Jul 7, 2021
New state historical marker highlights legacy of Penn State fruit research

For more than a century, researchers at Penn State’s Fruit Research and Extension Center have studied the science undergirding the production of tree fruits and shared this new-found knowledge with producers to help ensure an abundant supply of nutritious, affordable fruit products for Pennsylvanians.

The state Historical and Museum Commission now has recognized this legacy of research and education – and the center’s collaboration with, and support from, the state’s fruit growers – with the placement of a new Pennsylvania Historical Marker at the facility in Biglerville, Adams County. Pennsylvania Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding joined Penn State personnel, local officials and representatives of the fruit industry for a dedication ceremony June 25.

Located in the heart of Pennsylvania’s fruit belt, the Fruit Research and Extension Center – often referred to as FREC – is an important resource for the state’s tree-fruit industry, which produces apples, peaches and other fruit valued at about $130 million annually. At the unveiling ceremony, Jayson Harper, the center’s director, thanked the Adams County Fruit Growers Association and the Adams County Commissioners for nominating the center for the recognition.

Jayson Harper

“These blue [historical] markers hold a special place in my heart,” said Harper, who also is a professor of agricultural economics in the College of Agricultural Sciences. “As a young Penn State Extension farm management specialist and new Pennsylvania resident, they gave me snapshots of the diverse history of the commonwealth as I traveled around the state. To be a small part of that continuing story is a special honor for all of us here at FREC.”

Harper noted that what is now known as the Fruit Research and Extension Center began as the Fruit Research Laboratories in Arendtsville in 1918. The original offices were rented in the former Arendtsville Hotel and housed two scientists, entomologist S.W. Frost, for whom Penn State’s Frost Entomological Museum is named, and plant pathologist R.C. Walton.

In 1922, the hotel was sold, and the Fruit Lab moved to the old schoolhouse in Arendtsville, which was purchased by Frost and Walton with help from local fruit grower and Penn State trustee Chester Tyson, whose name adorns the Tyson Building on the University Park campus. The schoolhouse, which was rented to Penn State, was the lab’s home for the next 25 years.

The Fruit Research Lab was closed in 1936 as a Depression-related cost-saving measure, but a recommitment to the mission of the lab in 1937 resulted in the hiring of four new staff members in horticulture, plant pathology, entomology and soil science. The lab also established a formal grower advisory committee, a relationship that has continued to evolve to the present day.

In the early days of the lab, its scientists conducted all their research in commercial orchards, but by the late 1940s, its leaders saw the need for dedicated research orchards to test the new pesticides that were being introduced at the time. In 1947, a nonprofit corporation was formed, leading to the acquisition of land and new facilities in Arendtsville, where the Fruit Lab was headquartered starting in 1948.

The long process of relocating FREC’s headquarters to Biglerville began in the mid-1950s with the purchase of land, which continued into the early 1960s. The move of the headquarters culminated with the completion of the Musselman Building at the Biglerville location in 1971.

Additional land was purchased in the early 2000s, bringing FREC’s current acreage to 220 — 170 acres in Biglerville and 50 acres in Arendtsville. A machinery shop was completed in 1966, a headhouse and greenhouses were built in 1970, and graduate student housing and an agricultural engineering fabrication facility opened in 2016 and 2020, respectively, with support from the State Horticultural Association of Pennsylvania.

The center currently houses six resident faculty, three administrative staff, 11 graduate students, five technical service employees, eight research technicians and 10 summer workers. Its research and extension programs cover plant pathology, horticulture, entomology, agricultural engineering and agricultural economics.

Harper pointed out that FREC programs have adapted over the years to reflect changes in technology, pests and regulations, but its land-grant mission of research, teaching and extension remains the same.

“FREC has come a long way from our humble beginnings with only two scientists in space rented in a hotel,” he said. “The center’s sustained growth and impact are a testament to the hard work, dedication and foresight of all of the people who have contributed to our mission over the past 100-plus years.”

Chuck Gill, Penn State Ag Sciences News

The new Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission marker recently unveiled at Penn State’s Fruit Research and Extension Center in Biglerville recognizes more than a century of research and education benefiting the state’s fruit growers and consumers. Photo: Penn State University

Be sure to check out our other specialty agriculture brands

produceprocessingsm Organic Grower