PIKETON, Ohio — For the last quarter-century, a small southern Ohio village has hosted a center with university scientists conducting world-class agricultural research, and area entrepreneurs have thrived thanks to guidance from the center’s expert marketing and development specialists.
It was Oct. 1, 1991, when The Ohio State University South Centers first opened its doors. Then known as the Piketon Research and Extension Center, the facility was designed to help Ohio State expand its land-grant mission of providing science-based outreach and engagement in the area.
“Having the center here in southern Ohio brings ideas and opportunities to the local region,” said Tom Worley, who started at the center in 2000 and was named director in 2005. “And even though we focus on southern Ohio, many of our efforts have an impact across the state and the nation, as well as internationally.
“That’s ultimately what the university does, bring new ideas and concepts and provide leadership to bring people together that can spawn even newer and different applications.”
The center will host an anniversary open house on Sept. 15, 5-8 p.m., with refreshments and in-depth walking and wagon tours to allow visitors to get a firsthand look at the operation, Worley said.
Participants will be able to visit and talk with specialists working in:
• Aquaculture. In addition to the fish ponds and hatchery, visitors to the aquaculture program will also be able to see the genetics lab. “We have worked to improve the genetics of yellow perch, bluegill and largemouth bass,” Worley said. “It’s state-of-the-art genetic work.”
• Specialty crops. The center is home to research trials on small fruits such as blueberries, raspberries, blackberries and strawberries, as well as Chinese goji berries, elderberries and chokeberries. And, while adult beverages aren’t on the menu, visitors will be able to learn about the center’s research on wine grape varieties and hops and malting barley production. The center is also home to the university’s pumpkin research trials, and is home base for its study of high tunnels, or hoop houses, for extending Ohio’s growing season for specialty crops. For example, one project is currently examining high tunnels and other production methods to increase strawberry production from the traditional four-week harvest season in June to a four-month production system.
• Soil, Water and Bioenergy. This team’s focus is on agricultural practices that sustain soil and water resources and are economical for growers.
“We are conducting studies related to the movement of water through the soil profile and we’re testing for the presence of fertilizers and pesticides,” Worley said. “Visitors will be able to see the sump houses, which are like a small cellar, to see how we collect the samples from the groundwater.” The team is also working with a Japanese company on water- and nutrient-saving technology in growing corn and soybeans.
“It’s like putting plants on life support,” Worley said. “We’re using a hoop house to create desert-like conditions for the study, and supplying all the water and nutrients the crops need through a tube. It’s cutting-edge research.”
The team also studies ways to improve soil health and is wrapping up a study on perennial grasses such as miscanthus, big blue stem and switchgrass that could be grown on marginal land for bioenergy purposes.
• Business. The center’s business programs include a Small Business Development Center and a business incubator, the 27,000-square-foot Endeavor Center, which currently houses 18 different businesses that have ongoing activities throughout southern Ohio, Worley said.
“Visitors will be able to meet our business development specialists and talk with them about the assistance we provide in terms of business planning, market analysis and management issues for small business startups and expansion,” he said.
Before the open house, the center will host a lunch for invited guests, primarily longtime supporters of the center, Worley said.
During that program, Worley will recognized four employees who have been with the center since its opening: Marsha Amlin, assistant to the director and fiscal officer; Wayne Lewis, farm and research field operations manager; Dean Rapp, aquaculture research assistant; and Duane Rigsby, technology coordinator.
For more information about the open house, contact Charissa Gardner at 740-289-2071, ext. 132, or firstname.lastname@example.org.