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Capito sees firsthand progress at W.Va. fruit research center

February 26, 2008|By DAVE McMILLION

KEARNEYSVILLE, W.Va. - U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito toured the Kearneysville Tree Fruit Research and Education Center Monday, gaining insight into how the facility helps local fruit growers prosper and how it assists them in branching out into new areas, like organic growing.

The West Virginia University research center is on 158 acres along W.Va. 9 just west of the intersection with W.Va. 480.

Capito, R-W.Va., said she wanted to tour the facility after passing it regularly along W.Va. 9 and being curious about its operations.

The facility helps growers understand practices such as how to use pesticides to control pests in the most "highly technological way," officials at the center said.

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But an increasing number of growers also are interested in how to grow fruit organically, said Alan Biggs, professor of plant pathology at the facility.

Members of the West Virginia State Horticultural Society approached center officials about organic growing concepts, Biggs said. The Horticultural Society represents about 60 growers, most of whom are in the Eastern Panhandle region, Biggs said.

Research center officials are working on the effort and hope the center can eliminate pitfalls growers might face with organic operations. This will allow center officials to "take the technology right to the grower," Biggs said.

Although the number of orchards has dropped significantly in the Eastern Panhandle over the years, it seems to have stabilized, Biggs said.

Biggs said the decline of orchards has stabilized as growers turn to niche operations like organic products and other fruit crops.

And there are new growers buying land in areas like Hampshire County and specializing in fresh food sales, Biggs said.

The fruit research station, which is affiliated with West Virginia University, has been in operation since 1930 and has an annual budget of roughly $350,000 to $450,000, Biggs said.

After touring some of the growing operations, center officials took Capito across W.Va. 9 to show her where the new four-lane W.Va. 9 will be coming through part of the property.

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