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Watercolor rendering of the new laboratory building. Link to photo information
Watercolor rendering of the new Thad Cochran Southern Horticultural Laboratory dedicated today in Poplarville, Mississippi. Click the image for more information about it.

USDA Opens New Horticultural Lab

By Erin Peabody
May 30, 2006

POPLARVILLE, Miss., May 30--The U.S. Department of Agriculture today opened the Thad Cochran Southern Horticultural Laboratory in Poplarville, where research will be conducted on small fruits and ornamental plants.

The new research laboratory is to be operated by the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), USDA's chief scientific research agency. The facility will provide laboratory space and greenhouses for 11 ARS scientists and six Mississippi State University researchers, along with a meeting place for farmers, Extension agents and others who will benefit from the researchers' work.

Clusters of Biloxi blueberries. Link to photo information
Biloxi blueberries, product of ARS research at Poplarville. Click the image for more information about it.

"The Poplarville laboratory's research on improving ornamental plants and small fruits should go a long way towards helping the Gulf Coast states' growing horticultural industry, providing unique opportunities for small-farm enterprises," said Under Secretary for Research, Education and Economics Gale Buchanan. "Scientists have already released several new varieties of small fruits, such as blueberries, which allow local producers to take part in the lucrative berry market."

Also attending today's ceremony was Sen. Thad Cochran, who delivered the keynote address. Other participants included USDA/ARS Administrator Edward B. Knipling; Congressman Gene Taylor; and Vance Watson, vice president of the Division of Agriculture, Forestry and Veterinary Medicine at Mississippi State University.

In addition to small fruit research, Poplarville scientists are working to identify ornamental plants that are not only aesthetically appealing, but also disease- and insect-resistant.

With its roots in small fruit development, the Poplarville laboratory has already released nine blueberry cultivars that are helping to expand blueberry production across the region. These include the cultivars Biloxi, Jubilee, Magnolia and Desoto.

Under the direction of research leader James Spiers, the ARS scientists at Poplarville also are working on developing new and improved strawberries, blackberries and muscadine grapes, all of which will be bred specifically for the Gulf Coast region.