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South Centers

College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences


Highlights of the Fruit Extension Program and Research Projects

By Dr. Gary Gao, Professor and Small Fruits Specialist
and Ryan Slaughter, Research Assistant II

Online workshops well attended in 2021
Due to COVID restrictions, the Small Fruits team at The Ohio State University South Centers continued to offer workshops online via Zoom in 2021. Zoom fatigue proved to be only a myth in regard to the small fruits workshops, as each continued to draw very nice numbers.

2021 Fruit Pruning School
The Online Fruit Pruning School, held in March 2021, was easily one of the most successful at South Centers the entire year. In total, 250 people registered to attend this event. Many people expressed interest in viewing the recorded version, but it still had a healthy number of live participants with a peak of 93 at one time. 

Most of the audience was retained throughout, with approximately 85 people still watching at around 45 minutes into the two-hour scheduled event, and the event ended with 67 attendees online once the two-plus hour event had ended.

The event was a mixture of pre-recorded video, PowerPoint presentations, live Q &A, interactive polls, and prize drawings every half hour. All these different formats helped keep people engaged throughout. 

Fruit Production Series (March-April 2021)
The program’s first-ever online Fruit Production Series, featuring two-hour-long individual sessions on blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries over the course of three weeks, was a rousing success with a total of 181 individuals registering to either watch the events live or on-demand later. 

These events were held entirely online via Zoom, in keeping with the university’s policies and procedures during the COVID-19 pandemic. All registrations were collected online via Qualtrics.

The blueberry session held March 23 was the most popular event in terms of live viewership, but all three events averaged around 40-50 viewers for the live event. All the events also did a nice job of retaining viewers throughout the two-hour duration. For example, blueberries peaked at 50 viewers at one time and still had 43 people watching by the time the stream closed. Blackberries had a high of 40 viewers at one time, of which 21 remained at the end. Raspberries had peak live viewership also in the mid-40’s and retained that number throughout.

Fall Fruit Research Updates and Live Q&A II
The usual Blueberry, Bramble, and Grape Field Night in July or August was replaced with Fall Fruit Research Updates with Live Q&A delivered through Zoom in September 2021 due to COVID-19.  Grape was one of the featured fruit crops at this program, and a few videos of South Centers vineyards and other fruit plantings were pre-recorded and aired during the event. Questions on a variety of fruit crops were also answered. The program drew 42 registrants.
These successful programs were certainly a team effort. Dr. Gary Gao and Ryan Slaughter were the featured presenters. Bradford Sherman handled program promotion and registration and prize drawings. Duane Rigsby and Sarah Swanson recorded and edited the videos for these training programs. Swanson also handled online polls.

Extension support to growers conferences
Dr. Gary Gao provided support to several grower conferences, including the OPGMA Produce Network, Ohio Grape and Wine Conference, and MidOhio Growers Conference. Dr. Gao and Ryan Slaughter co-presented a talk on cultivars, trellises, integrated pest management of various berry crops at the 2021 OPGMA Produce Network. 

The 2021 Ohio Grape and Wine Conference was offered online. Dr. Gao served on the conference planning committee and provided input on topics, presenters, and helped with the logistics of the 2021 Virtual Ohio Grape and Wine Conference, which drew more than 300 attendees.

The 2022 Mid-Ohio Growers Conference in Mt. Hope, Ohio was a highlight of Dr. Gary Gao’s year. This conference was organized by a group of Amish growers for the Amish community in Ohio and many neighboring states. Gao was invited to give two talks there, one on high tunnel raspberry production and one on commercial blackberry production. His raspberry talk drew about 150 people while his blackberry talk drew approximately 75 attendees. There were several thousand attendees at this conference. All the attendees were very eager to learn and asked many questions.  

Extension support to county Extension offices and beyond
2021 Master Gardener Volunteer Training: Dr. Gary Gao was invited to provide training on tree fruits and small fruits to Master Gardener trainees for OSU Extension in Butler and Hamilton counties. The training program for Butler County was in-person and four hours long, while the training for Hamilton County was virtual and six hours long. Gao says the training programs were both very exciting to deliver and rewarding since these trainees will likely donate 50 hours of their volunteer service to their perspective Extension offices. 

2021 Farm Science Review: Dr. Gary Gao and Ryan Slaughter were approached by Dr. Brooke Beam of OSU Extension in Highland County for recording a few videos to be shown at the iFarm Immersive Theatre at the 2021 Farm Science Review. The topic of our segment was the South Centers Specialty Crop Tour.

2020 and 2021 Ohio Vineyard Expansion Assistance Program (VEAP)
The Vineyard Expansion Assistance Program (VEAP) was offered by Ohio Grape Industries Committee in both 2020 and 2021. Dr. Gao evaluated grant applications, conducted pre-planting visits, and post-planting verifications. In spring and summer of 2021, Gao conducted post-planting verifications for the 2020 VEAP. In autumn of 2021, he reviewed grant applications and conducted pre-planting visits. This program helped add about 28 acres of grapes in 2021 and will help add another 28 acres in 2022. The total acreage may sound small, however, one acre of grapes can be converted into $22,000 in Ohio wine. The total value of this program can be worth $616,000 each year.     

Research and Extension Grants
Long Cane Raspberry Production: Dr. Gary Gao applied for a 2021 Specialty Crop Block Grant. He received funding for the project titled “Long Cane Raspberry Production System for Acreage Expansion, Farm Diversification, Risk Mitigation and Season Extension.” This will be a two-year project, and it officially began in November 2021.

What is the long cane raspberry production? Long cane raspberry production system is a relatively new raspberry production method where raspberry bushes with long floricanes (5 feet and 10 inches) are produced in greenhouses, stored in coolers in autumn and winter, and then shipped to growers in spring for planting and fruiting in summer. Growers can plant these “ready-made” plants with fruiting canes in a soilless media and a protected environment like a high tunnel or an unheated greenhouse or even under solar panels for fruit production in summer. 

This new and innovative system could help growers get around the problems of poor soil drainage that limit new cane growth and fluctuating spring temperatures that damage floricanes.

The long cane production has been very popular in Europe and Canada. This approach has not been viable since there was not a nursery that grows and sells long cane raspberries. Recently, a nursery in Massachusetts started producing long cane raspberries.

It is exciting to note that the long fruiting canes have been shown to produce 2.5 to 4.0 kilograms (5.5 to 8.8 lbs) of large and tasty raspberries per cane under protected structures in Europe and Canada.

The mass production of long cane raspberry bushes in nurseries and mass plantings of long cane raspberries under protected structures could also present a unique opportunity for Ohio growers to expand raspberry acreage, mitigate environmental risks, and diversify their farming operations. 

OGIC Extension Grant – Ohio Grape Industries Committee
Dr. Gary Gao and his grape Extension colleagues at OSU received another viticulture Extension grant from OGIC. With this grant, Gao and Ryan Slaughter can provide technical assistance to growers in southern Ohio. This will also provide much-needed funds to maintain demonstration vineyards for grape growers in southern Ohio and beyond. Currently, grapevines are planted in the open field and under high tunnel with nearly 20 different grape cultivars with varying degrees of winter hardiness. These demonstration vineyards are integral to the Extension outreach of the grape program.

Slaughter hosted several vineyard tours at South Centers. One group had 52 farmers from Knox County. The bus tour was organized by OSU Extension and Soil and Water Conservation District in Knox County in August. Gao hosted a vineyard tour that was held during the 30-year celebration at South Centers in September 2021. Around 25 people toured the demonstration vineyards.

Research Proposals - USDA NIFA: Dr. Gary Gao was invited to join a multi-state and multi-million-dollar grant proposals in both 2021 and 2022.

Service to FAES, university, and association
University Senate - EOCA: Dr. Gary Gao has been serving as a university senator at OSU since September 2019. In 2021-2022, Dr. Gao chairs the Evaluation of Central Administration Committee (EOCA). The members of this committee evaluated two senior members of the university administration via interviews of 15 people for each member. Two final reports will be drafted, completed, and then presented to the OSU Faculty Council and the provost.  

CFAES-IGP: Gao served on Intellectual Property Accelerator Panel of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) Internal Grant Program (IGP) in 2022. He helped review proposals for this program and wrote a panel summary. 

Ashtabula Grape Branch Visioning: Gao participated in the visioning process for the Ashtabula Agricultural Research Station. He provided suggestions on potential projects that deal with various specialty crops. 

Northwest Berry Foundation: Gao was invited to review research proposals submitted to the Northwest Berry Foundation. This foundation gets proposals mainly from the pacific northwest states and awards millions each year.

National Vice Chair – Professional Excellence Committee of National Association of County Agricultural Extension Agents (NACAA): Gao finished his term as a national vice chair of the

Professional Excellence Committee of NACAA. He oversaw judging of posters from the Northcentral Region and helped with the national judging for the Annual Meeting and Professional Improvement Conference of NACAA.

Extension support to colleagues in NJ, Virginia
Dr. Gary Gao was invited to give a talk on container fruit production for the 2021 Virginia Berry School and another talk on growing fruits in containers for Rutgers University’s R U Ready to Garden program. Both programs drew excellent attendance. His presentations were based on the data collected at FAES South Centers from several specialty crop block grants.