The Agricultural Research and Extension Centers are a network of 11 research centers located throughout the state that emphasize the close working relationship between the Virginia Agricultural Experiment Station and Virginia Cooperative Extension. “Inside the ARECs” highlights the work and accomplishments of these 11 centers and will appear in every Insights.
Virginia Tech’s Eastern Shore AREC was born out of an association of vegetable growers and marketers from the Norfolk area who formed the Southern Produce Company in the late 1890s. In 1907, a vegetable research center was established in conjunction with the USDA. By 1912, the need for the same type of facility in the Eastern Shore was apparent, and in 1913 land was leased near Tasley, Virginia, for this purpose. On Jan. 1, 1956, the Eastern Shore research activities were moved to its current location in Painter, Virginia.
The research and Extension focus of the Eastern Shore AREC is to support major vegetable and crop production in the area. Research areas include soil fertility and plant nutrient management, horticulture, entomology, plant pathology, and weed science. Most recently the AREC has been instrumental in working to understand how salmonella, an important food borne illness, is transferred from crop to consumer.
Steve Rideout, an associate professor of plant pathology physiology and weed science and director of the Eastern Shore AREC, spearheads the project and is specifically looking for production practices that can lead to an undesirable increase in salmonella contamination.
Virginia is annually ranked in the top five states for production of fresh-market tomatoes. However, reoccurring Salmonella outbreaks have generated adverse financial impacts on the Eastern Shore of Virginia tomato production, and may produce deleterious effects on Virginia-grown tomatoes and other produce.
Rideout’s research on produce food safety will monitor the dynamics of important food-borne bacterial pathogens such as salmonella, in relationship to irrigation water sources and different types of fertilizers used for vegetable production on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. This research will provide local vegetable growers with information about contamination risks.
“These projects provide a foundation for further fundamental research into the function of bacterial pathogenic, virulent, or motility genes in the colonization and persistence of human pathogens on and in plants,” said Guyan Gu, a postdoctoral research associate who works with Rideout. “This is the first study to evaluate the exact probability of this foodborne bacterial pathogen’s contamination in real vegetable fields under different agricultural practices, which is important for risk assessment and management of this disease.”
Other research and Extension projects at the Eastern Shore AREC include weed management and resistance, integrated pest management, insect behavior, remediation processes, biological control, plant disease and nematode identification and management, cultural management, evaluation of alternative crops, fumigants, and fertilizers, and application practices. These programs are carried out by both resident and non-resident faculty with the assistance of seven full-time staff, eight graduate students, and numerous farm workers.