Inside the ARECs: June AREC tour

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.

Summertime might usually mean a break from the traditional academic calendar for faculty, but AREC 101 was in full swing this June when several Virginia Tech faculty members from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, as well as representatives from North Carolina State University, and West Virginia University, set out to tour three of Virginia’s 11 ARECs.

Matt Jenks

Matt Jenks, director of the Division of Plant and Soil Sciences at West Virginia University’s Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design

The agenda included the Shenandoah Valley AREC, known for its location at the site of the Cyrus McCormick homestead and for its research with cattle and silvopasture management; the Middleburg Agricultural Research and Extension Center, a hub for equine research and instruction; and the Alson H. Smith Jr. Center, the state’s primary site for tree fruit and oenology and viticulture research.

The tour group was hosted by Rebecca Splan at the Middleburg Agricultural Research and Extension Center, Tony Wolf at the Alson H. Smith Jr.  Center, and David Fiske at the Shenandoah Valley Center. The tour was led this year by Jody Jellison, associate director of the Virginia Agricultural Experiment Station, Joe Hunnings, director of planning and peporting, professional development, and civil rights compliance, and Bobby Grisso, associate director for agriculture and natural resources for Virginia Cooperative Extension. The tour was intended to help new faculty learn about off-campus facilities and resources available to them and to meet potential collaborators among AREC faculty and staff.

Matt Jenks, director of the Division of Plant and Soil Sciences at West Virginia University’s Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design, saw the tour as an opportunity to foster collaboration and to learn about some of the agricultural research facilities and programs at Virginia Tech.

“West Virginia University has ongoing collaborations with Virginia Tech, and there are opportunities for developing new collaborations, and I wanted to explore these more,” said Jenks. “Having spent most of my career in agricultural science either in the Midwest or Southwestern U.S., I saw this visit to Virginia as a great way to learn more about the research and other educational activities happening in this region.”

Jenks was surprised to find out about the work at the Alson H. Smith Jr. Center with Vitis vinifera, the European species of wine grapes.

“Even though West Virginia has similar climate in many ways, I have not seen those species grown much in our state,” he said.  “Of course, I also learned there are many challenges to growing vinifera grapes in the relatively humid climates of Virginia and West Virginia, and was impressed by the research being done in Winchester to address those issues, especially disease and insect pressures.”

A stop at the Middleburg Agricultural Research and Extension Center highlighted equine science at Virginia Tech and the developing educational programs available there. The Shenandoah Valley Agricultural Research and Extension Center stop included faculty presentations and discussions of the research and outreach work being done in the areas of animal and pasture management.

Individually, the 11 ARECs conduct research that is critically important to the commonwealth and its citizens, but the theme of the tour ultimately came back to the importance of collaboration between the ARECS and Virginia Tech faculty housed on campus, and the opportunities for cooperation in research and Extension among neighboring states.

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