USDA-ARS tours: Jubilant jubilarians will get an opportunity to tour the USDA-ARS facility on site at the Blueberry Jubilee next Saturday

Published 11:11 pm Saturday, June 7, 2008

The Poplarville Blueberry Jubilee is set to kick off next Saturday, June 14, with a plethora of entertainment and events for the whole family. One such activity that is both entertaining and educational is the Blueberry Jubilee USDA-ARS tour.

When Mimi Montieth decided she wanted an event that would help put Poplarville “on the map,” several ideas for a theme were discussed — the winner was “blueberries.” Perhaps one of the main reasons for the pick was the Poplarville location of the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service Small Fruit Research Station (USDA-ARS) and the important work being done in this Poplarville facility towards improving the quality of blueberry crops in the Gulf Coast region.

While the local researchers have worked in the area a number of years prior, the new state of the art laboratory, the USDA-ARS Thad Cochran Southern Horticultural Laboratory, officially opened its doors in May, 2006.

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Interestingly, scientists were originally scheduled to move into their new labs and offices on the exact day Hurricane Katrina came through and devastated the area. Since the building was brand new, and suffered little to no damage, the scientists move-in date was delayed by almost a year by FEMA who commandeered the building as a base of operations for hurricane disaster relief.

Researchers housed in the lab work in both small fruit and ornamental plant research. Both groups contain scientists who have their own unique specialties. The small fruit group scientists are Dr. James Spiers, Research Leader; Dr. Ned Edwards, Horticulturist; Dr. Donna Marshall, Support Scientist; Dr. Barbara J. Smith, Research Plant Pathologist; Dr. Steve Stringer, Research Plant Geneticist and Dr. Blair Sampson, Research Entomologist.

The ornamental plants group scientists are Dr. Warren Copes, Research Plant Pathologist; Dr. Cecil Pounders, Research Geneticist; Dr. Tim Rinehart, Research Plant Molecular Geneticist and Dr. Hamidou Sakhanokho, Research Plant Molecular Geneticist.

On both sides, scientists work to develop new species of small fruits and plants better suited for the growing conditions of the Gulf Coast states. Between 2004 and 2005 several different blueberry varieties were developed at the Poplarville station.

Every year, jubilee goers get a chance to tour the pristine facility and learn about the important research that takes place on the site. On the tour, visitors will get a chance to meet several of the scientists and view their labs and greenhouses.

Traveling across the expansive property means getting to view lush and colorful gardens that traverse both the USDA-ARS acreage as well as MSU’s Southern Mississippi Branch Experiment Station’s connecting acreage.

The free tours offered during the Jubilee not only provide a moment out of the heat but they also provide an invaluable learning experience for the entire family. Tours start at 9:00 a.m. on the day of the event. Jubilarians will be picked up and dropped off at the Jubilee site.

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