Pontotoc Ridge-Flatwoods Branch Experiment Station
The Pontotoc Ridge-Flatwoods Branch Experiment Station is located about 7 miles south of Pontotoc on Hwy 15 between the communities of Algoma and Beckham. The station was founded in 1950 by the Mississippi legislature on a site chosen for its soils typical of the area. Two of the nine major soil resource areas of the state are found on the station. Highway 15 divides the station with Pontotoc Ridge soils predominating to the east side, while the heavier Flatwoods soils are found to the west side. The station is composed of approximately 640 acres. In the beginning, research focused on dairy and beef production, agronomic crops, horticulture, and reforestation of pine and hardwoods. At the present time, the station conducts research in sweetpotato, corn, cotton, soybean, remote sensing and precision technology, and biofuel crops.
The Pontotoc Branch is well equipped for field, greenhouse, and laboratory research. Six tractors ranging from 30 to 180 PTO horsepower are available to operate implements such as rippers, tillers, disc, do-all, planters (conventional, no-tillage, cone) drills, transplanters, rollers, and other equipment needed to perform various field operations. Harvest equipment includes, plot and commercial combines, plot and commercial pickers, diggers with plot harvesters equipped with auto-weigh systems. There are 3 greenhouses, 2 high tunnels, and a laboratory equipped with incubators, spectrophotometers, hand-held photosynthesis system (CI-340 CID, Inc.), spectroradiometer, TRD soil moister meters, soil compaction meters, data collection devices, GPS/GIS equipment, pH/EC voltage meter, LPL Chromatograph (Bio-RAD), Laminar-flow and biological hoods, digital microscopes and stereoscope, driers, mixers, incubators, freezers, and several other instruments necessary to conduct laboratory research. There are 11 full time employees and 8 temporary workers that all participate in keeping this station a premier research facility at Mississippi State University.
Sweetpotato Foundation Seed
In previous years, production of foundation sweetpotato seed for sale to growers was one of the primary functions of the Pontotoc Station. Currently, the seed program is a collaborative effort between the station and private enterprise. The station is responsible for propagating virus-indexed slips in greenhouses from November through May. This provides a source of virus-indexed slips to a local business that manages for seed increase in the field. The seed produced are marketed to growers as certified G1 virus-indexed foundation seed stock. This allows Mississippi State University, the Bureau of Plant Industry, and the Mississippi Seed Improvement Association to maintain a high quality foundation seed program with a quantity large enough to supply the growing Mississippi sweetpotato industry.
The Pontotoc Branch is unique from most all other research facilities across the nation because it has a major emphasis on sweetpotato production, post-harvest handling, and long term storage. Production studies are conducted to evaluate cultivars, pest and disease management, sustainable production practices, plant nutrients, and irrigation on the Flatwoods soil type due to its similarity to soils in the primary sweetpotato growing area of the state. Responses to environmental stresses are being investigated in collaboration with the Dept. of Plant and Soil Sciences to improve storage root initiation, which will increase yield. Harvesting procedures are being evaluated that include new implement designs as part of a collaborative effort with the Agriculture and Biological Engineering Department. These new procedures are an effort to streamline operations and increase efficiency, minimize skinning at harvest to improve storability, and increase net profit by providing a higher quality end-product to the consumer. Production and harvest are just part of the non-stop management of growing this commodity. Some sweetpotato roots must be stored up to a year before reaching the market place. Therefore, research is ongoing to improve curing and storage conditions in order to prevent disease and maintain a quality product throughout the year.
Field-scale studies utilizing remote sensing and precision technology is being conducted in cooperating producer fields across north Mississippi. This type of research has become increasing important due to the costs associated with crop inputs. Currently, most growers have adopted practices that utilize management zones to apply variable rates of lime, phosphorous and potassium fertilizer. In addition, we are conducting basic research to determine additional crop inputs that could be used with this variable rate technology. The overall objective is to help growers’ producer a more uniform yield of No. 1 grade sweetpotato across the field, while minimizing any adverse effects that can be associated with traditional broadcast applications of crop inputs.
Corn research at the station includes weed management strategies for conventional and herbicide tolerant varieties. A no-tillage corn hybrid demonstration is established every season to provide local growers with information for making hybrid selection decisions. Cotton research includes the use of poultry litter as a fertilizer source, pest management, and environmental impact in regard to management practices. A no-tillage cotton variety trial is also conducted. Several projects involve collaboration with USDA-ARS research scientist. No-tillage soybean variety trials are conducted on the station with maturity groups III, IV and V to aid producers in making variety selections. In addition, a collaborative effort with the Mississippi State University Soil Testing Laboratory research is focused on plant nutrition management in support from the Mississippi Soybean Promotion Board.
Research in the growth and management of warm season perennial grasses for use as a biomass feedstock is being conducted with the effort to reduce the dependence on petroleum-based fuels in the United States. This research is a contribution to the Sustainable Energy Research Center where several projects are working in conjunction to build sustainable energy sources for the Southeastern United States. There is a lot of effort in this area that includes wildlife management and co-cultures with loblolly pine which will benefit land owners as our society moves into the new bio-energy frontier.