'Tis the season for poinsettias

What roses are to Valentine’s Day and lilies are to Easter — poinsettias are to Christmas.

Since its introduction to the U.S. in 1825 by Joel Poinsett, the first American ambassador to the plant’s native Mexico and its namesake, the poinsettia has become a holiday-season tradition and is sometimes referred to as the “Christmas flower.”

Today, the tropical poinsettia is commonly grown in greenhouses throughout the U.S., including in Ohio, which ranks 5th among poinsettia-producing states. According to the University of Illinois Extension, poinsettias account for 85 percent of potted plant sales during the holiday and 90 percent of those sold are grown in the United States.

Though poinsettias are most known for their vibrant red color, the plant comes in an array of colors — pink, white and even blue (thanks to a tinting process). But what many people consider to be the “flower” on a poinsettia is actually colorful leaves. The real flowers are the small yellowish buds at the plant’s center.

But misconceptions about the poinsettia don’t end there. According to ourohio.org, a common myth about the poinsettia is that it’s poisonous — a falsehood that was debunked when The Society of American Florists (SAF) asked The Ohio State University to conduct a series of scientific tests on the plant in the 1970s.

If you’re planning to purchase a poinsettia for the holidays, here are a few tips to help you select and keep your poinsettia beautiful and healthy during the season and beyond:

Selecting a poinsettia:
  • Choose a plant with dark green foliage down to the soil line
  • Avoid plants with fallen or yellowed leaves
  • Choose plants that are full and attractive from all sides; avoid droopy or wilted plants
  • Avoid plants in paper or plastic sleeves or plants that have been displayed or crowded close together — all of which can induce leaf loss
  • Look for a plant that is 2.5 times taller than the diameter of the container

Caring for a poinsettia:
  • Place the plant in a sunny window, but don’t allow any part of the plant to touch cold window panes or sit in cold drafts
  • Keep the room temperature between 60 to 70 degrees during the day and 55 to 60 degrees at night to extend blooming time
  • Water only when soil is dry
  • Do not fertilize while in bloom

Photo obtained from: yorkshiregardencenter.com

Focus on Farm Females

A special two-day event December 1 and 2 recognized the increasing role of women business leaders within the agricultural industry and the importance of safeguarding their permanence.

“Executive Women in Agriculture (EWA)” at the Holiday Inn Chicago Mart Plaza in Downtown Chicago, was sponsored by Top Producer – a national, leading farm industry publication.

Engaging more than 100 females of all ages, EWA, was designed to share industry business strategies and insights to help attendants hone skills.
EWA sessions included information about:

  • Marketing Basics
  • Crop Insurance
  • Succession Planning
  • Human-Resource Management
  • Negotiating Techniques
  • Financial Management
  • Ag Advocacy
  • Networking

“As we transition to the next generation of women farm managers and owners, the need to educate women about farm business practices has never been greater,” stated EWA’s website.

Also according to the website, “In recent years, more women have returned to the farm in management roles and are keeping the farm. Of the 3.3 million U.S. farm operators, more than 30 percent (or more than 1 million) are women.”

Other related stats from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln:
  • Total number of women operators has increased 19 percent from 2002 (Outpacing the percent increase of farmers overall)
  • Women who were the principal operators in 2002 increased by almost 30 percent to 306,209 in 2010
  • States with the most female farm operators are:
    1. Arizona – 38.5 percent
    2. New Hampshire – 29.7 percent
    3. Massachusetts – 28.9 percent
    4. Maine – 25.1 percent
    5. Alaska – 24.5 percent

Understanding the influence of social media, the conference used the Twitter hashtag #ewa11 to generate online discussions, created a YouTube promotional video and also created a Facebook page to highlight its efforts.

One visitor to the EWA Facebook page posted, “Inspiring, empowering and top-notch women from 25 states!!!!!”

Women’s role in agriculture will only continue to increase. It’s important to continue to foster their outlets for growth to sustain and strengthen American farms. Examples of this include encouraging female teens to join their high-school FFA chapters, and making older women aware of support offerings such as federal grant funding and state agricultural extension services.

Smartphones For Your Stocking

If you aren’t using a smartphone for your farming operation, it may be time to add it to your holiday wish list.

Research conducted this year by Successful Farming magazine indicates that farmers are quickly adopting smartphone technology and making greater use of the device than the general public. In fact, more than 70 percent of survey respondents said that they access agriculture-related information and services via their phones, including sending and receiving email, checking the weather, news and markets and text messaging family and employees.

But how exactly can smartphones benefit farmers?

According to the Successful Farming article, farmers say that it's important to first identify the specific parts of your operation for which you want to use your smartphone. Instead of downloading every application (app) that you think you might use, consider how you can best use the app.

For example, Michael Lewis, a farmer near Bayard, Iowa, uses his smartphone to keep track of historical yield data in his fields, which allows him to compile and track long-term data and make informed decisions.

"When I'm combining corn, I want to be able to bring up historical yield data as I’m going through the field and compare it to previous years,” says Lewis. “There could be certain variables that produced better yields and if it is something that I can control, I want to be able to know those things so that I can make each field more profitable. The biggest advantage for me is to have all my financial data and notes with me at all times."

Lewis also uses his smartphone's camera to document things like equipment performance while in the field. With this tool, he's seen a direct correlation between its use and payback to the farm.

"I use the camera quite a bit to record items that are and aren’t working, like locations where I need tile, for future reference."

When considering agriculture applications for your smartphone, farmers who own smartphones advise other farmers not to overlook some of the basic functions of the device. This Week in Ag identifies some of the most-used farming apps:
  • Agriculture Crowdsourcing: Uses the smartphone and crowdsourcing (sourcing tasks performed by individuals to a group of people or community through an open call) to bring data from the field into a lab database
  • Agriculture Management Information: Includes mobile extensions of a farm or operation-management system
  • Agriculture Calculator: Includes samples of smartphone tools to help make in-field calculations without having to return to your home office
  • Agriculture Information Resource: Primarily used as a lookup tool to help identify species, review a piece of regulation or learn the specifics about an agriculture issue
  • Agriculture News: Includes samples of agriculture-media focused news aggregators
  • Weather: Includes samples of smartphone weather applications
What’s the future look like for smartphones? A growing trend will be the adoption of more location-based services or apps that can track data based on specific geographic location. In addition, more "streaming data" services will appear in the future. As mobile-data infrastructure improves and farmers can get a more solid signal in rural areas, new apps will use real-time streaming services to collect more field data, making every in-field decision an informed one.

Do you use a smartphone for your farm or do you know of a farmer who does? If so, how have you used it to help your farming operation? Are there any particular applications that you find you can’t live without?

Photo obtained from: www.agriculture.com