Exciting discoveries on berries and more

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 27, 2013

SALISBURY— Getting back to the daily grind can be somewhat difficult, especially if you have been away for a week. From Sept. 16 through 20, I attended our Cooperative Extension National Annual Meeting and Professional Improvement Conference also known as Galaxy, in Pittsburgh.
I attended this conference since I had received the Young Agriculture Agent Award. A unique aspect of attending Galaxy is that it brings all of the associations within Cooperative Extension together such as Family Consumer Science, 4-H and agriculture agents.
During the week, professional development courses, program posters, tours and networking activities were held to increase the knowledge of the Extension agents. All of the activities help generate new ideas for agents to try in their counties and states. Some of the most fascinating activities I found were during the tours, agent posters and professional development classes. I attended a Sustainable Berry and Farming operation tour and the first stop was at Trax Farms. They have expanded three times and built what looked like a grocery store from their old milk barn. The new market boasts 86,000 square feet. The farm was known for its apples and apple cider, but they have expanded into honey, berries, nursery and even home décor. While perusing through the products, I even found a product from North Carolina, a wine jelly.
Our second stop was at Sand Hill Berries. They also have a winery, Greendance. This extraordinary farm uses high tunnels, grows hardy kiwis, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, grapes, gooseberries and even currants. The surprising item is the cultivars of blackberries that were developed in Arkansas, even through their colder temperatures. They train their blackberries with a trellising system to lay down in cooler weather and cover with row covers, then as the season gets warmer, they adjust the trellis at angles to concentrate the sunlight on one side of the canes. Once it is time to harvest, the berries are only on that side. The farm also specializes in value added products such as delicious chocolate raspberry cookies and even the raspberry claret that Anne of Green Gables was supposed to use instead of the alcoholic version.
One of the most exciting programs at the conference was a new spray technology developed for nursery and orchards. The neat thing about this technology is that the sprayer uses laser scanning sensors to determine if plants are there to spray and how much spray is needed to reach the canopies. If there are no trees or shrubs, the sprayer turns off, essentially reducing pesticide waste and drift. The other exciting piece to the sprayer is that it can decipher whether there is a tree or a shrub and automatically adjust the sprayers, shutting off the emitters that were not needed, depending on the height of the plant.
All of this is just a few of the activities I enjoyed throughout the conference. Even though a week can knock you out of the regular work schedule, taking some professional development can help bring new life and ideas back to your working environment.
For more information on the farms and programs attended visit these websites:
Trax Farms: http://www.traxfarms.com/
Sandhills Berries: http://www.sandhillberries.com/
Intelligent Sprayer for Nursery and Orchards: http://henry.osu.edu/news-releases/archives/2013/September/ohio-state2019s-newly-developed-intelligent-sprayer-reduces-pesticide-use-off-target-contamination