A cooperative program to keep farmers and Extension agents apprised of the latest developments in the production of small fruits has been honored by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
The Southern Region Small Fruit Consortium will receive the Institute's "partnership award for multistate efforts" at an annual ceremony on Oct. 11 in Washington.
Founded in part by Clemson University, the Southern Region Small Fruit Consortium has worked for 13 years to sponsor research and develop educational information for county Extension agents and farmers on such crops as strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, muscadines and bunch grapes.
"The regional collaboration of the member universities yields much greater muscle than any one institution could have on its own," said Desmond Layne, leader of the Clemson Extension Service horticulture team and a member of the consortium's governing body. "Much like the Cooperative Extension Service itself — with county, state and federal officials cooperating — the consortium brings research and education together where it can be applied for the benefit of the producer."
Formed in 1999 by Clemson University, the University of Georgia and North Carolina State University, the consortium expanded over the years to include Virginia Tech, the University of Arkansas and the University of Tennessee.
Joining Layne on the consortium's steering committee from Clemson are Richard Hassell, a horticulture professor and Extension vegetable specialist at the Coastal Research and Education Center in Charleston; and Lexington County Extension agent Powell Smith, a regional expert in vegetable and small fruit production. James Cooley, a fruit grower and owner of Strawberry Hill U.S.A. in Chesnee, represents South Carolina farmers in the consortium.
The consortium sponsors research on diseases, weeds and insect pests as well as genetic traits of different varieties of crops.
It also holds training programs to bolster county Extension agents' expertise in small fruit production so they can be more effective in providing advice to growers. Recent training topics focused on planting, pruning, irrigation, freeze protection and organic production, as well as improved methods for handling crops after harvest.
Its website, www.smallfruits.org, includes guides for cultivation and integrated pest management as well as alerts on disease and insect pests.
"The website allows us to share information quickly, especially considering how far-flung across the South growers and Extension agents are," Layne said. "Both geographically and in terms of the size of the farming operation, small fruits are a very diverse business. This is an excellent way to bring them together."