Horticultural Lab Opens In Poplarville

State, local and national dignitaries say Mississippi's agriculture industry entered a new era Tuesday with the opening of the Thad Cochran Southern Horticultural Laboratory building in Poplarville.

"The research here at this laboratory will help create more opportunities for Gulf Coast producers to compete in this dynamic global market place," U.S. Agriculture Under Secretary Dr. Gale Buchanan said.

Inside the 30,000 square foot building about 60 scientists and researchers will devise better ways to grow crops. They'll also develop new varieties of fruits and vegetables.

"In fact, the Poplarville research program has already produced nine blueberry varieties that has helped expand blueberry production across the Gulf States," Area Director Dr. Ed King said.

"The mission here is to find plants that grow better in the heat in the Gulf South region, to find better ways to grow existing varieties, ways that are more environmentally friendly, ways that allow the growers to have a bigger profit," Coastal Research Extension Center Director Dr. Patricia Knight said.

Luis Monterde is one of Mississippi's largest blueberry farmers. He says the new laboratory will be a great benefit to him and other growers.

"This is a tremendous value to us because they can right up front help us stop with what could potentially be a big problem. This here is a leap into the future," Monterde said.

Senator Thad Cochran believes Mississippi farmers will play an important role in our nation's agriculture industry. That's why he pushed for federal funding to build the lab.

"Now we're competing in areas we were able to before because we have learned more about how to do this economically and profitably and with resistance to insects and other things that can damage these crops," Sen. Cochran said.

Of interest, construction work on the new building was actually finished last year. But it was used by FEMA as an operation center for several months after Hurricane Katrina struck.

by Al Showers