Consumer Research: Ray Of Hope For Local Agriculture

img_1862img_1874All of the talk about Americans’ obesity crisis and unhealthy eating habits has drowned out another much more positive trend — consumers appreciate quality food and are more interested in locally grown products than at any time in modern history. That was one of the major themes emerging from this week’s 13th annual Penn State Agricultural Sciences Research Tour, held at the Southeast Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Manheim. Among those attending were state senators and representatives and commissioners from several counties. Steve Bogash, a horticulture educator, told attendees that recent consumer research confirms the conviction he and many other agricultural researchers have held for many years. “Growers have great potential for a bright future in Pennsylvania, based on what consumers are saying they want,” Bogash said. “There is an increase in demand for locally grown products and the main reason is that it tastes better. What we’re finding is that people really do care where their food comes from.” Bogash has been a strong advocate of high-tunnel growing methods. For the past dozen years, he has experimented with more than 300 varieties of tomatoes for flavor, appearance, disease resistance and general marketability.

Bogash was one of eight presenters during a detailed tour of production trials and other research. Agronomist Dr. Gregory Roth (above, left) provided hands-on examples of the worsening impact this year’s drought is having on some crops. He focused on grain crop management and evaluation, including new wheat production practices that are increasing yields. Roth was joined by another agronomist, Dr. Marvin Hall, who focused on biofuels and warm-season grasses. Hall is shown emerging from a thick, tall field of miscanthus, which has been imported from southern Asia and is being studied as a biofuel source for ethanol production. He’s part of a team that is studying techniques to prevent the non-native grass from becoming a troublesome invasive species.

img_1891img_18811Dr. Beth Gugino (right), a plant pathologist, presented an update on the ongoing battle against timber rot, late blight and other threats to production. She reinforced Bogash’s points about the potential for Pennsylvania farm products to fare better in the consumer marketplace because of their taste and appearance. In addition to tomatoes, locally produced onions, bell peppers and other specialty crops could become big sellers. The research center is using sunflowers as trap crops to draw insects away from vulnerable vegetable plantations. Also speaking during the tour was Dr. Alyssa Collins, a plant and soil sciences specialist, who is directing research into production of flowers and other ornamental plants, as well as potted vegetables for urban gardening. Potter County Commissioner Paul Heimel (center) was among those looking over Dr. Collins’ experimental plantings. A related presentation from Dr. Katie Ellis, an entomologist, titled “Bees, Blooms and Bugs,” covered a native plant and pollinator trial that has taken on a new sense of urgency as the result of colony collapse disorder affecting honey bee hives. (Photos courtesy of Penn State Extension)

Potter County Today is a timely information site courtesy of the Potter County Commissioners. Reprinted with Permission.

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