Inside the ARECs: Tidewater Centennial

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.

Plow-based mule-powered tilling systems were the latest technology when the Tidewater Agricultural Research and Extension Center started its operation in 1914. Today, tractors guided by GPS-guided steering systems do the heavy lifting at the center.

Along with Virginia Cooperative Extension, the Tidewater Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Suffolk, Virginia celebrated its centennial this year, and though a lot has changed about how research is performed, the mission to serve growers in the area has remained the same.

Tidewater AREC

The Tidewater Agricultural Research and Extension Center started with one person, 20 acres of rented land, a mule, and a tiny white frame two-room building. It has grown to 24 full time employees, 379 acres of land, and 33 buildings and other structures. This off-campus field station of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University began operation on April 6th, 1914 near the town of Holland in southeast Virginia as The Nansemond County Experiment Station. The name was later changed to Holland Experiment Station and then Tidewater Field Station. Numerous name modifications have occurred over the years with Tidewater remaining constant as this is the principle area of Virginia served by the center. The present name, Tidewater Agricultural Research and Extension Center, represents its dual research and extension role.

As the result of a state appropriation of approximately $3,500, E. Taylor Batten, an agronomy graduate of Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College and Polytechnic Institute was hired as the first superintendent. During the early years of the center, Batten worked single-handedly or sometimes hired local labor to assist in conducting field experiments on peanut, corn, soybean, and cotton. One of the important buildings at the center that houses graduate student and technician offices, a peanut quality laboratory and scientific literature is affectionately named “Batten Hall” by the faculty and staff at the center.

Since these early days the people, equipment, methods and programs at the Tidewater Agricultural Research and Extension Center have changed dramatically. But the underlying mission established by Batten’s vision remains the same: to enhance efficiency and profit potential in the production of food and fiber in the commonwealth, and to do so in a manner that protects the environment and the public good. Applied science-based research in production of cotton, corn, peanuts, soybeans, small grains, and other crops and swine and is conducted under the leadership of agricultural scientists and a host of skilled technicians and staff. In addition, faculty based at the center carry Extension specialist appointments and support Extension agents, agricultural producers and agribusinesses through educational programs, production recommendations and critical information for decision making.

Tidwater AREC Faculty at the center used the centennial celebration on Sept. 11 as an opportunity to showcase the meaningful research performed there by presenting research data to growers.

Participants rode in tractor-pulled trailers to see demonstrations ranging from the effects of plant growth regulators, to nutrient management trials in cotton production, disease management in cotton and soybeans, and variety testing of edible soybean varieties and grain sorghum. In addition, local vendors were present to display the latest in farming technology, and commodity board leaders provided updates to attendees.

The research and outreach at the Tidewater station contributes to the agriculture economy in the commonwealth, and also preserves a way of life.

“Growers are trying to be better stewards of the environment and also maximize yields. These things help to maintain the farming lifestyle of the community,” said Hunter Frame, Extension specialist.

Approximately 150 growers and industry representatives attended the TAREC centennial celebration, a significant increase compared to previous years, according to David Langston, director of the TAREC.

“I foresee more precision-agriculture research in the form of GPS-guided and variable-rate fertilizer, pesticide application, and irrigation being conducted here,” said Langston. “Our mission for the next 100 years will remain directed toward sustainable production that considers profitability for producers and processors along with quality of food and fiber products, and soil, water, and air protection.”

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