Small-grain farmers across the Commonwealth will remember a leader in their profession every time they grow a new wheat variety named Merl, which was recently released by Virginia Tech.
Carl Griffey, professor of crop and soil environmental sciences in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, has named a new public wheat variety after G. Merl Longest, co-founder of Goshen Farm in Virginia’s Middle Peninsula.
“This follows a long tradition at Virginia Tech and elsewhere of crop breeders naming new seeds after inspirational farmers, scientists, and supporters of the agricultural industry,” Griffey said. Griffey’s breeding program has developed or released six hulled and three hull-less barley varieties, one soft white winter, two hard red winter, one winter durum, and more than 45 public and private soft red winter wheat varieties. The University of Maryland; University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada; and Kansas State University collaborated on several variety releases.
A native of King and Queen County, Va., Longest exhibited his love for agriculture from an early age. He and his identical twin, H. Earl Longest, worked with a seed-corn grower in nearby Essex County as teenagers. After serving in the Army during the Korean conflict, they returned home and purchased Goshen Farm in 1954 from Virginia Seed Stocks, a subsidiary of the Virginia Crop Improvement Association (VCIA). Over the next 50 years, the operation grew from 200 acres to more than 1,200 acres of small grain, seed corn, and soybeans.
In the early 1970s, Longest launched a hybrid seeds business with the help of a Virginia Tech corn breeder and the VCIA administrator. Longest Seeds became the largest seed-corn producer in the Commonwealth with customers in Virginia, North Carolina, and West Virginia. Longest continued his relationship with Virginia Tech and VCIA and later served as both director and president of the Virginia Crop Improvement Board. He passed away in 2003 at the age of 73.
Friends and family members remember Longest for the relationships he maintained with seed producers and researchers and for his commitment to the industry he loved. His son, George Longest, wrote that naming the new variety “is such an honor to my father as he truly loved his work with seed production.”
For decades, the university has named new seed varieties in honor of inspirational people. Among them are Cyrus McCormick, inventor of the wheat reaper and founder of International Harvester Machinery; Thomas Hutcheson, former agronomy department head and dean of agriculture at Virginia Tech; Tom Starling, small-grains breeder; Curtis Roane, pathologist; Glenn Buss, soybean breeder; and Bruce Massey, seed producer and farmer.