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US (TX): Winter Garden producers discuss issues at Texas A&M AgriLife center in Uvalde

At a recent briefing and presentation at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Uvalde, center personnel met with area producers to discuss critical issues facing the agribusiness and produce sector in the Texas Winter Garden, plus new opportunities for vegetable crops regionally and statewide.

“Some of the areas we addressed had to do with vegetable crop improvement, cropping systems, phenotyping, irrigation efficiency, water conservation, hydroponics and drought tolerance in crops,” said Dr. Daniel Leskovar, center director.

Discussion centered around costs and narrow profit margins, water limitations, consumer education for safe products, seeds as “produce,” food safety guidelines and compliance.

“The research and information we get from the AgriLife center is a necessary part of the business equation,” said Jay Karnes, president of Winter Garden Producers based in Uvalde. “We’re smaller than other operations and don’t have the private money needed to conduct useful research that would help our bottom line.

“That’s what the Uvalde center does for us. They conduct and share research and supply the information we need to make our operations more successful.”

Karnes pointed to the center’s research on agricultural chemicals, plant variety selection and drought tolerance as being particularly helpful to agricultural operations like his.

“Another area where we’ve seen great practical benefit has been with the work they do in plant pathology and addressing diseases and insects that affect vegetable production,” he said. “One example is the work they’ve been doing over the past three to four years toward controlling iris yellow spot and onion thrips, both of which have a huge impact on onion yield.

“You used to be able to get about 50,000 pounds per acre for onions, but with these advances you can now get closer to 75,000 pounds per acre.”

Justin Speer, who is associated with five area companies including Pairadice Farms LLC, Speer Ag LLC and Southern Commodities LLC, also participated in the discussion, as did Steve Cargil, owner of Cargil Produce Company, both Uvalde-based producers.

Discussion also included efforts by the center and AgriLife Extension’s 21-county District 10 on food, nutrition and health education and outreach, chronic wasting disease, water, hydrological fracturing, agricultural commodities and biological control of arundo — a tall, stout invasive perennial grass.

Also included in the discussion was the Texas A&M Forest Service’s wildfire suppression program and a rundown of Congressional District 23 priorities as identified by U.S. Rep. Will Hurd and presented by his field representative Ashley Harris.

Leskovar said the next activity involves a listening session on food safety issues to be held at the center at 8 a.m. Dec. 1.

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