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Research center aim — grow more with less

Jamie Whitten Delta States Research Center in Stoneville.

Jamie Whitten Delta States Research Center in Stoneville.

The Jamie Whitten Delta States Research Center in Stoneville is one of the major research establishments of the Agricultural Research Service, the main in-house research arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Dr. Krishna Reddy, acting location coordinator, said the center is working on several aspects of agriculture, starting with crop production and focusing on cotton, soybeans and corn. The goal, he said, is “learning how to grow more with less. More food, feed and fiber, with less input cost by reducing seed, fertilizer, water usage or pesticide applications,” among other options.

The center consists of seven research units, with scientists conducting basic and applied research in biology, genetics, engineering, chemistry, ecology, entomology, physiology, biochemistry, botany, agronomy, aquaculture, soil science, plant pathology, weed biology and pesticide application technology.

Carlean Horton, administrative officer, said the center’s research main commodities are catfish, corn, soybeans and cotton. “We are a problem solving agency. Customers bring us questions about farming and we try to solve their problems,” she said.

“The work is done in state-of-the-art labs and in field studies. The center includes catfish ponds and fields where cotton, corn and soybeans are grown.”

Emphasis of the research is on agricultural problems such as controlling principal crop enemies (pests), equipment development and innovation, genetics and basic physiology; production systems and techniques; safety and human health; and technology of pesticide application.

The center is named for Congressman Jamie Whitten who along with Mississippi Sen. John Stennis and the Delta Council created the original labs in the 1960s to help Delta farmers. The original concept in 1961 was for a federal weed control lab to enhance state programs and in 1964 two labs for insect control and cotton physiology were incorporated into the plans.

Construction of the federal facility began in 1968 on a site deeded by the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station to the USDA. Cost of the project, completed in 1970, was $3.7 million. In today’s dollars the total for the buildings and greenhouses would be around $40 million.

The center now has approximately 100 buildings and laboratories over about 77.82 acres, including outlying buildings. The Jamie Whitten Building is currently undergoing major renovations of $45 million.

The ARS Center’s mission was “to increase efficiency in the production and processing of Mid-South agricultural products to benefit both the farmer and the consumer.”

With a 2014 operating budget of approximately $32.5 million, the center has a staff of approximately 290, including 55 PhD research scientists and more than 200 support personnel performing research to enhance agricultural production and processing in the state and the Mid-South region.

The MidSouth Area Office is headquartered in Stoneville, where all major research related and administrative decisions and functions are managed for 13 locations and worksites in the five-state area of Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Kentucky and Tennessee.

Having the center in Stoneville is an asset to the state, where agribusiness is key to the economy. According to the Mississippi Development Authority, agriculture and forestry is Mississippi’s number one industry, employing approximately 29 percent of the state’s workforce either directly or indirectly. In 2011, Mississippi had more than 42,000 farms covering over 11.2 billion acres.

There also are three other ag research locations in Mississippi. The Southern Horticultural Research Center in Poplarville conducts research on ornamental products including blueberries and strawberries; the Mississippi State research facility focuses on crop science, corn host plant resistance, genetics and precision agriculture, and poultry; and the Oxford location studies national soil sedimentation, watershed physical processes, water quality and ecology.

Here’s a look at the research areas at the center:

The Biological Control of Pests Research Unit conducts basic and applied research on the production and use of biological control agents of agricultural and urban pests.

The mission of the Cotton Ginning Research Unit research is directed toward producing high quality fiber for the textile industry, and ultimately the consumer, in an economically and environmentally sustainable manner, for cotton producers and ginners.

The Aquaculture Research Unit develops technologies that improve the efficiency, profitability and sustainability of fish farming in the United States. Researchers work on improving fish strains and hybrids and developing improved production technologies.

The mission of the Genomics and Bioinformatics Research Unit is to coordinate, facilitate and conduct genomics and bioinformatics research with emphasis on the Mid-South area. The unit is a primary research resource for genomics and bioinformatics to cotton, soybean, corn, and catfish, particularly at Stoneville, where the unit is based.

The Crop Genetics Research Unit studies the biology of cotton and soybean plants including their genetic, physiological and pest resistance interactions with the environment.

The Southern Insect Management Research Unit generates scientific knowledge of arthropod pest biology, ecology and management to modernize farming methods that will promote economical and environmentally stable pest management practices in the southern U.S. The unit’s goal is to be an innovative leaders in ridding farms of agricultural pests through its findings in biology, ecology and management options.

The Crop Production Systems Research Unit’s six research projects aid in the development of improved crop production systems; irrigation technology; agrochemical application technology; managing herbicide resistance; and addressing soil and water quality issues. The goal of the projects is safe food and fiber production and potential biofuels.

 

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