Monthly Archives: October 2016

Meet the 2016 Fall Festival at Richlands Dairy Farm.

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For the past two Octobers, the Jones family has hosted a weekend series of fall activities at their Dinwiddie County farm. However, the rest of the year, they are busy running their full-time dairy operation, which we covered in a previous story. We also wrote about their very first pumpkin patch in 2014.

As they enter their third annual on-farm Fall Festival, the Jones family is offering an array of family-friendly weekend activities including a pumpkin patch, a corn maze, a play zone with activities for children, farm tours, hay rides, a petting zoo, and concessions. The farm will host tour groups on weekdays throughout the month, and on selected evenings after dark, visitors can brave the farm’s haunted corn maze. Visitors can also spot Hermione, Ron, and Harry—a set of triplet Holsteins that achieved viral fame when they were born on the farm last fall.

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In anticipation of the farm’s October 8th Fall Festival opening day, I met with Coley Drinkwater, TR Jones, and Brittany Jones on a busy Tuesday afternoon in between farm chores to find out what the family has learned, what has changed, and what is in store for agritourism this October at Richlands Dairy Farm.

Laura: So, you’ve been growing pumpkins for three years—what does it take to get a pumpkin patch ready between spring and October?

TR: Well, the first thing we’re trying to do is decide the size we want them to grow, so we’re basing that on the past fall.

Brittany: We purchase treated seeds. We keep moving planting dates back every year later and later, because they are ready so fast—faster than when they say they are supposed to be ready.

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TR: In April we’ll start to disc and plow a field, and then two weeks later, we’ll disc it again, then make the mounds. We’re still hand-planting the pumpkins…which is getting worse and worse every year. [Everyone laughs] From the first year to this year, we’re planting about five times as many pumpkins. We jumped to three times as many this year just so we could start spraying them with the sprayer instead of the hand sprayer, because that’s just time consuming.

Brittany: Yeah, that’s terrible.

TR: And then hopefully it rains. We’ve had to water them every year. We didn’t water them a lot this year, since it’s finally started raining again. Then, it’s just getting them cut off the vine when they’re turning orange.

Brittany: Which is a chore. A huge chore, because you have to go in and find them, and then cut them.

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TR: Yeah, and the first year, we planted them in June, June the tenth, and they were done so early. First week of September they were done. Last year we waited until July fourth, and this year we waited until July tenth—we planted about a third, and we planted the last two-thirds around the twentieth.

Brittany: We try to make them last longer for the customers so they’re not sitting in the field.

Laura: How much did you all plant this year?

TR: We planted about five acres. It’s by far the most diverse—this year we added white pumpkins, the warty-looking ones.

Brittany: Yes, warted pumpkins, and we added white gourds.

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Laura: You’re embarking on your third year of farm activities. What are you offering this year? What have you added or changed?

Brittany: Well, Coley has added a bunch of stuff for the kids’ area.

Coley: Yes, because we’re finding that this is definitely family-centered. People are looking for some place to take their kids, so we’re trying to keep the kids’ area evolving, adding new things or sticking with things….the cottonseed pit is a big hit. We can never do away with the cottonseed pit. [Laughs] But my overall goal, I think, for the kids area is to do a different theme each weekend next year, so do a soil and water theme, get the soil tunnel in, maybe some vermiculture…really focus on soil. Maybe one we could do is what we grow in Virginia….One weekend, maybe do what we raise, so really focusing on the animals in Virginia, and then maybe do a weekend where we have a popup farmers market, so we’d feature Dinwiddie County, or Dinwiddie-Nottoway, and things that you can actually buy, and meet farmers—that would be pretty cool. I think I’m seeing the fall festival as more of a look at agriculture as whole, with a look at the dairy, but maybe start focusing on dairy more with spring tours in May and June, and really start to promote those. And June is our June Dairy Month Family and Farm Day, and really we really focus on dairy.

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TR: I guess the question too is “What did you do different from this year?” so what are you all doing this year that is different?

Brittany: Well, we have the round bales, the fish game…

Coley: We have tic-tac-toe and the tires.

TR: And I imagine that stuff will stay consistent from year to year.

Coley: I will give a shout out to Farm Credit—this year they gave us three iPads to download the My American Farm games for kids to come in and play—it’s basically SOL learning-based games, so I’ve got a tent set up for kids to come in and do that. And then Brittany added the picture board this year and the “How tall this fall?” painting.

Brittany: We added a friendly red-and-white, and we added ducks and turkeys and some poults that I think we’re going to get this afternoon for the petting farm this year.

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Laura: Are you doing many tours this year?

Coley: We are booked. This is the first year, starting this coming Monday through October, that we are booked, so we’ve grown a lot with our farm tours since the first year.

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Laura: What types of groups come out for those?

Coley: Pre-K, kindergarten, church groups, and then homeschool, is mostly what we get.

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Laura: Do you all have any commentary on what it’s like to run a full-time dairy and do this on the side?

[Everyone laughs]

TR: I haven’t made it home before 8:30 this week.

Brittany: It’s perpetually exhausting.

TR: From my side, it’s been backed up because it was so dry I couldn’t get in the field to do anything, and then it got so wet I couldn’t get in the field to do anything, so now I can finally get in the field, but I’m also supposed to be getting ready entirely for this, so now I just have too many things all at once.

Coley: It’s a lot of work.

TR: The weather didn’t cooperate. If the weather kinda spaced itself out, I’d be in pretty good shape. Now I’m sitting here doing audio commentary. [Laughs]

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Brittany: Also this month, none of us get a single day off for the whole month, at all.

TR: Even on your weekend off. But I enjoy it on my weekend off. It’s basically like getting to go to a pumpkin patch on your weekend off. On your weekend to work, it’s rough, but on your weekend off, it’s not that bad.

Coley: But I think we’re all good about—even if it’s your weekend off, I’m going to go help Brittany do calves when we’re done, you know, because it’s a lot of work. I think this also creates a unique opportunity for people who come on the tours—like, we’re not done setting up today, and when the tour group got here, I told them that. I was very honest with them that the rain last week just really messed us up, we’re not done setting up, and we are also a working farm, so we have got to get the work done on the dairy farm. That’s got to get done first, then we work on pumpkin patch and corn maze stuff. I think that’s important for people to realize.

TR: For what’s going to open this Saturday, we started setting up not this past Monday, but the Monday before.

Coley: But then, lining up tours, I’ve been working on that since mid-August, kids’ zone stuff since mid-August—we may not be able to physically set it up because of the rain, but there was stuff in the works.

TR: Planning starts, gosh, all the way back in June—what we’re going to have, what we’re going to add…

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Maze image courtesy of Richlands Dairy Farm

Laura: So tell me, what does it take to create a corn maze?

TR: People are very surprised that we still cut it with a lawnmower. You see so many articles now about how the precision planters will just—you know, you put it in, then you go and plant, and when it comes up, you have a corn maze.

Brittany: That is not how we do it. [Laughs]

TR: We actually have a 30” row planter, so we plant the field once, then we go back and plant it again so we get 15” rows, and then we just sit down and talk about design, and we basically turn it into a grid.

Brittany: And then TR takes his poly posts and marks his grid.

TR: I get some reference points, you know—so this year is an ice cream cone and says “Richlands Creamery 2017,” so basically, I did the bottom of the cone, the top of the ice cream, the top left of the letter R, the bottom right of the Y, and so then I know I have to have “Richlands” spelled by this point, I have to have “Creamery” spelled by this point, and I know how tall it is, then it’s just looking at the thing and saying “This cube equals 10 feet, so I need to take ten steps to get to this next point.”

Brittany: And then Hugh cuts it with the lawnmower behind you.

TR: And then Hugh follows me with the lawnmower, and then afterwards I’m like “God, I hope this is right,” and we get someone to come take a pictures, and so far every year, we’ve been like, “Oh, it’s not bad!” Letters are easy.

Coley: You count down and over.

TR: Yeah, it’s idiot blocks. But the ice cream cone, with swirls and stuff, that’s a little more. The first year, we did the cow faces, and that was—

Brittany: Rough. [Laughs]

TR: That’s a whole lot of just squiggling around. When we got done, they took a picture, and I thought “The first two look exactly right, the third one’s kinda….ehhhh, the fourth one isn’t bad, it has weird ears.” The other thing is there are no do-overs because you’re mowing the corn. And so we did a milk bottle last year and it was supposed to say “Milk the Good Life.” “The” was three letters so it fit easily, and when we did the “good,” we realized we’d scaled it a little bit wrong, and so we had the GOOD life—it was smashed in there! [Laughs] But you don’t get a chance to do it again, it’s a one-time thing

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Laura: What’s been your biggest challenge with all of this?

Coley: Balancing the two—just the time commitment.

Brittany: Finding that sweet balance where you’re not neglecting anything on the farm but you’re also not neglecting anything on the pumpkin patch because they’re both our businesses and both need to be treated accordingly.

Coley: I would agree.

Laura: What’s been your greatest success or the thing that makes you the most proud?

Coley: For me, it’s the tours, where you’re actually sharing the dairy and what you do with people. So many people don’t realize what goes on at a dairy farm, so for me, that’s very satisfying, when people walk away with, “Oh that was really cool, I learned so much,”…So just being able to share that in general.

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Brittany: Mine is the complete opposite. Mine is when we’re all said and done, we get to buy something we wouldn’t normally be able to buy. So I think this year we are buying a pasteurizer, right?

Coley: [Laughs] Okay, yes. Are we getting cow brushes?

Brittany: Yeah, a cow brush is essentially a luxury item, but because we did so well with the pumpkin patch last year, we can buy a cow brush, and this year, there’s been talk of getting a pasteurizer, and it’s things that make the farm every day easier and better.

Laura: That’s a cool side to consider because people don’t think of it like a business. They just think “Oh, they just do this pumpkin patch.”

TR: And it rolls back into the business. The thing that’s most challenging to me once this gets going—because it’s also harvest time—is getting home super late and not getting to see Hazel [Brittany and TR’s daughter] very much. Like the last ten days, I just haven’t seen her very much. And I like that—you know, I like that two hours of playtime before she goes to bed.  So that’s the challenge for me, getting through the day without being able to spend much time with family. But the thing I like, the biggest reward for me when it’s all set up, is that Hazel gets to go to the pumpkin patch every day for a month.

Coley: Yeah, she has the best playground in her front yard right now. [Laughs]

TR: We don’t get to go anywhere on the weekend, we don’t have time off, but we’re all also spending time together, and at the end of the day we’re tired, but we’re usually smiling about it.

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Coley: I will say on a day to day basis, that’s my favorite. On that kill time between the pumpkin patch and corn maze and the haunted maze where we’re kind of cleaning up, finishing the barn stuff, getting ready for the next day, we kind of seem to congregate at concession or the kids’ area and there’s a few moments of “Ahhh.”

TR: And we share what was cool about it, you know, “Hey, did you all see the kid who was just over the top about whatever—the cows or the petting zoo?” Or you know, “We had a person on the tour who asked this question, which was a really great question.” Some people ask questions that you don’t think about and you have to answer for, and then for the next tour you have to roll them into your presentation because you think “People should know that!”

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Creamery announcement and farm information: Richlands Dairy Farm is excited to announce that they are looking to add a creamery to pasteurize their own milk and to direct-market fluid milk and ice cream locally beginning in late 2017 into spring of 2018. Coley notes that the biggest challenge associated with the creamery is finding a location to build it. The family is working to raise 250,000 of the 1.5 million required to build the creamery.  For details about the upcoming creamery, the fall activity schedule, and farm updates, go to , or

I also caught up with Mike Parrish, Agriculture and Natural Resources Extension Agent in Dinwiddie County, to discuss trends in agritourism in the area and the public value of operations like Richlands.

Laura: Why is agritourism important in this area? Are you seeing growth or changes in interest here?

Mike: It’s just getting off the ground here. It’s important because we’ve got a high urban area around here, so we see the potential to attract that urban population into Dinwiddie to take advantage of some agritourism opportunities….We have people moving into the community, because we are a bedroom community for Richmond and the surrounding area, and so we have people coming in with ideas—they bought a piece of property, and they ask “What can we do with it?”, and they’re looking to be profitable, so agritourism is easier for some of the part-time people to get involved with….As far as new trends go, the biggest thing is that we’ve got some artisans making things like soaps, getting their feet wet in the farmer’s market, and looking at expanding from the farmer’s markets. So the farmer’s markets have the advantage of teaching them a lot—helping them learn how to get in the business and how to market their product, and then they’ll expand. We’ve got a couple that are ready to expand and they’re looking to the county to help…I think some of the proposals by the board of supervisors in the past have made conditions more friendly for agricultural development and business development—that has helped. So Dinwiddie’s really a good cooperator—their administration is really positive about agritourism.

Laura: So in this area, we’ve got operations like Richlands Dairy Farm doing pumpkin patches, farm tours, things of that nature. What benefits do you see for the farms engaging in those types of agritourism efforts, and what are the benefits for people who visit?

Mike: I look at it two-fold. One, it’s profitable for the operation, like Richlands—they’re such a good tight-knit family, and they show how families run farms, and they show a positive image of agriculture and the benefits of having it. And those doing this….they have a good reputation, and they share a good image for the agriculture community, which I see as very positive, and then they’re teaching at the same time, believe it or not. They’re telling what they’re doing. People take some of those practices back to their home gardens—it’s harder for them to replicate it, but I think it spawns interest in agriculture, especially the places that draw the kids out. The kids get to see that kind of career, so I think agritourism does a lot more than just bring money to the county. It helps share the positive image of agriculture.

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Laura: How does Extension factor into this equation locally?

Mike: We get a lot of calls in the office each year, so it’s good that we’ve got resources in Extension that we can go to. Of course due to all our other responsibilities I can’t focus on agritourism by myself as a sole job, and you can’t either, but it’s nice that we’ve got people like Martha Walker [Extension Specialist—Community Viability], and Martha’s got her connections, so we have these go-to people and we have other agents around who have even more agritourism in their communities that we can call and talk to……so I think Extension—our network of resources—is a benefit to producers, and if they see the big farmers working with us, then the little ones want to work with us too and see the benefits. We’re all going for that same goal of staying profitable and using the land for ag. Within Dinwiddie, we’ve had meetings jointly—we’ve held a couple agritourism programs with the county and tried to encourage it, and we advertise all the neighboring start-up business programs, like efforts with Virginia State University, so we try to be a partner as much as possible.

Laura: Any parting advice for people who might be considering an endeavor in agritourism?

Mike: Niche agriculture and agritourism still face the same challenges that row crop production does. It’s not going to be peachy every year, so they need to build in the type of management structure that can handle environmental issues with the weather, or seasonal changes. It’s not like having a business that can be open 24/7 or run 9-5 all the time, so I think that’s an eye-opener for some of the people that get into it. It’s farming. It might be just a pumpkin patch to you, but to get to a pumpkin patch, it’s farming. It’s not just a business that pops up all of the sudden, and that’s what I think a lot of people who come out to agritourism operations don’t understand—how much work it took to get to that point. It’s actual farming. It might not be huge farming, but it’s farming.

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Additional Resources for Readers:

SOVA Agricultural Experience (agritourism directory)

Virginia Cooperative Extension Agritourism Resources

My American Farm app and games

Meet the Tidewater Agricultural Research and Extension Center.

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Top: Dr. Maria Balota discusses precision agriculture with visitors at a 2015 field day at the Tidewater AREC.

Nestled in southeastern Virginia, a hotbed of row crop production, the center serves as a vital link between university resources and the regional agricultural industry. Dubbed “TAREC” for short, the 412-acre facility is one of Virginia Tech’s eleven agricultural research and extension centers, or “ARECs,” situated around the state. Employing an in-house suite of specialists, each AREC hones in on work which improves regional agricultural production systems.

At its launch 102 years ago, the station was staffed by one person and a mule; as time passed, row crop production became its main priority. Today, in keeping with their mission to support local needs, the faculty and staff at TAREC carry out work related to soybean, peanut, cotton, grain, and swine production, focusing on agronomic challenges and pest management issues.  “The Extension and outreach programs focus on making growers in the area successful. Success is measured through economic and environmental sustainability,” explains Dr. David Langston, the center’s director who also specializes in diagnosing diseases of vegetables and row crops.

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Tidewater AREC is a facility where real-world questions prompt farm research and where specialists can deliver their findings directly and indirectly to the clients who need them most—Virginia’s agricultural producers. “Faculty are directly accessible to the local agriculture industry and many clientele just stop by with questions or issues,” says Dr. Langston. “Faculty participate in numerous grower meetings throughout Virgnia for each commodity each year…Regular field days are offered to the public to showcase individual faculty research programs,” he notes. Likewise, TAREC specialists can provide Extension agents—field faculty stationed in each county—with data to guide local educational programs.

To carry out a plethora of research projects and outreach programs, TAREC employs ten to fifteen summer student workers. The station also hosts about a dozen graduate students annually. “As you ride through the station mid-morning you will see people taking data, chopping weeds, or spraying plots with experimental treatments,” says Dr. Langston, describing a typical summer day when crop projects are in full swing and the station has a “full house.”

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Though most of the research subjects at the station are plants, TAREC is home to a swine research program, directed under Dr. Mark Estienne. Dr. Estienne maintains a particular interest in reproductive physiology, addressing fertility issues in boars, management of replacement females, and, in his words, “increasing sow productivity and longevity by enhancing management, nutrition, and welfare.” In addition to his on-site research, he provides continuing education to the industry through outreach programs such as the Virginia Pork Industry Conference.

In light of trends favoring larger operations, his future work could influence the management practices applied to a considerable number of animals. “A vast majority of pork consumed in the U.S. will continue to be produced by large entities….During the past three decades, the Virginia and U.S. swine industries experienced major changes, including a decrease in the number of farms, an increase in the size of existing operations, and a move towards vertical integration,” he notes.

Dr. Estienne and his colleagues also have a hand in guiding emerging small-scale pork production systems. “There is an increasing number of small-scale and niche market farmers producing pork for consumers that prefer their meat to be from hogs raised locally in less-intensive systems…To serve a growing clientele, small-scale and niche market pork production bulletins addressing various topics are electronically mailed to over one hundred-fifty farmers every two months,” he says. To help these farmers engage with university findings, Dr. Estienne created the Small Scale and Niche Market Pork Production Conference, which draws nearly fifty people each year.

Outside of his research projects aimed at improving both commercial hog operations and small-scale producers. Dr. Estienne’s days are filled with conference planning, meeting preparation, meeting with his barn crew to supervise the care of swine at the facility, and fielding calls and emails from farmers.

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Visitors examine sorghum test plots with Dr. Maria Balota at a TAREC field day.

The remaining researchers at TAREC fix their attention on crop production challenges. Dr. Maria Balota’s crop of choice is one of the region’s most legendary agricultural staples. “As a post-doc at Texas A&M University, I researched wheat, sorghum, and cowpea physiology. When I moved to Virginia Tech, however, I switched from cowpea to peanut!” she says. “My overall Extension goal is to maintain agricultural profitability through selection and use of the highest yielding and water-use-efficient varieties of peanut and sorghum.” Her time revolves around meetings with farmers, planning future research, developing proposals and publications, answering questions from the industry, organizing educational programs, advising graduate students, and managing the activities of the people employed under her research program.

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Virginia peanut growers rely heavily on science-based recommendations to choose high-performing, marketable cultivars each year. In response to this ongoing need, Dr. Balota provides leadership for the multi-state Peanut Variety and Quality Evaluation (PVQE) program. “All Virginia-type peanut varieties that growers in Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina grow these days were released and made available to growers based on testing in my PVQE program,” she says. “Put simply, PVQE is the ‘pipeline’ for Virginia-type peanut cultivar development for the Virginia-Carolina region.” Peanuts generate $10 million in receipts in Virginia alone, so the forty-year-strong PVQE program has far-reaching influence on the agricultural economy.

Soybeans, the sixth-ranking commodity in the state at over $200 million in receipts, merit a research program of their own. Dr. David Holshouser provides his specialized knowledge to the industry, performing much of his test-plot work within the eastern half of the state, where considerable production occurs. Perhaps his most recognizable efforts are his Official Variety Trials in which he annually tests soybean varieties for performance and reports his findings to famers all over the state. “We work with seed companies and try to test as many varieties as possible, so soybean farmers will have the best information in selecting their varieties for the coming year,” he says. He also focuses on double-crop soybean production, a system which enables growers to produce a summer crop in the shortened growing window following small grain harvest in early summer. Although this production system brings challenges, Dr. Holshouser sees the value in exploring double-crop soybean work. “This system is environmentally-friendly, helps with the coming food shortage, and can be our most profitable system,” he explains.

Using the results of Dr. Holshouser’s studies, farmers can often implement new decisions on their own operations in the subsequent season. “Our research is very applied and can sometimes be taken directly from our plots to the farm. Other times, it may take a few years of research or on-farm validation to be confident that we are ready to suggest or recommend a new practice,” he says. Once his results are ready for dissemination, Dr. Holshouser speaks at thirty to fifty meetings per year. His workflow follows the seasonality of soybean production—fall is a particularly busy time since he must harvest his test plots and compile his results for presentations and publications. When spring rolls around, he turns his focus towards planting his full-season soybean trials in May, followed by the double-crop plots starting in June. “There is no typical day,” he says, “but that’s what makes what we do interesting and exciting.”

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Dr. David Holshouser provides a research update to soybean producers at a field day.

Dr. Holshouser is quick to point out that meaningful crop research takes teamwork. Agents and crop advisors serve as his eyes and ears in the field, he says, and he also collaborates with faculty from other states and farmers all over Virginia who willingly host his on-farm research test plots. He relies on his team at TAREC. “Good technical support is also critical to a successful Extension and research program. My technicians manage my research program. We also employ numerous graduate students and post-doctoral associates,” he adds. “They bring in new ideas and allow our program to progress. They provide expertise that is needed for innovation. Only with the assistance of good county agents, technical support, graduate students, and industry cooperation can we be effective Extension specialists,” he says.

Cotton is another crop of importance to the region. Virginia’s production region is limited to the southeastern counties, but cotton lint and cotton seed still combine to an annual value of about $83 million for the state. Dr. Hunter Frame supports the dozens of cotton growers in the region surrounding TAREC through his work on soil fertility and crop nutrition. Dr. Frame’s program focuses primarily on nitrogen, potassium, and sulfur management in cotton. Each year, he installs test plots and shares his findings at industry programs, workshops, and field days. His work provides growers with the information they need to make sound management decisions.

In addition to soil fertility and nutrient management research, Dr. Frame organizes the official cotton variety testing program for Virginia. The cost of cottonseed for producers is a major component of cotton production, and producers can lose hundreds of dollars per acre with improper variety selection. The testing program provides cotton farmers with performance data on current and future varieties, helping these producers achieve optimum yields. Dr. Frame also provides support, outreach, and research for agronomic issues affecting other crops grown in the region.

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Above: Dr. Hunter Frame presents his potassium and sulfur management research to cotton producers.

Crop disease troubleshooting is an important service at TAREC, where Dr. Hillary Mehl serves as the resident plant pathologist. Growers in the region often find disease problems which require prompt responses, so agents in the area consult with Dr. Mehl for assistance via the Plant Disease Clinic at TAREC. “Disease diagnostics is an important part of what I do since the best management approach cannot be implemented if the cause of the problem is not known…Based on my diagnoses, I provide management recommendations which frequently result in a grower not needing to apply a fungicide,” she says. “I think, or at least hope, one of the greatest impacts of my work is making and saving growers money. Not all diseases are best managed through chemical means, and research demonstrating the effectiveness of alternative or integrated approaches to disease management can result in recommendations that reduce input costs.”

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Dr. Hillary Mehl provides a soybean disease management update to TAREC visitors at a field day.

Like the other specialists, Dr. Mehl carries out a research program which focuses on current needs. In response to growing concerns from growers, she recently increased her attention on nematode monitoring. For the past few years she has been working on the development of a weather-based fungicide decision aid for soybeans, and she also has worked on projects tackling fungicide resistance issues. Each year, she presents her findings at grower meetings, conferences, and field days.

“The ultimate goal of my work is to develop and implement integrated disease management tactics that minimize crop losses to pathogens in the most economical way possible,” she says.  In some cases, this can be a formidable challenge. “Best approaches to managing diseases and nematodes are a moving target since there is such a high turnover rate in varieties and availability of pesticides, and the break-even point for pesticide applications changes as crop prices fluctuate. In addition, disease severity varies from year to year, and new disease problems are continuously emerging or re-emerging,” she notes. “As a result, my applied research program must remain dynamic and focus on meeting the needs of growers.”

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The entomology program based out of TAREC creates guidance for a variety of crop producers affected by insect problems. Dr. Ames Herbert retired in 2016 after serving the industry out of the center since 1988. Under the direction his replacement, Dr. Sally Taylor, the entomology program will continue to develop economic thresholds, management tactics, and control recommendations for a number of major pests affecting row crops. Farmers, agents, and crop advisors all over the state currently use the guidelines from this research program to determine whether or not an insect treatment is a good decision. “This program provides growers, crop advisors, Virginia Cooperative Extension ag agents, and the industry with the ‘tools’ needed to manage insects with the most efficient, effective, and least-cost practices,” Dr. Herbert says, “These ‘tools’ have included several pest management guides, color image identification guides, and risk advisories. Each tool has required research in the laboratory, on the Virginia Tech research farms, and on growers’ fields across the state.” Dr. Herbert notes that these efforts are possible with support from graduate students and collaborators from other land-grant universities.

Dr. Taylor and her colleagues will continue Dr. Herbert’s work monitoring and researching insect issues around the state. When insect pests pose an immediate threat, faculty can share alerts on the Virginia Ag Crop and Advisory Blog, a tool that Dr. Herbert created. Dr. Taylor brings to the program her strong background and expertise in investigating insect pest ecology and management. Dr. Taylor’s program will focus in part on monitoring for, and developing plans to mitigate, insect resistance to insecticides and GM crops. “One goal of our program will be preserving the usefulness of our current and future insect control tools. Field crops are vital to Virginia’s economy and represent a dominant use of arable land across the state,” Dr. Taylor says. “Utilizing integrated insect management guidelines benefits everyone: it is economical for our growers and reduces environmental inputs. Resistance, or the ability of insect to survive insecticides, can threaten the profitability of growers and increase insecticide use. Our program will focus on bringing useful, science-based information to our producers with the long-term goal of increasing sustainability.”

Dr. Taylor adds that she is excited to be joining the talented team of scientists at the TAREC and looks forward to working closely with Virginia’s agricultural producers. “Collaborating and solving pest management issues with growers is the most enjoyable and rewarding part of my job,” she says.

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Pictured: Sorghum, a crop used for grain production in the region surrounding TAREC.

At the Tidewater AREC in Suffolk, the specialist mission reaches far beyond simple research and education. “You can sum up what I do in four words: Learn, Discover, Teach, and Serve. For that matter, you can sum up what we do at the TAREC in those four words,” says Dr. Holshouser. “First, we continuously learn through communication, reading, study, and reviewing—this includes research journals, Extension publications, and popular press. Furthermore, we learn by observing and listening to issues and concerns that our farmers, Extension agents, and crop advisors are facing,” he notes.  “We discover by researching relevant issues and problems, and from this research, we develop effective production practices and cropping systems.  We teach by extending our knowledge and understanding to various clientele.  And finally, and most importantly, we serve by guiding the implementation of improved production practices through education and demonstration, so to change behavior that leads to profitable and environmentally-responsible agriculture.”

Agriculture in Virginia is a fluid industry, shaped constantly by changes in commodity markets, economic trends, trade and export markets, consumer demand, local infrastructure, environmental conditions, improved technologies, and dozens of other variables. “Row crop agriculture is constantly changing in the region, as peanuts used to be the main crop twenty to thirty years ago. Cotton and soybeans have since become the major row crops,” says Dr. Langston. “The faculty work hard to stay ahead of the commodity shifts to supply current and relevant information,” he says. He sees the work at Tidewater AREC adapting to these forces as they steer the industry forward. As for testing out new and exciting precision agriculture technologies at TAREC, things are looking up—literally. Says Dr. Langston, “We are beginning to get more into UAV applications, so it may become commonplace to see drones flying around.”

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Additional Resources for Readers:

TAREC homepage and Facebook page

Virginia Tech Agricultural Research and Extension Centers

Inside the ARECs: Tidewater AREC

Virginia Ag Pest and Crop Advisory