Mississippi farmers observe UAPB's agricultural programs

Fifteen Mississippi farmers recently took an agriculture tour at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff that covered a lot of ground, ranging from sweet potato research to aquaculture. Sponsored by U.S. Department of Agriculture Small Farm Outreach, the event was coordinated by the UAPB Small Farm Program and Alcorn State University in Mississippi.

Anthony Reed, interim assistant Extension administrator at Alcorn State, said the tour offered an opportunity for Mississippi farmers to learn about what’s going on outside their state.

“We’re interested in what UAPB is doing – especially with sweet potatoes,” he said. “The university is doing some great research with eliminating viruses.”

UAPB associate professor Muthusamy Manoharan and Obadiah Njue, chair of the Department of Agriculture, discussed research on virus-tested sweet potato plants. Sweet potatoes are susceptible to viruses that accumulate with each planting cycle (generation) leading to a decline in the variety. This decline affects the yield and quality (changes in skin color, flesh color and shape), thus affecting the marketability of the crop. To address that challenge, UAPB’s Sweet Potato Foundation Seed Program has successfully developed virus-tested plants. These plants are transferred from the biotechnology laboratory to the greenhouse and then to the field. Once in the field, they will produce generation one (G1) sweetpotato roots.

Reed said he is glad the tour offered information about growing nontraditional crops such as sweet potatoes, greens and purple hull peas.

“We’re learning about alternative enterprises – something they can do outside traditional crops,” he said.

Farmers also heard a presentation by Carole Engle, director of the UAPB Aquaculture/Fisheries Center of Excellence. She said the center helps fish farmers in Arkansas increase their efficiency and profitability through its fish nutrition research, business planning and fish disease inspection.

“The role of UAPB’s Aquaculture/Fisheries Center is to provide the science needed for managers to make sound decisions,” Engle said.

The center has conducted research dealing with product marketing strategies, split-pond systems that have the potential to reduce commercial catfish production costs and adaptation of the split-pond system for baitfish production. Nutrition studies are also being done to try to reduce feed costs, to enhance the heart-healthiness of catfish for consumers, and to improve fish immune systems.

The three-day ag tour also included stops at area farms and classroom presentations on such topics as production risk, land and property rights and estate planning, said Henry English, head of the Small Farm Program at UAPB.

“We toured Charles Wesson’s farm in Gethsemane. He grows row crops and vegetable crops,” he said. “We also visited Isaiah Cline’s farm near Pine Bluff. He’s a UAPB goat mentor farmer and he allows us to bring farmers out to see his operation.”