Southside farmers got practical information about adding profits to their farm enterprises when Virginia Cooperative Extension researchers showed off some of their projects at the 20th annual Agriculture Field Day at Virginia State University recently.

Keynote speaker Robert S. Bloxom, Virginia’s Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry, added that Virginia’s agriculture industry has to be diversified and flexible, and noted that the field day exhibits showed the approximately 300 visitors some of the ways they could increase their profits by raising horticulture crops such as cut flowers. Horticulture, part of what is called the “green industry,” is one of the most economically viable agriculture segments in the state.

“Extension research here at Randolph Farm has been seeking ways for the farmers of this area to be successful,” said Clinton Turner, interim administrator and dean of the School of Agriculture at Virginia State, “We will keep working at it until we succeed and field days like this are our opportunity to share the information with you.”

Bloxom said he is working to encourage the agriculture and forestry industry to be innovative and diversified. “As we look at agriculture practices for specialty crops, we need to be competitive and proactive,” he said, “seeking innovative and diversified ways to chart a bright and determined future for agriculture.”

He added that the work in horticulture and the “green industry” was one of two examples of areas that were expected to play major roles in Virginia’s agriculture future. His other example was the production of bio-fuels—ethanol and bio-diesel—which, he said, were also important for Virginia’s future.

The field presentations at the Virginia State’s Randolph Farm field day featured practical information on Extension research projects.

The session on high tunnels explained how to use these systems, which are similar to greenhouses, to enhance crop growth, yield, and quality. Chris Mullins, horticultural research specialist, explained how these relatively inexpensive structures that are similar to greenhouses, extend the growing season for horticultural crops through the fall.

At the session on double cropping plastic, Clifton A. Slade, agriculture management specialist, reported a study that compared the profitability of using plastic sheets for a second year for sweet corn, noting that though the project showed this type of production is labor intensive, the potential yield is worth the effort. Plastic sheets and drip tubing is a technique used to grow watermelon and muskmelon. Art Whitener, commercial vegetable grower from Suffolk also was on this program.

The session on summer bulb crops for cut flowers included discussions of marketing the flowers as well as raising them by Andy Hankins, alternative agriculture specialist, and Becky Heath, of Brent and Becky’s Bulbs in Gloucester.

The session on Virginia’s Most Unwanted, about invasive species, offered advice on controlling them as well as information on working with native plants when landscaping and improving native wildlife habitat. It was a report by Barry Fox, Extension 4-H marine and aquatic education specialist and Wondi Mersie, associate director of research at the Agriculture Research Station. All are on the faculty of Virginia State University.

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