The Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Uvalde serves the Wintergarden and southwest Texas. The area is distinguished by rechargeable water resources and irrigated agriculture with crops such as spinach, cabbage, onion, carrot, melon, watermelon, pepper, potato, cotton, wheat, corn, sorghum and sesame.
The main research programs focus on vegetable crop improvement under stress conditions, cropping systems, stress physiology, irrigation strategies, and genotype adaptation. Another program centers on wildlife habitat and natural resource management.
Key Research Areas
- Cropping systems and irrigation strategies under drought and heat stress
- High throughput phenotyping, crop improvement and diversity
- Genetics, environmental and management strategies to mitigate stress, enhance nitrogen use efficiency, improve quality and increased yield of vegetable and row crops
- Hormonal regulation of root/shoot growth
- Role of osmolytes in crop improvement and adaptation
- Characterization and mapping yield, quality, biotic tolerance, and abiotic tolerance quantitative trait loci (QTL) in vegetable germplasm
- Accelerated breeding utilizing marker-assisted selection and genomic selection for yield, quality as well as biotic and abiotic tolerance in vegetable crops
- Develop cultivars for organic vegetable farming
- Research on water conservation for leafy greens shows impressive results for the recirculating hydroponic system, with more than 90% water savings compared to those grown under field conditions. The hydroponic research is attracting Texas farmers to use this technology.
- Deficit irrigation applied with subsurface drip systems is an important strategy for sustaining onion, melons and pepper productivity for water-limited regions of Texas. Researchers demonstrated a 36% and 25% water savings in specialty melons and hot peppers.
- Plant growth regulators alleviated transplant shock and reduce crop losses in stressful environments; this can result in significant savings or more profits for high-value crops such as tomato, pepper, and watermelon.
- Researchers collaborated with corn breeders at the Lubbock Center to test the effect of irrigation timing on corn growth and yield. Delivering water through night time drip irrigation appears to significantly reduce root zone temperature, which translates into a 10% increase in yield.
- A three-year research project showed that integrating strip tillage into a cropping system increased watermelon yield efficiency by 15%.
- A cropping system project determined that the use of cover crops reduces wind erosion, thereby improving air quality. It also allows for more efficient use of land. In response to regional growers’ requests, researchers are expanding this project by adding drought-tolerant crops into the rotation systems.
- Researchers studied the use of starch-based, biodegradable plasticulture mulch and found that these mulches degrade almost 100% after 12 months in the field. Biodegradable plastic mulch requires minimal or no labor costs to remove and dispose of after harvest and can mitigate soil environmental pollution better than polyethylene plastic.
- Research on screening efficient sources of organic fertilizers can potentially enhance soil microbial activities, soil physical and chemical properties, and plant performance. This study will help Texas organic growers maximize their profitability.
- The vegetable physiology team assisted plant breeders in the development of a new tomato cultivar ‘TAM Hot-Ty’, which provides excellent quality, is heat and virus resistant, and produces high yields on a small, compact plant, saving both space and water. This cultivar has attracted the attention of Texas growers and retailers.
- The vegetable team conducted field trials of numerous elite TAMU pepper hybrids to evaluate yield, fruit quality, and resistance to viruses and bacterial leaf spot. This led to identification of three hybrids for commercial license by a seed company and 10 others for further testing with commercial growers.
- The vegetable team evaluated 34 experimental TAMU hybrids, 29 elite inbred lines, and 21 commercial cultivars of specialty cantaloupe melons. This led to identification of 5 candidate hybrids for larger commercial trials; these have high sugars, large fruit, and resistance to powdery mildew.
- Researchers developed integrated crop strategies — from transplanting to harvest — for artichoke, a specialty crop for Texas. Research on improving stand establishment of artichoke showed that using a low level of nitrogen fertilization can improve transplant quality and the plants’ ability to withstand drought and heat shock in the field. These results will also improve profitability by reducing fertilizer costs for growers.
- The breeding and physiology pepper programs jointly released 15 disclosures of jalapeño pepper inbred lines and three habanero pepper lines.
- Research and extension faculty are evaluating the adaptation of specialty crops for growth in southwest Texas. They are studying stress management, nitrogen fertilization, and irrigation practices (drip, center pivot, hydroponics) on a variety of new crops, such as globe artichokes, diverse melon types, Bibb and Romaine lettuce, kale and other leafy greens, determinate tomatoes, olives, and grapes.
- The Agronomy program is developing computing tools for physiologists and breeders to collect and process large amounts of plant and soil data. This will have implications for adoption in both high- and low-input systems.
- Researchers collaborated with USDA scientists to build a multisensory cart for high throughput phenotyping and crop-traits monitoring. This innovative tool will facilitate screening and selection of improved genotypes with drought and heat-stress tolerance and high productivity.
Improving water use efficiency
The agronomy program team led by Dr. Xuejun Dong is collaborating with researchers at College Station, Lubbock, and Amarillo in developing novel phenotyping tools to identify crop shoot/root traits with improved water use efficiency under different management regimes. To assist precision irrigation, a crop growth model is being developed for integration into an irrigation control platform teamed with TEES researchers. The agronomy group also is partnering with Sesaco co. to conduct a multi-year field test on sesame growth responses to irrigation regimes in southwest Texas.
Role of plant osmolytes
The genomic and metabolomics team led by Dr. Vijay Joshi is studying the regulation of citrulline metabolism and genetic variability in the selected watermelons parental accessions. Using the facilities at Texas A&M AgriLife Genomics and Bioinformatics Services, the team is carrying out transcriptomic studies (RNA-Seq analysis) in sesame to understand the molecular mechanisms of drought stress tolerance.
To develop a sustainable resistance to sugarcane aphids in sorghum, the team has initiated a collaborative project to characterize defense related genetic and metabolic cues in the founder lines using Nested Association Mapping (NAM) populations.
Developing better cropping and irrigation strategies for specialty crops
The Vegetable Physiology team led by Dr. Daniel Leskovar is credited with developing integrated strategies from transplanting to harvest of globe artichoke, a new specialty crop in Texas.
The team is also researching hydroponic management strategies by:
- manipulating the nutrient solution
- monitoring the environmental conditions to reduce tip-burn and bolting
- by screening bibb and romaine lettuce cultivars more adapted to protected environments.
Drs. Daniel Leskovar, Xuejun Dong, in conjunction with faculty at the Weslaco Center are investigating Novihum, a novel lignite-soil amendment to use for improvement in nutrient and water uptake, soil biological activity, and nutritional status of bell pepper under sandy and clay soils.