Perspectives Online

Demonstrated Success. Field days are a College, N.C. State and Agricultural Research Service tradition. By Art Latham

In 2007, tractors pull wagonloads of interested attendees to research sites at the Fresh Market Tomato and Vegetable Field Day at the Mountain Horticultural Crops Research Station, Fletcher.
Photo by becky Kirkland

Early agricultural scientist Dr. Seaman Knapp of Texas A&M helped establish agricultural experiment stations through the 1887 Hatch Act. By 1903 he had established five successful demonstration farms in Texas and Louisiana, using an educational approach called "cooperative demonstration work."

Knapp's philosophy was "What a man hears, he may doubt. What he sees, he may still doubt. But what a man does himself, he cannot doubt." The approach spread to North Carolina.

In 1937, a Swain County field day also drew heavy traffic.
Courtesy Archives Photograph Collection, Special Collections
Research Center, North Carolina State University Libraries
By 1905, no doubt influenced by the work under way in Texas, the North Carolina College of Agriculture and Mechanical Arts (now N.C. State University) and its partner, the North Carolina Agricultural Experiment Station (now the Agricultural Research Service), had initiated extensive on-farm agricultural demonstrations directed by county agents, note Dr. William Carpenter and Dr. Dean Colvard in their 1987 book Knowledge Is Power: A History of the School of Agriculture and Life Sciences at North Carolina State University, 1877-1984.

In 1912, a demonstration train hauled Dr. I.O. Schaub, then professor of agricultural extension, and pioneer home demonstration agent Dr. Jane McKimmon, as well as drainage and field implements and livestock over 1,200 miles, reaching 10,000 North Carolinians.

From 1885 until the early 1920s, Farmers' Institutes programs initiated by the North Carolina General Assembly through the Board of Agriculture attracted hundreds of thousands of farmers. Arranged by local committees that picked ag topics to discuss and held "between lay-by and harvest" (July and August), they were superseded by the Agricultural Experiment Station's annual branch station or "test farm" field days that attracted up to 5,000 people, say Carpenter and Colvard. In 1955, the branch stations became known as research stations.

At Lake Wheeler Turfgrass Field Laboratory, Raleigh, (top) participants examine turf plots. In Fletcher, Dr. David Monks (bottom) lectures on weed management in peppers.
Top Photo by Art Latham
Bottom Photo by Stephen Schoof
AES Director B.W. Kilgore reported that about 15,000 people gathered at the six branch stations for annual meetings in 1923, not including other year-round visitors. Although the institutes often included socializing and politics, "a great amount of new farming information was undoubtedly imparted," Carpenter and Colvard note.

By the 1950s, the College adopted an "all-practice" field day approach that allied groups such as credit agencies, farm machinery, seed, fertilizer and other agricultural chemical manufacturers participated in and helped fund.

This year, the North Carolina Agricultural Research Service in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences scheduled 18 field days at N.C. State locations and research stations from Waynesville to Castle Hayne. (Click here for a listing of all 2007 field days .)

Some of these are featured in photos here: Strawberry (May 2, Central Crops Research Station, Clayton); Professional Landscape (May 16, JC Raulston Arboretum, Raleigh); Turfgrass (Aug. 8, Lake Wheeler Turfgrass Field Laboratory, Raleigh); Fresh Market Tomato and Vegetable (Aug. 9, Mountain Horticultural Crops Research Station, Fletcher).

Also in Fletcher, Dr. Diane Ducharme (top) discusses how new practices can help producers see better profits. At the JC Raulston Arboretum, Raleigh, (bottom) a visitor listens to planting advice at the May Professional Landscape Field Day.
Top Photo by Stephen Schoof
Bottom Photo by Art Latham
At these events, participants heard from researchers offering workshops on topics ranging from weed management to variety trial results. Among the covered topics and researchers presenting were

  • Strawberry: Focus on pre-plant soil fumigant methyl bromide alternatives. Weed management, Katie Jennings; plant trials and high tunnels, which are plastic-covered metal frames, Barclay Poling; plant breeding program, Jim Ballington; North Carolina strawberry certification program, Zvezdana Pesic-Van Esbroeck; disease update, Frank Louws.
  • Tomato: New wilt control products, Rob Welker, Cary Rivard, Jim Driver, Frank Louws; bacterial disease, Kelly Ivors, Chris Holmberg, Dreama Milks; insect, Jim Walgenbach and weed control products, Katie Jennings, David Monks; tillage production and rotation methods studies results, Greg Hoyt and Anthony Cole; variety trial results, Randy Gardner, Candice Anderson, Phillip Sanders.
  • Professional Landscape: Rooftop gardens, Dennis Werner; flowering plants' use to reduce landscape pests, Christine Casey; woody invasive weed control, Joe Neal; color bed disease management, Colleen War-field; vole control, Lucy Bradley; and talks on new herbaceous perennials, starting new trees and permeable pavers by vendors.
  • Turfgrass (golf and grounds): Field tours by leading crop science specialists. Presentations (18 stops) covered irrigation, growth regulators, fertilizers, fungicides, soil insect pests and diseases. Lecturers included Fred Yelverton, Rick Brandenburg, Tom Rufty and Lane Tredway.