News and Updates

Breaking Ground

New Plants and Crops

Tropical cheer for winter in Texas

Dr. Dariusz Malinowski, Texas A&M AgriLife Research plant physiologist and Jim Berry, president of J. Berry were recently awarded their third major award for their hibiscus collection. What makes these hibiscus’ unique? First, they exhibit unusual colors from a coral-salmon to the elusive blue. In addition to bringing new colors to the hibiscus family, these flowers are winter hardy bringing a tropical cheer to the winter months in Texas.

Onyx Sorghum the new health food grain

There is a new health food grain on the market. Onyx sorghum is unique due to its black outer layer. This color is from a high concentration of antioxidants. The goal niche market is the cereal market which would provide a more nutritious grain option for consumers.

New forage that improves the soil

New forage cowpea–“Ace”—is a comprehensive forage option for livestock and wildlife and best of all it improves your soil with its nitrogen-fixing properties. Although, not an edible variety for humans it is a tremendous drought-tolerant option for livestock or grazing for deer

Adapting Asian Vegetables to Texas Climates

Uvalde, Weslaco, Overton, and El Paso AgriLife Research facilities are participating in a trial of Asian vegetables in Texas climates. Bok choy, Asian eggplant, tatsoi, and many other Asian vegetables will soon be tested in a variety of growing conditions from greenhouses to unimproved soil. The demand for these vegetables is growing, but many Texas farmers are not familiar with growing them for profit. This study will shed light on the potential production costs of growing vegetables such as Chinese celery.

Plant Practices

Guar and Wheat

Guar gum might come to mind when you see “guar.” And understandably, the United States imported $1.1 billion in 2011 making the USA the highest consumer of guar gum. Now the USDA is partnering with a team of Texas A&M AgriLife Research scientists and the University of Florida to explore guar to improve the soil for wheat crops.

Double cropping with a 60-day crop

“Instead of planting a cover crop, could you double crop by planting a 60-day crop and harvest it to make a profit?”. This was the question that spurred Dr. Paul DeLaune to study suitable 60-day crops that would function as a cover and cash crop. The AgriLife Research environmental soil scientist at Vernon Center has been experimenting with cover crops for wheat crops for three years now and has found that a quick 60-day yield of guar or muang bean can provide a cash crop for wheat producers and function as a cover crop.

Eliminating Sugarcane Aphids with Resistant Sorghum

Pesticides are usually the go-to when aphids are the issue. But there is a new solution for suppressing sugarcane aphids – resistant sorghum. A study at the AgriLife Research center in Amarillo is already demonstrating the value of sugarcane aphid resistant sorghum. Dr. Ada Szczepaniec who is leading the study has noted as this is the first instance of commercial sorghum resistant against sugarcane aphids more studies may need to focus on integrating predators to the sugarcane aphid along with the host-plant resistance.

Conserving water in Bushland with greenhouses

As the High Plains and Southern Plains continue to experience reductions in irrigation water due to drought, new strategies are arising from the Texas A&M AgriLife High Tunnel Project in Bushland, Texas to maximize the irrigation water available. The High Tunnel project uses greenhouses (high tunnels) to conserve water and protect plants against severe weather as well. Right now, the top high tunnel crops are tomatoes, lettuce, and strawberries.

Plant root systems to help meet growing food demands

“To meet the world’s growing demand for food, agricultural crop production needs to double by 2050”

Dr. Xuejun Dong

Dr. Xuejun Dong AgriLife Research soil crop physiologist asserts that although many examine “above ground” traits when analyzing agricultural produce more studies should focus on the root cause—specifically the root systems of plants. Dr. Dong is leading a study using ground penetrating radar (GPR) to gather more details about the fine root systems in several plants and how they perform in diverse soils to better understand how we can prepare to meet rising global food demands.

Making Spinach Safe

Every time spinach makes the news it seems to be in connection with food safety. A group of AgriLife Research scientists in Uvalde hopes to change that with a new study focused on improving the nitrogen utilization and increasing food safety in spinach. This group is partnering with the Texas Department of Agriculture and the University of California-Davis to lower the non-beneficial nitrogen that results from fertilizing spinach and can leak into the water table and to develop inhibitors to the foodborne pathogens that are often associated with spinach.

Scientific Advances

Solving Tomato and Potato Blight Disease with the latest in CRISPR Technology

According to the USDA, Texas-grown crops are part of a $6 billion national production value. Dr. Junqi Song and his team of researchers at the Texas A&M AgriLife center in Dallas are working to develop plants which are resistant to broad-spectrum diseases. They are focusing on two major food crops produced in Texas: potatoes and tomatoes. Dr. Song and his team are using new technology—CRISPR which allows them to introduce new genetic regulators that maintain the plant’s properties but result in resistance to common plant diseases. The team plans to study the effects of CRISPR on wheat, rice, and cotton among other vital crops.

Previous “Junk” DNA now discovered to have a link to plant and human disease

Teams at Texas A&M and Texas A&M AgriLife have discovered that a single protein called Serrate once thought of as “junk” DNA is essential to plant and human health. Serrate is also called the “jumping gene” referring to its ability to “jump” along the genome. It makes up more than 40% of the human genome and up to 90% in a plant genome. This study is finding that without Serrate plants have a decreased response to environmental stresses and may have deformed leaves. Without Serrate humans may experience diseases of the bone marrow and stem cells.

High-Value Tomato Result from Grafting Study

A grafting study at Uvalde showcases promising results for tomato producers. The team led by Uvalde Center director, Dr. Daniel Leskovar is utilizing grafting along with the greenhouse practices of high tunnels. These practices are resulting in an extended planting season and a significant gain in weight of the fruit. They are also doing studies on grafting in open field settings and increasing the environmental stress tolerance of tomatoes.

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