Cody Craddock column: What happens at the Piedmont Research Station?

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 2, 2022

By Cody Craddock
N.C. Cooperative Extension

If you live in Rowan County, you’ve probably ridden by the Piedmont Research Station located off Sherrills Ford Road. It’s hard to miss, mainly because it sits on just a little over 1,000 acres of land. I store plasticulture equipment there that Cooperative Extension rents out, so I make the trip out to the station frequently. When I am visiting with farmers picking up the equipment, I usually get asked questions about the facility’s purpose. So, what goes on out there?

The Piedmont Research Station isn’t the only one of its kind in North Carolina. In fact, there are 17 others, each with their own specialized area of study. For example, there’s one in Clinton that focuses mainly on horticultural crops: cucumbers, tomatoes, sweet potatoes and many more. On the other end of the spectrum, there are those like the Tidewater Station, which concentrates mainly on beef, as well as the Border Belt Station that focuses on field crops such as corn, soy and tobacco. The Piedmont Research Station’s emphasis is primarily on dairy cattle, poultry and horticultural crops.

Research is the No. 1 purpose of all stations across the state. At the Piedmont Station, there are ongoing trials for forage crops, blackberries, raspberries and more. I recently planted a demonstration plot of pumpkin varieties that will test the performance of many cultivars that are grown in the mountain areas of the state. Piedmont is also researching blackberry and strawberry cultivation, as well as high tunnel production.

In the blackberry fields, work is being done to research varietal performance of these fruits in North Carolina. Eventually the program aims to establish blackberry varieties that are better suited to N.C. The plants on trial are being evaluated for many aspects of production, such as weight, yield and marketable berry production. In addition to those metrics, the sugar and acid content in addition to the flavor profile of the blackberry are all evaluated. Developing a new cultivar isn’t as simple as picking the one with the highest yield, but rather finding the one with the perfect balance of all criteria. Similar research is also being done with strawberries at the station.

If you’ve ever grown a garden, you know certain pests can be the bane of your experience! It’s no different with growing strawberries, blueberries and blackberries on the farm or research station. That’s why pests there are closely monitored and researched. An example of one that is being studied not just at Piedmont but at other locations is drosophila, more commonly known as the fruit fly. Since the pest’s detection in the U.S. in 2008, studies have been conducted all over and now growers have accurate, research-based methods for controlling and monitoring these winged nuisances.

Once harvest season starts, many of the researchers begin to compile and assess their data. That is when stations across the state will invite farmers out for Field Days, events dating back to the inception of North Carolina’s research stations and a cornerstone of their purpose. Without the analysis being conducted at the stations in North Carolina and across the country, our growers wouldn’t have access to the research-based information that helps them make informed decisions in their fields and consequently keeps food on the world’s table. We love our research stations!

Cody Craddock is an ag/natural resources agent with the Rowan County Extension.

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