Agricultural research center site of cutting-edge research, Ag Progress Days

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — From a distance, Penn State's Russell E. Larson Agricultural Research Center, along state Route 45 at Rock Springs, looks like picturesque farmland — green pastures, plows and barns. But if you look closer, you'll learn that it's a hub for cutting-edge research and innovative education conducted by the College of Agricultural Sciences.

"Research and education conducted here have the same goal — better food and farming for the health of society and the environment," said Jesse Darlington, facilities manager. "There are research studies on fruits, vegetables, grains, weeds, soil, insects, fish, water, farming techniques — and that's just a small sampling of what happens here every day."

The Agronomy Farm is the college's largest field research facility, encompassing more than 600 acres, providing ample space for 60 research projects annually, including forage and grain crop variety trials, and studies examining soil fertility and conservation, water quality, crop rotations, and tillage methods, among others.

According to Scott Harkcom, farm manager, a few of the experiments underway include a dairy cropping systems experiment that examines several methods to reduce farm inputs; variety trials of alfalfa, wheat, corn and soybeans that will provide valuable information to producers when making seed purchases; and organic crop experiments that examine which cover crops can provide the most benefit for farmers.

Researchers at the Entomology Farm are charged with investigating new pest management strategies and studying insects in the field. They have developed pest prediction and monitoring systems, such as PestWatch, which help growers know when to expect and how to handle a potential infestation. Another goal of the farm's work is to reduce the need for pesticides.

A gamut of crops, such as tomatoes, onions, potatoes, strawberries, raspberries, cucumbers and the like — as well as 12 acres of fruit trees — blanket the Horticulture Farm grounds. Current studies include crop varieties and their productivity based on the environment; use of plastic covers and tunnels to improve crops and extend growing seasons; and methods to maximize yield and efficiency in orchard systems.

Evaluating crops that are being bred to resist bacterial, fungal and viral diseases is the cornerstone of research at the Plant Pathology Farm, according to Manager Randy Dreibelbis. Scientists also develop management techniques to reduce or prevent crop losses due to disease while minimizing the use of fungicides. On this farm, Dreibelbis noted, researchers developed and evaluated disease-forecasting systems that use weather data to predict plant-disease outbreaks so growers can treat crops only when disease is likely.

In addition, researchers are studying the efficacy of both conventional fungicides and biologically based or organic fungicides for managing diseases during the season. This information enables farmers to select the products that not only are effective but also reduce potential effects on the environment, and to time their application using disease forecasting.

In addition to the four farms, other facilities at the center include the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Pasture Systems and Watershed Management Research Unit, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture's Samuel E. Hayes Jr. Livestock Evaluation Center, and Penn State's "Fish Museum," an extensive ichthyology research collection — not open to the public — that houses more than 1 million specimens.

The site also is home to a demonstration woodlot, consisting of more than 100 acres of forest and numerous types of trees, and the Pasto Agricultural Museum, which boasts more than 3,000 rare and unusual farm and home implements that illustrate agriculture's past.

While the research center is busy year-round, it experiences an influx of visitors during Penn State's Ag Progress Days, a three-day event that takes place every August. An estimated 45,000 people — more than 60 percent engaged in agriculture — attend the celebration, which showcases the latest innovations in agriculture and provides attendees the chance to watch field machinery demonstrations, attend workshops, see horse exhibitions, get gardening advice and much more.

Folks interested in learning about today's research as well as the agricultural innovations that have emerged from the 2,000-acre research center since its founding more than 50 years ago are encouraged to attend this year's Ag Progress Days, Aug. 15-17, where free, daily bus tours will make stops at the agronomy, entomology, horticulture and plant pathology research farms, among other sites. Times and destinations can be found at http://agsci.psu.edu/apd/tours.

Though Ag Progress Days is the largest event held at the site, there are several other important functions throughout the year that are open to the public, including the Forest Products Equipment and Technology Exposition every other June and the Centre County Master Gardener Plant Sale in May.

For more information about the Russell E. Larson Agricultural Research Center, contact Darlington at 814-865-3056 or jmd137@psu.edu. To learn more about Ag Progress Days, visit the event website.

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Last Updated August 10, 2017