Christmas with a new “tax”.

So is it a tax or a check-off? You can decide. But I will tell you that out of all the taxes I pay, none are pooled to promote an industry I am directly involved in; which means Christmas tree growers were just in the wrong place, at the wrong time, with misrepresentation from many, and an impending presidential campaign at the center of it all.

On a side note, I found a comprehensive list for Christmas tree growers in Delaware on the DE Department of Agriculture website.  Do your part to support our neighboring farmers and buy your live tree local this year!