Inside the ARECs: Tidewater 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.

The Tidewater Agricultural Research and Extension Center is home to 336 acres in the coastal plains region of Southeast Virginia in Suffolk and is a major research and Extension center for the study of field crops and swine. Established in 1914, the center has been growing steadily over the years in response to the needs of area farmers. There are currently seven resident faculty stationed at the TAREC along with five nonresident faculty who utilize the TAREC as the site for their outreach and research programs.

Peanut field

Applied research and Extension education programming at the Tidewater AREC is focused on economically important field crops such as cotton, soybean, peanut, corn, small grains and alternative crops, and on swine nutrition and reproductive physiology.

Several research and Extension programs at the TAREC focus on efforts to improve disease management in row crops. For example, peanuts, a top agricultural export in the commonwealth in 2013, are susceptible to Sclerotinia blight, a common fungus that can be costly to control and devastating to peanut crops. Researchers at the TAREC are in the process of developing cultivars of peanuts that are genetically resistant to the blight, leaving more money in farmers’ pockets.

Fungus also attacks another one of Virginia’s superstar exports: soybeans. Assistant professor of plant pathology, physiology, and weed science, Hillary Mehl, studies if and when fungicidal applications should be administered to soybeans, and if their application will be economically beneficial.

“We are currently developing and validating a weather-based advisory for timing applications of fungicides for control of foliar diseases in soybean,” said Mehl. “Ultimately this will allow growers to forgo fungicide applications when they are not needed and optimize application timings when they are needed to protect yield.”

The TAREC plant pathology group also issues crop disease and frost advisories throughout the growing season; develops extensive work in safe, effective approaches to controlling seedling and foliar diseases in cotton, corn, wheat and soybeans; and provides essential plant disease diagnostic service to growers, Extension agents, and crop consultants throughout the region and state. An ongoing monitoring program is also currently in place for early detection of soybean rust, a new crop disease working its way into Virginia. Other equally important research and Extension programs focus on agronomic and pest control issues important to cotton, soybeans and other row crops

Pork is another top export of the state, and animal scientists at the TAREC address issues in commercial swine production including controlling excess nutrient excretion and waste management techniques to minimize the potential for negative environmental impact. Swine physiologists are developing management and nutritional approaches for improving swine fertility in artificial insemination programs used on commercial hog farms.

One specific issue that the TAREC assists Virginia hog farmers with is determining sow longevity for reproducing. Sows become most productive once they birth their third or fourth litter, but many sows must be removed from a herd earlier than that because of reproductive problems. This research is a collaborative effort with Murphy-Brown, LLC, the hog production component of Smithfield Foods, Inc., and North Carolina State University. The research is funded by the National Pork Board.

“At TAREC, we are investigating how the management of young gilts (female swine before producing their first litter) impacts future reproduction and longevity in the breeding herd,” said Mark Estienne, professor of animal and poultry sciences. “The swine industry in Virginia is very diverse and includes large corporate farms producing commodity pork as well as small independent farms producing pork for local consumers. Our research at the TAREC is designed to help farmers at both ends of this spectrum produce pork in a profitable and sustainable manner.”

The success of research and outreach programs performed at ARECs is often quantified in dollars, but for Mehl and others, the importance of their research to Virginia agriculture  is its own reward. “Having the ability to conduct research at the TAREC that has a direct, immediate impact on agriculture is an extremely satisfying career,” she said.

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