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Groundbreaking Today for New USDA Horticultural Lab

By Jim Core
October 20, 2003

POPLARVILLE, Miss., Oct. 20, 2003--Ground was broken here today for a new U.S. Department of Agriculture facility where scientists will develop new plant cultivars and cultural methods for horticultural production in Gulf Coast states.

The Southern Horticultural Laboratory will be located at the Agricultural Research Service's Small Fruits Research Station here. It will cost about $10 million to build, and construction is scheduled to be complete in December 2004. ARS is the chief scientific research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Research at the laboratory will focus on the genetic improvement and release of small fruit and ornamental cultivars adapted to the growing conditions of the Gulf Coast region of the United States. Researchers in the new laboratory will develop improved cultural and management practices for the production of small fruits, ornamentals, vegetables, melons and other crops grown in the region.

"The Poplarville location is recognized worldwide for its small fruit research activities," said Joseph Jen, USDA undersecretary for Research, Education and Economics. "Before blueberry research began in Poplarville in the late 1970s, there were no commercial blueberry plantings in Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana or Texas. The establishment of the blueberry industry in the Gulf states is an example of how ARS research can facilitate the emergence of a new industry, impact the economy and increase marketing opportunities for southern growers."

ARS Acting Administrator Edward B. Knipling, Blake Thompson from the office of Senator Thad Cochran (Miss.), Rep. Gene Taylor (Miss.), and other officials participated in the ceremony.

The 30,000-square-foot building will accommodate 50 scientists and support personnel from both ARS and Mississippi State University. Researchers will have backgrounds in such diverse disciplines as horticulture, genetics, plant physiology, entomology, plant pathology and postharvest physiology.

James M. Spiers, the station's research leader, said that ARS cooperates with the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station and the Mississippi Extension Service to transfer research results to industry. Findings from blueberry and other fruit research at the station have already been incorporated into the cultural practices of Gulf Coast producers. Recent projects have also included work on grapes, blackberries, strawberries, melons and various vegetables.

A growing ornamental research program is under way at Poplarville, including the development of improved forms of hibiscus, pest-resistant crape myrtles, and disease-resistant dogwood and daylilies. ARS researchers and their cooperators will provide new plant varieties, cultural information and guidance for the future growth of ornamental industries in the Gulf Coast region.