The Texas Panhandle Vegetable Production Research Team was recognized with the 2019 Texas A&M AgriLife Research Director’s Award for Collaboration during an awards ceremony on the Texas A&M University campus.
The Research Director’s Awards seek to recognize and reward the achievements of individuals and teams with outstanding work to support the agency’s mission.
Team members are:. Dr. Charlie Rush, plant pathologist; Jimmy Gray, farm manager; and Kay Ledbetter, communication specialist, all with AgriLife Research in Amarillo; as well as Dr. Kevin Crosby, Texas A&M department of horticulture professor of plant breeding, College Station; Dr. Russ Wallace, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service vegetable specialist, Lubbock; and Dr. Paul Colaizzi, U.S. Department of Agriculture– Agricultural Research Service research agricultural engineer, Bushland.
This multidisciplinary team was created to address the emerging public demand for locally grown, nutritious, high-quality vegetables and the opportunities that opened for researchers, regional producers and retailers.
However, they also realized that to fully take advantage of those opportunities and “reestablish” the vegetable industry in the Panhandle, they would have to partner with both new and established farmers, regional grocers, food pantries, educational institutions and agri-industry to meet their goals and objectives, according to the nomination.
While vegetable production was significant in the region in the 1960s-1980s, for a new generation of farmers to take advantage of the growing market for locally grown vegetables, they needed regionally adapted varieties, information on agronomic production practices, and assurance there would be markets for their produce, the nomination stated.
The partnership secured over $500,000 from USDA-ARS, Texas Department of Agriculture and other funding agencies to jump-start a new research program on vegetable production in semi-arid, windy environments. Funding was also secured from H-E-B grocers and United Supermarkets.
“Starting with nothing except a dream and an empty block of land, a state-of-the-art research facility has been established, which now includes approximately 40 acres for crop production, four high tunnels (two more in FY19), a six-span center pivot, a drip irrigation system, irrigation infrastructure and vegetable-farming equipment,” the nomination stated.
Individual research projects were initiated on pest management, water-use efficiency, cropping systems, varietal selection and vegetable production economics, and, most recently with a multinational leader in vegetable seed production.
Throughout this effort, there has been significant public interest in the new program, and it has been widely advertised through radio and television interviews, press releases and AgriLife Extension publications, the nomination stated. This work on high-value vegetable production has attracted new, small acreage farmers interested in maximizing economic opportunities.