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Arkansas Extension unveils state-of-art research greenhouse

There will be no research offseason for Bob Scott. The construction of two new, spacious greenhouses a few paces from his Lonoke, Ark., office means the Extension weed specialist will be able to conduct tests in even the coldest weather.

“We're really happy to have these greenhouses,” said Scott shortly after their official opening. “They will help us serve the agriculture community in ways we haven't previously. We'll have answers for them — weed, pest, whatever — much quicker.”

The twin 40-by-60-foot greenhouses are part of a nearly $650,000 complex that includes a “head-house,” offices and a small conference room.

While there are seven other research greenhouses in the University of Arkansas agriculture division, none belong to the Extension Service. Scott is happy that's been remedied.

“We're proud of these. They're state-of-the-art. The houses are fully automated with cooling pads, exhaust fans, heaters, you name it. They're also very energy efficient with automatic shade cloths that pull out when it gets too sunny or hot.”

The rear of the greenhouses holds another innovation called a bug shield.

“The bug guard keeps bugs and dust and pollen and other things from getting into the cooling pads. There are two large fans at the front that pull air through cooling pads. When it gets too hot, panels just inside the bug-guards open up and cool, fresh air is pulled inside. When the air comes in, the bug shields guard against foreign material entering the houses.”

One of the greenhouses will be used primarily for weed science. The second will be used for plant pathology and entomology.

“That's flexible, though,” said Scott. “A lot of times, researchers don't want to be around (weed science) work because we spray a lot of herbicides. No one wants to damage any tests.”

Scott is already using the weed greenhouse to conduct tests. He said there are several areas of inquiry he'll be checking.

First are replicated studies. “We've got a barnyardgrass control study going. We're looking at the effects of Clincher in saturated and unsaturated soils. This work will give us an idea of a protocol when we go to the field next spring. Doing the preliminary work in the greenhouse could save us a year of research.”

On a nearby table, Scott has a study of cat-tails — a new problem creeping up in water-seeded, no-till rice fields.

Glyphosate-tolerant weed checking will also be a constant in the greenhouse. “We get a lot of calls from producers and consultants concerned they've found a resistant weed. Currently, we're working with some giant ragweed. We don't know exactly what we've got with it yet.”

Georgia and Tennessee have recently found glyphosate-tolerant pigweeds. Scott said that's a concern in Arkansas too. “We're always on the lookout for tolerant pigweed in Arkansas. We haven't confirmed any although we're investigating some. The greenhouse will allow us to check suspicious plants all winter.

“When we go to a farm it's common for producers to ask us to check some injury in their crops. Often, we bring those plants back with us. We used to just put them in buckets to the side of the driveway, watching them. Now, we'll move all those plants inside to a controlled environment. That will help with on-farm investigations.”

The greenhouses will also serve as a hub for education. Training sessions for Extension personnel and tours of high school students will be conducted regularly.

How did the facilities come about?

“A bunch of us saw a need. We spoke with the Extension administration and they came up with some bond money from the state. In addition, about $120,000 was raised from various agriculture companies and associations.”

Among those contributing funds for the complex were Monsanto, BASF, Dow AgroSciences, RiceCo LLC, Bayer CropScience, FMC, Cheminova, and the Arkansas Pest Control Association.

Discussion about the greenhouses began a couple of years ago. Funds were in place some 18 months ago and building began last January.

“It came together pretty fast. I'm surprised we already have studies going inside. But the builders knew what they were doing — true professionals.”

The original plan was to have just free-standing greenhouses. But Scott said Don Johnson, a retired Extension entomologist, had a vision for more.

“He wanted a head-house area as well and got the rest of us excited about it. So we've got a big mixing area here: soil and oil bins, big storage areas, tables to work on, loading docks at both ends. There are also several offices and a small conference room. This will allow us to serve Arkansas farmers so much better.”

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