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.
The Eastern Virginia AREC was originally established in Williamsburg, Virginia, in 1912 with a research emphasis on forage crops. After the center was moved to Warsaw in 1950, its focus shifted to breeding, variety testing, and cultural practices for corn, small grains, and soybeans.
Today the Eastern Virginia Agricultural Research and Extension Center is home base for the soybean breeding project and the center for small grain field research, and it is helping Virginia lead the way in research for burgeoning industries such as the craft beer industry where barley is big money. As the superintendent of the Center, Bob Pitman oversees and manages the operations of the AREC and works closely with several researchers to meet their needs.
Carl Griffey, W.G. Wysor Professor of Crop Genetics in the Department of Crop and Soil Environmental Sciences, is one of the professors with an active research program at the Eastern Virginia AREC. He is developing barley lines from local Virginia grains that will have the potential to malt well (sprouting and drying of the grain for use in beer making). Griffey collaborates with faculty from the Department of Food Science and Technology to test which varieties are more suited to malting.
Griffey has been perfecting a type of winter barley that could be grown in the colder months, a previously difficult proposition. Now regional breweries can benefit from having a readily available, local ingredient for a consistent product all year along. Virginia Cooperative Extension agents can assist local producers to grow these strains right here in the state.
“Essentially it’s like having a quality control lab and the Department of Food Science and Technology can tell us whether our barley varieties are satisfactory for brewing,” Griffey said.
Griffey’s collaboration is being made possible by the new recently installed 2.5 hectoliter, professional-grade Esau & Hueber brewhouse in the new facility which house the Department of Food Science and Technology on the Virginia Tech blacksburg campus. The equipment, which can produce 66 gallons of beer in one session, is very similar to the ones used in commercial craft brewing operations around the U.S.
“The other reason we are excited is that barley has been struggling to keep production in the state, so malting can be a way for farmers to find new markets for their product,” said Griffey.
As the Eastern Virginia AREC tests new varieties of barley that vie to be champions in the brewing sector — varieties named for other Virginia legends like Secretariat, Virginia’s triple crown-winning racehorse — the research conducted by Griffey will ensure Virginia paves the way for award-winning beer in the future as well.