At one time, about 30 years ago, Texas ranked in the top three states in the nation in vegetable production. Now, the state imports more than 90 percent of the tomatoes consumed.
That’s a statistic that doesn’t sit well with the proud tradition of Texas Agriculture. “We are going to make our way back again, because we are making investments,” says Dr. Bill McCutchen, Texas A&M AgriLife Research executive associate director in College Station.
A vegetable production study conducted about three years ago identified several regions well-suited for vegetable production—the High Plains, South Plains, Overton, Wintergarden and Weslaco.
McCutchen says Texas A&M has the faculty and staff capabilities with a good reputation and credibility.
Three recent reports from Texas AgriLife Research and Extension point out some of the opportunities and challenges Texas AgriLife is taking on to make local vegetables more accessible to Texas consumers and make vegetable production more profitable for the state’s farmers.
Nothing says summertime like a cold, juicy, sweet watermelon—unless it’s one broken open in the field and consumed a handful at a time, oblivious of the juice streaming down your face creating a sticky mess.
A group of 24 Texas agriculture leaders, the latest members of the Texas Agricultural Lifetime Leadership program (TALL), learned how those melons get from the field to summer picnics, barbecues and pool parties on a recent tour of the Wiggins LLP-Watermelon House Inc., near College Station.
The company produces several millions watermelons annually and markets them to several large grocery retailers, including Wal-Mart, Safeway and Albertsons.
Jody Wiggins explained some of the challenges melon producers face. “We need good, flat land, and we need water for drip irrigation. Those are the two keys for us,” Wiggins said. “Overall, the company farms 2,800 acres over a seven month growing season.”
“TALL is an intensive study of agriculture worldwide equipping people in the agriculture industry to become leaders in their respective fields,” said Dr. Jim Mazurkiewicz, program director in College Station.
When your mother told you to eat your vegetables, she knew what she was talking about. Nutritionists agree that recommended servings of vegetables help maintain health. The problem for many consumers is a lack of locally-grown fruits and vegetables.
Texas A&M AgriLife Research hopes to change that with a new effort to increase production of high-value vegetable crops under high tunnels. Tomatoes will be a key research target.
Dr. Bill McCutchen, Texas A&M AgriLife Research executive associate director in College Station, and Joseph Bunting, United Supermarkets produce director from Lubbock, talked about the need for Texas-grown produce at a recent Summer Crops Field Day near Bushland.
McCutchen says the Texas vegetable production industry needs to change in a big way. He says the High Plains, South Plains, Overton, Wintergarden and Weslaco areas are prime growing regions.
“We import over 90 percent of our tomatoes to Texas,” he said. “What’s going on here? That’s got to change.”
It’s such a disappointment to buy a perfectly colored, firm, flawless tomato from the local grocery only to find the taste and texture lacking when it’s sliced and added to a burger and featured on a BLT.
Consumers want fresh tomatoes, which was the catalyst behind a Texas A&M AgriLife vegetable breeder’s newly released tomato variety—Hot-TY.
Kevin Crosby, Texas A&M AgriLife vegetable breeder in College Station, says the new variety is “very heat tolerant. And you can harvest from late October until after Thanksgivin—or until there is a frost.”
Crosby explains the importance of fresh tomato production in this short video.
He says the demand for fresh is driving the industry to recoup some of its steady decline over the past 50 years.