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The Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics: An overview

Rigoberto Lopez

Rigoberto Lopez

As of June 2017, the College’s Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics (ARE) was ranked nineteenth worldwide among university agricultural economics departments, a significant achievement for a relatively small department competing with departments at much larger institutions such as Ohio State University, the University of Illinois and Purdue.

“Our goal is to continue our status as a premiere department of agricultural and resource economics, committed to excellence in teaching, research and extension,” says Rigoberto Lopez, professor and department head. “ARE is uniquely positioned within UConn, as a nexus between biological and physical sciences and the social and policy sciences.”

ARE is home to the Charles J. Zwick Center for Food and Resource Policy, which focuses on solutions to high-priority problems related to food, health, natural resources and the environment. The center is named for Charles J. Zwick, an alumnus and benefactor of the department. A distinguished scholar, public servant and business leader, Zwick served on the faculty at UConn and at Harvard University and was director of OMB during President Johnson’s administration. After leaving government service, Zwick served as president, CEO and chairman of the board of trustees for the Southeast Banking Corporation.

Recent Zwick Center activities include a pilot project involving graduate and undergraduate students to collect data on low-income households in Willimantic; co-funding a new portable economic laboratory; presentations to the Connecticut Farm Bureau and the Connecticut Department of Agriculture detailing the economic impacts of Connecticut’s agricultural industry; and funding a study on the impacts of diet quality and food consumption behavior by low-income households.

ARE encourages and supports research collaborations with other units, including the College’s Departments of Natural Resources and the Environment, Plant Science and Landscape Architecture, Extension, and the UConn School of Engineering. The department also partners with UConn’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity in its mission to improve public health issues related to food. (more…)

Horticulturist brings patience and perseverance to development of new plant cultivars

Brand2

The original plant selected in 2012 to be Prunus x cistena ‘UCONNP001’. The cross was made in 2012. In 2016, the final decision was made to introduce and license the plant, and Brand was able to provide hundreds of plants generated via tissue culture to Monrovia Nursery, the licensee.

It takes years of perseverance and patience to bring a new plant cultivar to market. Mark Brand, professor in the Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture, has what it takes to plod through this lengthy process. To date, his lab has introduced twenty-seven new cultivars and currently has about a half dozen others in trials, of which he is optimistic several will be licensed in the next year or two.

The first step in launching a new cultivar is choosing a particular species of plant. Some ideas come from grower suggestions, others from a specific need. The latter was the case for Berberis (barberry), a plant that used extensively in commercial landscaping that had become an invasive. Brand developed a sterile version of the plant. Other new plant cultivars come about when an unusual seedling or plant habit is observed, such as a different growth pattern or color, presenting an opportunity to produce something special.

“Occasionally, you find these serendipitous things about a plant,” Brand says. “We originally started working on Buddleia [butterfly bush] because we wanted a sterile version. In Connecticut overwintering Buddleia can be problematic, but in milder climates butterfly bush can be weedy and invasive. With Buddleia, that was our original tactic. But our mutation breeding program produced a dwarf mutant that had a cool form and habit but so-so flower color, so we bred it with other cultivars with strong flower color to get dwarf plants in a range of colors. These plants have been introduced as the Better Homes and Gardens Soda Pop series.” The same mutation breeding program also produced the variegated ‘Summer Skies’ butterfly bush that is part of the Proven Winners® program.

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Image of the week

Faustman BBQ 101

UConn CAHNR Interim Dean Cameron Faustman is kicking festivities off with a seminar on BBQ during Alumni Weekend (@uconnextension 10/22/17)

Physical therapy program provides care to migrant farmers at health clinics

Students and faculty from the Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) Program in the College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources (CAHNR) have been volunteering since 2008 to help bring health care to Connecticut’s migrant and seasonal farm workers, a medically underserved population.

Photo credit: Yasmeen Alsaqri

Every year thousands of migrant agricultural laborers journey to Connecticut to work at the state’s farms, orchards, nurseries and greenhouses. These temporary farm workers help plant, grow, harvest and produce a wide range of the state’s labor-intensive agricultural commodities, including tobacco, ornamental flowers and plants, fruits and vegetables, and poultry and dairy goods, supporting the state’s $4 billion agricultural industry. Most seasonal workers arrive from Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean islands and other states with large agricultural operations, such as California, Florida and Texas. For the past twenty years, farmers in the Northeast have reported hiring more migrant employees as the ability to find local, native workers has declined. It is estimated that over 7,000 seasonal farm workers are employed in the state. They are predominately male, widely varying in age from teenagers to the elderly; some workers are in their sixties and seventies. Without this workforce, Connecticut agricultural producers face labor shortages that would put businesses at risk.

Migrant workers face a number of challenges. Most do not have health insurance or are underinsured and are largely ineligible for Medicaid or Social Security benefits for medical care even though they pay into these programs. They typically receive housing in barracks provided by farms or share small apartments with several of their co-workers. Transportation is often by carpool or buses that bring workers to and from the farm. These obstacles mean that migrant farm workers are unable to easily access or afford health care, medical assistance and medications.

To provide care to these workers, UConn and the Connecticut Area Health Education Center (AHEC) established the UConn Migrant Farm Worker Clinics (MFWC) in 1997. MFWC are a mobile service that partner with local farms to provide free health consultations and medical aid to this underserved population. The clinics are staffed entirely by student volunteers and medically licensed professionals who mostly hail from the UConn but also from a number of college programs and private practices, including members of the DPT Program. (more…)

Food safety website provides answers for consumers and producers

Diane Hirsch

Diane Hirsch

Storms like hurricanes Harvey and Irma can create a public health nightmare, leading to safety issues of all kinds, including food safety concerns. How long will food remain safe to eat if your refrigerator fails? How do you disinfect your kitchen? Is produce safe to eat? Find the answers to most food safety questions for consumers, home cooks, farmers, growers, and processors, at the UConn College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources’ food safety website, foodsafety.uconn.edu.

For more than twenty years, Diane Wright Hirsch of UConn Extension has served as the College’s food safety extension specialist, working with producers and consumers alike.

“It can be difficult for the various food industries in Connecticut to find the resources they need,” says Hirsch. “Oftentimes they would call me and say they don’t know where to begin. I wanted the website to provide a one-stop shop for them.”

In addition, she says, “Consumers may try to address a food safety question using their favorite search engine, and discover inaccurate information,” she says. “Everything on our website is science based.”

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