Inside the ARECs: The Alson H. Smith Jr. AREC

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.

Located in Winchester, Va., the Alson H. Smith Jr. Agricultural Research and Extension Center serves Virginia’s commercial fruit and value-added horticultural food crops industries through research, educational programs, development of sustainable production systems and technologies, and increased public knowledge of horticultural opportunities and benefits.

The Winchester Research Laboratory grew out of an earlier project in which five experimental orchards were established in the Shenandoah Valley between 1912 and 1920 to study fertilizers, cultivation, and spraying. The laboratory was established in 1921 when entomologist W. S. Hough was employed by the Crop Pest Commission. A 5-foot-by-7-foot building was built on runners to serve as a lab and was located in an orchard behind his barn. The pest problems of that day were codling moths and leafrollers, pests which Hough studied through his 42-year career and which continue to be serious pests in the 21st century.

Today, the Alson H. Smith Jr. AREC plays a significant role in supporting Virginia’s $747 million wine industry by providing extension services to viticulturists and enologists who grow grapes and produce wine in the Commonwealth. A recent research effort at the AREC includes developing a web application to assist grape growers in the Mid-Atlantic to evaluate land suitability for grapes by selecting certain criteria.

That application, called the Virginia Viticulture Suitability Investigative Tool, allows users to select features of potential land parcels, such as soil type, drainage capability, and nutrient status. With a few mouse clicks, users can evaluate which grapes are best-suited for a parcel of land.

The project, led by Tony Wolf, director of the Alson H. Smith Jr. AREC, is conducted in partnership with Peter Sforza, director of the Center for Geospatial Information Technology at Virginia Tech.

“Like our original Virginia site evaluation tool, we don’t envision the Eastern U.S. site evaluation application to be a one-stop measure of site suitability,” Wolf said. “Rather, it’s designed to provide a preliminary site assessment and to help match high-quality vineyard sites with the appropriate varieties suited to those sites.”

Other research initiatives include tree fruit entomology work with the brown marmorated stinkbug, a pest that has become particularly concerning in the last several years. The stinkbug, problematic as an invasive species, has caused significant economic injury in Virginia to apples, pears, and  stone fruits since 2010. The entomology program at this AREC is responding to stakeholder needs through independent project and through collaborative initiative with researchers from the USDA-ARS and other land-grant universities. Annual, small-plot efficacy trials targeting the brown marmorated stinkbug are providing information on the performance of individual insecticides and seasonal programs against this pest.

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