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The local resource you should be using way more often

Ask AgriLife.

That’s pretty much the answer to any gardening or housekeeping question.

The agency, officially named Texas A&M University AgriLife Extension has information and research on virtually every home and garden question.

The agency, with 250 offices statewide, maintains hundreds of Web pages with information on subjects as varied as using drones to look for cotton root rot to the best time to plant potatoes and carrots.

There are videos on the best way to plant a tree or grow veggies along with online classes on food preparation.

 

 

Have you even heard of AgriLife?

Wondering what that strange plant in the garden is or how to treat that brown spot in your lawn? Volunteers, usually those who have been through the Master Gardener classes, will take phone calls and answer emails. Yet, many have never heard of AgriLife.

“I guess that 50 percent of the population has never heard of us,” says Ralph Davis, Kaufman County extension agent.”It used to be everybody knew the extension agent.”

Turf grass breeder Dr. Ambika Chandra in the greenhouse at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Dallas. Kathleen Phillips/TAMU AgriLife Research

Turf grass breeder Dr. Ambika Chandra in the greenhouse at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Dallas. Kathleen Phillips/TAMU AgriLife Research

The county agent, when the agency was called Texas Cooperative Extension, was a familiar figure, consulting with farmers and cattlemen.

Then as the state became more urban, fewer people knew the agent or the agency’s programs. Homeowners were interested in flowers, shrubs and their suburban lawns.

But the agency, founded in 1914, changed along with the need. Now, says Douglas Steele, the agency’s executive director, about 50 percent of the services and programs offered deal with urban and suburban concerns such as home gardening and family health care.

“We are relevant to farmers and at the same time helpful to the urban audience,” Steele says.

Going beyond crops and animal sciences

AgriLife has thousands of employees with a lot of them serving as A&M teachers. There are almost 100,000 volunteers to support them. The $121 million budget comes from the state, county and federal sources.

Orange Frost Satsuma, a small orange tree that can be grown in North Texas, has been named a Texas Superstar by AgriLife Extension & Research. It is cold hardy to 25 degrees. AgriLife Extension Research

Orange Frost Satsuma, a small orange tree that can be grown in North Texas, has been named a Texas Superstar by AgriLife Extension & Research. It is cold hardy to 25 degrees. AgriLife Extension Research

Steele, who has been with the agency for more than 30 years, remembers when he first began as county agent in Amarillo in 1981. His background was in field crops and animal sciences. He expected to be working mostly with farmers on crop and ranching issues.

Instead, most of the phone calls came from townspeople who wanted help with their lawn or identifying specific trees and plants.

The agency formally changed its name several years ago to reflect the dual emphasis on agriculture and life sciences, Steele says. Texas A&M University officially is part of the name to illustrate the agency’s university connection.

Research, research, research

Almost all AgriLife advice is based on research. Many agency personnel are involved in hands-on research of topics that help both the agricultural industry and the general public.

Roses were the first part of the Earth-Kind program. Louis DeLuca/Staff Photographer/The Dallas Morning News

Roses were the first part of the Earth-Kind program. Louis DeLuca/Staff Photographer/The Dallas Morning News

For example, research aimed at helping the state’s growing grape industry also helps homeowners select the best varieties for their backyards.

AgriLife also is expanding services for families, increasing workshops and demonstrations, Steele says. Many extension offices teach classes in diabetes prevention and planning nutritious meals.

Davis says he’s seen the needs in Kaufman County, east of Dallas, change in the 16 years he’s been the extension agent.

The county still has a few large farms and lots of land being used for smaller agricultural enterprises. But the area, especially around Forney and Terrell, is becoming more urban — with urban problems of controlling unwanted weeds. And there’s been an influx of urbanites moving to tracts of 2 to 10 acres.

They like the idea of being a hobby farmer but often have no idea how to get started or keep their operation running, he says. It’s his job, along with his the office staff, to help them along.

And the best thing about the services, he says, is they are free.

“I tell everyone who comes into this office — use AgriLife,” Davis says. “You paid for it.”

Popular AgriLife programs

Here is a sampling of Texas A&M University AgriLife Extension Service programs.
For other programs see agrilifeextension.tamu.edu or aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu. But only if you’ve got some time. The seemingly endless pages of information can be as addicting as Pinterest.

Water University: The sprinklers throw droplets in the air, and your water bill goes up along with it. AgriLife’s Water University helps with that. The program at the agency’s research center in Richardson provides classes in water conservation, rainwater harvesting, landscaping for drought and other water-related issues. Often, they take their classes on the road demonstrating how to build a rainwater harvest barrel. Experts there also recommend the best grass for your area and the best plants to minimize water use. wateruniversity.tamu.edu. Facebook: AgriLifeDallasWaterUniversity.

Earth-Kind: It all started with roses. People love roses, but with black spot disease and other problems they had a reputation as hard to grow. Steve George and other AgriLife horticulturists decided to do a little research. They began looking for the hardiest of cultivars, those that grow in poor soil, need no chemicals and use little water. From that a whole program grew to find the best landscape plants that would please homeowners and grow lightly on the land. There are now data-based recommendations for everything from trees to shrubs to fruits and grasses. aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/earthkind/.

Texas Superstar: Blistering heat, weeks of drought followed by unrelenting rain, snacking deer, and soil that ranges from rock to sand — Texas isn’t kind to plants. So AgriLife has a list of tried-and-true cultivars that grow well throughout the state. The varieties have been selected by a committee of AgriLife specialists. texassuperstar.com.

4-H: Like other parts of AgriLife, 4-H has evolved. It helps youth learn skills from computers to building rockets to raising sheep. Members can choose from among more than 300 project areas. More than 900,000 are involved through community clubs, schools and neighborhood clubs. Students still raise calves and pigs for show, but they are as likely to do robotic projects. “It’s really about leadership,” says Ralph Davis, Kaufman County extension agent. texas4-h.tamu.edu.

Crops and soil research: Programs that fulfill some of the original mission of the extension service continue. For example, research into turfgrass and its management benefits the landscape industry and homeowners. Ongoing programs in improving Texas citrus varieties and the best types of wheat for Texas show AgriLife’s dual nature.


[Karel Holloway via Dallas News]

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