From Issue  Spring 2015

MAFES variety trials essential for horticulture growers

By: Vanessa Beeson

The Truck Crops Branch Experiment Station, one of the 16 branch stations of the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experience Station, provides essential information to horticulture growers through the MAFES Official Variety Trials.

Rick Snyder, extension and research professor at the Truck Crops Branch Experiment Station, said researchers are gearing up for the 2015 trials.

“The replicated research trials occur over the spring and summer, everything is done according to research protocol and the data is analyzed, prepared and published,” Snyder said. “The trials help commercial growers throughout the state and region decide which varieties of fruits, vegetables and flowers are best suited for their particular operation and specific market.”

Shaun Broderick, assistant extension and research professor at the station, heads up the ornamental horticulture variety trials, focusing on annual flower and bedding plant trials in particular. Broderick said most varieties are newly released for 2015.

Growers can utilize the station’s new online database for the first time in 2015. The database will showcase the performance of the plants throughout the growing season.

Attendees at the 2014 Fall Flower and Garden Fest tour rows of flowers and vegetables; attendees tour a high tunnel at the station.

Attendees at the 2014 Fall Flower and Garden Fest tour rows of flowers and vegetables; attendees tour a high tunnel at the station.

“The database will be a great resource for growers to see how well new cultivars perform in this region,” Broderick said. “We evaluate performance, bloom, disease and pest resistance and heat and drought tolerance and will upload the information every two weeks so growers can check in with the ongoing evaluation.”

The station is also adding new trials of plants in containers.

“Containers are a fast-growing area of interest for both commercial growers and home gardeners,” Broderick said. “We will be growing plants in hanging baskets, determining how long hanging baskets can look good and thrive, and will upload that performance data throughout the season as well.”

Broderick said this year’s trial garden will include nearly 130 varieties of flowers including hibiscus, dianthus and petunia, to name just a few.

Bill Evans, associate research professor at the station, manages the fruit and vegetable variety trials.

“In the field, vegetables we will be evaluating include turnips, mustards, pumpkins and tomatoes,” Evans said. “Our research is geared toward commercial growers. We assess yield, quality, time to maturity, disease resistance, appearance and anything else commercial growers are interested in.”

For instance, Evans continued, “It may not be important to the home gardener that turnips grow to the same size at the same time, yet uniformity is critical for commercial growers.”

In addition to research in the field and greenhouses, scientists also conduct research in the high tunnels, which Evans oversees.

“There is a growing interest in high tunnels throughout the state. In just a few short years, the number of high tunnels in Mississippi has increased from 25 to close to 300,” Evans said. “High tunnels are unheated structures, in which the sides are open and closed to control ventilation and warmth. They can add two to six weeks to the start and finish of each growing season.”

Researchers at the station are also testing a prototype machine that delivers compost and chicken litter fertilizer in bands close to row-crops in an effort to improve fertilizer use efficiency and reduce runoff. The development of a plant breeding program is in the works as well.