RAREC handles bulk of fruit, vegetable research
BRIDGETON — Dr. Andy Wyenandt, a vegetable pathologist at the Rutgers Agricultural Research and Extension Center here, gave The New Jersey Farmer a tour of this massive research facility in late June.
The 300-acre facility straddles the borders of Salem and Cumberland counties in Bridgeton.
There are eight full-time faculty conducting research projects here at RAREC, Wyenandt pointed out.
The bulk of vegetable and fruit growing research by Rutgers University’s School of Biological and Environmental Sciences is done here, he said, noting experiments and research is also conducted at Snyder Research Farm in Pittstown, a fruit research facility in Cream Ridge and the Marucci Blueberry and Cranberry research facility in Chatsworth in the heart of the New Jersey Pine Barrens.
Wyenandt studied diseases in pumpkins and tomatoes during his graduate school days at Ohio State University. He came to RAREC 18 years ago.
“I do all of the vegetable pathology. We also have a tree fruit entomologist, Dr. Anne Neilsen, and a tree fruit pathologist, Dr. Norman Lalancette,” he said. Large plots of land are devoted to peach and apple research and there are a half dozen or more plots in the vegetable section of RAREC devoted to research with peppers and basil.
Center Director Dr. Daniel Ward does research into grapes here and he has several large plots adorned with grape trellises.
Ward is also a frequent speaker at Gary Pavlis’ popular gathering of Garden State grape growers and wineries, “Grape Expectations” held annually in early March at Forsgate Country Club in Monroe, Middlesex County.
Wyenandt stressed that RAREC’s team of specialists are always open to questions from farmers having difficulty containing various insects, fungi or other plant pathogens.
Dr. Jim Simon, based at the New Brunswick campus of Rutgers, has been conducting experiments with his crew of graduate students here for years to control downy mildew in basil plants.
“If a grower or somebody has a problem they go to their county ag Extension agent and if the county agent still has a problem they will come here, so I basically help the county agents and cover the whole state for vegetable quality,” Wyendandt said. He added he also works with crop consultants and meets in-person with farmers who are based in south Jersey.
Given the advent of smart phones with cameras and e-mail, farmers often send pictures.
“We can take it from there. Usually, when someone walks in here –whether it be a grower or a crop consultant — they want an answer that day, and 99 percent of the time I can tell them exactly what’s wrong and then give them options,” he said.
“The other one percent, it takes a little bit of time; I may have to culture something or incubate something overnight, but I do my best to give them an answer before they walk out the door because they need an answer today, not next week.
“They’re busy farmers.”
Out in the field, Wyenandt showed 23 different varieties of bell peppers “the purpose of this trial is to evaluate these different pepper lines for their resistance to bacterial leaf spot.
“Many of the varieties of peppers in this trial have what we call X10 or resistance which means they have resistance to all 10 or so races of the bacterial leaf spot pathogen so beyond just evaluating them for the disease pressure I’m working with Dr. Wes Kline from Cumberland County to look at fruit quality characteristics because if they don’t have the right quality that New Jersey growers want — even though they might have really good resistance — the fruit shape and color of the fruit is important, or growers won’t want to grow them. We’re looking for a dark green four lobed fruit.”
Wyenandt’s approach to research is a bit counter-intuitive, he admitted.
“Unlike the vegetable farmers I want as much disease pressure as I can possibly get in a trial, so I can truly evaluate the effectiveness of the fungicide or the variety so I do a lot of things normal vegetable growers don’t do: I run a lot of overhead irrigation at the wrong time of day I use a lot more water. I do my best to promote as much disease as possible in my trial plots out there in the field. That’s what you need in order to get the data you need in any one trial.”
Wyenandt says he works with all manner of organic and conventional farmers, many of them second career and part-time farmers.
With conventional growers — most of whom apply a minimum of herbicides and pesticides out of cost concerns — “every time someone like myself opens their mouth that usually costs them money, because it can be a fungicide recommendation for a particular disease that they would have to spray for.”
“I have a walk-in diagnostic lab here so anyone who’s close by can give me a call on my cell phone and they can bring their specimens here we can help solve their problems,” Wyenandt said.
“They don’t want to wait a week for an answer because in a week’s time it may be too late to treat or control whatever they need to treat,” he said.
While things slowed down last year during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of research projects is again picking up this year at RAREC.
“Depending on the year and who is involved we’ll have dozens and dozens of research projects going on out in the fields, anywhere from 75 to 100 different projects or experiments going on in any given year.”
“Farmers should feel free to reach out to any of us, that’s what we’re here for. We’re here to help the growers.”