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Whimsy and wonder on the Twilight Crops Tour

Whimsy and wonder on the Twilight Crops Tour

expfarmWhen we see a great farming approach or new cultivar and we use it, it seems like that idea becomes our own. We have taken a risk and used a recommended approach/product and it worked. However, most of us do not have the time to conduct our own research and experiments and we forget from whence our ‘great ideas’ originally came.

Many times, they have come from land-grant college experimental farms like the Central Maryland Research and Education Center in Upper Marlboro. Dating back to the Hatch Act of 1887, each state was granted funds for establishing an agricultural experiment station in association with a land-grant college to conduct agriculture research and pass that information on to farmers. Maryland’s experimental stations are scattered over the state.

Buoyed by a meal finished off with home-made ice cream, inquisitive farmers and those who support them headed off in three wagons to eight experiment sites scattered over the 200 acre farm. I was pleased at how well the research reflects ongoing farmer concerns/interests.

Jerry Brust discusses his research into the Squash Bee
Jerry Brust discusses his research into the Squash Bee

An example is the project, Cucurbit Production Effects on Bee Activity, led by scientist Jerry Brust. Honey bee colony collapse has been in the news over the last couple of years. Experts worry that there won’t be enough honey bees to pollinate crops and some have suggested that we look to native pollinators (honey bees are thought to have originated in Asia). Jerry’s research is into native bees, in particular the squash bee. It is the most effective pollinator of squash and pumpkins which are native to the Americas. What can farmers do to help ensure that squash bees and other native bees are around to pollinate their crops? Jerry is researching how tillage, the use of pesticides and other production methods may affect the population of squash bees and other native pollinators.partridge pea.extension.missouri.edu

The simple, hardy partridge pea can be a major benefit for farmers. Partridge peas attract parasitic wasps and flies. They are also a trap crop for pests. Peter Coffey, Lauren Hunt & Cerruti Hooks are researching the impact of parasitic wasps on stink bug populations at two research farms, including the Upper Marlboro facility (Sustainable Cover Crops for Vegetables & Partridge Pea Insectary). They promise to publish the results.

U.ofM.Experimental.Farm 035
Joe Fiola discusses the latest results from vineyard research

At the Vineyard, Hops, Blueberries & Meadow Fruiting station, researchers Joe Fiola, Ben Beale, Herb Reed and Dave Myers said that they were worried about the extremely low temperatures last winter. Temperatures dropped as low as 2 degrees fahrenheit. The good news is that they suffered very little damage in the vineyard. And while  heavy rains earlier in the year at the facility were creating a challenge in the control of downy mildew, some cultivars were performing very well; in particular Chardonel vines, which showed no signs of stress from the disease.

The vineyard research was initiated as a result of the “tobacco buyout.” The Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission has helped to fund the research to determine which cultivars grow well in the Southern Maryland climate. This research has helped to promote the successful development of 14 wineries in the region.

I’ve been growing a few blueberry plants for 20 years, so I was very interested in the research comparing Southern Highbush, Northern Highbush and Rabbiteye varieties. The big winner in yield over the three-year trial was Brightwell, a Rabbiteye variety released by Georgia in 1983. The next highest producer was Legacy, a Southern Highbush developed at the Beltsville Station in collaboration with New Jersey researchers. Ben Beale also pointed out that with the range of varieties available, producers could harvest blueberries from May to September. Two new blueberry farms are being developed in Southern Maryland this year.

The researchers also reported that the hops trial (four aromatics) was a success. They noted that hops require lots of work (particularly spraying), but the gross revenue can be impressive (up to $12,000 per acre) and there is a huge demand from the growing number of breweries seeking local hops.

Some of the forage test sites  were marked for the convenience of the visitors
Some of the forage test sites were marked for the convenience of the visitors

While this was the first (not last) stop, let me end with Dave Myers Forage Trial where he compared a number of forage seed mixtures of clovers, orchardgrass, Tall Fescue, Kentucky Bluegrass, etc. for Southern Maryland growers. The research is ongoing as is Dave’s zest for life. He ended his presentation by leading us in a rendition of John Denver’s Back Home Again!

There was too much to cover in one blog post. I’ll be wrapping up the report on my visit in the next two weeks. Those of us who are farming or have farmed know that farming is a continuous experiment. It is exciting to see serious science being conducted to advance agriculture and to identify the best cultivars available for regional farmers.

 

 

 

 

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