The First State…of Lima Beans
The First State marks the 23rd stop on our agricultural tour of the United States. Delaware ratified the Articles of Confederation on December 7, 1787, making it the very first state in the United States to do so and giving it an obvious choice for an official nickname. Surprisingly, the nickname was not official until May 23, 2002. For what it’s worth, other colorful Delaware nicknames include the Small Wonder, the Diamond State, and the Blue Hen State–all of which are rich with history, according to the official website of Senator Tom Carper.
With that bit of history in mind, it should be no surprise that the official mascot of the University of Delaware (UD) is none other than the Fightin’ Blue Hens. UD in Newark and 1890 institution Delaware State University in Dover are the state’s two land-grant universities (LGUs) dating back to 1743 and 1891, respectively.
Despite its small size, Delaware has made significant contributions to the development of our nation; for this reason, many still refer to Delaware as “The Small Wonder.”
At 2,489 square miles, Delaware ranks 49th out of 50 states in land area. In fact, there are fully 209 counties in the U.S. that have more land area than that of Delaware. At 20,105 square miles, the largest county–San Bernardino County in California–is more than eight times larger than Delaware by itself. Additionally, Delaware is home to only three counties which is the lowest of any state in the Union.
With obvious land area limitations in addition to suburban sprawl from nearby metro areas like Philadelphia, it is simply not reasonable to compare Delaware’s agricultural output to other states. However, an agricultural industry-sponsored study published in March 2022–Feeding the Economy–pegged the direct economic output of Delaware’s agricultural sector at nearly $9 billion in 2021. This makes agriculture the top industry in Delaware, according to its governor.
In July 2021, the Delaware State Statistician for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), Dale Hawks, posted an informative snapshot of Delaware’s agricultural profile.
In addition to row crops like corn ($188 million, USDA NASS data for 2021), soybeans ($94M), wheat ($16M), hay ($4.2M), and barley ($3.9M), Delaware has a whopping $911M broiler industry that dwarfs the value of the rest of its agricultural products. Meanwhile, in 2018–the latest year for which data is available–Delaware produced $16.6M in sweet corn and $11.3M worth of watermelons.
So how does the University of Delaware support the state’s agricultural sector through research? To start, they have a lima bean breeding program which only makes sense now that we know that it’s the top producing state for lima beans. UD’s Extension Service also provides a unique Commercial Vegetable Production Recommendations report in collaboration with several other Mid-Atlantic states. Included in the report are commodity-specific recommendations for more than three dozen vegetable crops. In addition to field crop variety trials like small grains, soybeans, and corn, UD’s Extension Service has a very organized portfolio of fruit and vegetable variety trials that, in some cases, date back to the 1990’s.
Key to UD’s agricultural research and extension activities is the Carvel Research and Education Center in Georgetown, which augments the work done at UD’s main campus in Newark. The Carvel Center includes several facilities, of which the 347-acre Thurman Adams, Jr. Agricultural Research Farm and the 136-acre Warrington Irrigation Research Farm in Harbeson are of particular value to UD’s plant sciences programs.