Scientists discovered that conservation practices in streams of the Upper Mississippi River reduce sediment loads by 31%.
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The Texas A&M Equine Initiative, formed through a joint effort by the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (AGLS) and the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences (CVM), has seen success in elevating the excellent equine program at Texas A&M University.
The Initiative supports many highly recognizable organizations and activities at Texas A&M. These programs include the NCAA women’s equestrian team; Parsons Mounted Cavalry in the Corps of Cadets; teaching, research, and outreach in the two colleges; and work at Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension.
Connected by the Initiative, these programs can more easily benefit from and help each other. The wide variety of equine extracurricular activities such as the Polo Club, the Horse Judging Team, and the Stock Horse Team help prepare the next generation of equine industry leaders. Researchers in animal science and veterinary medicine thrive by interacting with each other as well as with students, horse enthusiasts, and industry partners. The equine industry benefits from educational opportunities, top-notch veterinary care, exceptional program graduates, and the results of world-class research.
The Initiative is led by Dr. Jim Heird, Glenn Blodgett Equine Chair and executive professor. Heird is an internationally renowned equine scholar who was recruited from Colorado State University in 2009 to start and lead the Initiative. Based on an assessment conducted by equine industry experts, he developed four main objectives: facility building, partnership development, outreach and engagement expansion, and curriculum enhancement. He has accomplished much on all four fronts.
Facilities and Partnerships
Perhaps the most visible accomplishment of the Equine Initiative is the Thomas G. Hildebrand, DVM ‘56 Equine Complex, completed in April 2014. The $32 million facility includes a comfortable locker room for the women’s equestrian team; ample stables and arenas to accommodate the team’s horses; and classrooms, offices, and spacious meeting rooms.
“You can’t be a leader in teaching and research without cutting edge facilities and arena and classroom space,” Heird says.
The potential users of the Equine Complex and future equine facilities were asked to provide a wish list for the architects. The user group continues to meet, which brings separate parts of equine-related work at the university into closer contact.
The Initiative has now raised roughly $40 million for its goals. That fact attests to the friends and support that Texas A&M and its equine programs have, Heird says. The Initiative will recognize the donors in October, prior to moving officially into the next phase of building.
Planned phases of construction will include the following, as noted in the October 2014 issue of Texas A&M Animal Science Monthly:
- A new mare reproductive research and educational facility, a new stallion reproductive research and educational facility, and remodeling of the CVM reproduction pavilion.
- A teaching arena for equine science classes and the Polo Club, an equine nutrition and physiology research complex, and an equine reproduction teaching complex.
- Remodeling the Freeman Arena, to be used primarily by the Rodeo Team and the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service Summer Horsemanship School Program, and a thoroughfare from the Freeman Arena to Parsons Mounted Cavalry.
- An equine rehabilitation center.
As part of an array of outreach efforts, the Initiative works with Texas livestock shows to run equine educational contests for youth, says Anna Morrison, the Initiative’s program coordinator. Contestants are not required to bring a horse, Morrison says, and winners receive college scholarships from the livestock shows.
Internationally, Morrison says, the Equine Initiative teaches horsemanship seminars in South and Central America. These seminars are supported by the William R. Verdugo International Horsemanship Camp Grant through the American Quarter Horse Foundation.
At a recent workshop given by the Initiative in Paraguay, the riders’ skills had clearly improved based on recommendations from previous workshops, says AgriLife researcher Dr. Josie Coverdale, associate professor of equine science in the Department of Animal Science in AGLS.
“I had not been back to Paraguay for five years,” says Coverdale, who taught at the workshop along with Heird and Morrison. “The improvement in the skills of riders and quality of horses is a huge testament to the relationships that Dr. Heird has built there.”
Coverdale recognized many participants from previous workshops she had taught through the Equine Initiative.
“You could look around the room and you knew everybody,” she says. “It makes the world a whole lot smaller.”
The equine industry is changing, says Heird. Most jobs no longer involve touching a horse. Care of horses has become more expensive and science-based. To succeed, students must be fully prepared for the new range of career possibilities.
The Department of Animal Science in AGLS now offers an enhanced curriculum that includes a new Master’s degree in Equine Industry Management and an undergraduate Certificate of Equine Science. Heird and Morrison are among the teaching faculty at the department.
Also teaching a course at the department is Dr. Noah Cohen, professor of large animal clinical sciences in CVM.
“We want to give our students the best and most current information, so our job is to move knowledge forward through research,” Cohen says.
Cohen teaches Equine Disease and Epidemiology; his research covers industry-relevant topics such as bacterial pneumonia in foals, and colic. His research is highly collaborative and interdisciplinary by necessity, he says.
“You can’t be creative or innovative if you are stuck in one way of thinking,” he says. “All of us benefit from reaching out. Dr. Heird’s work is to create bridges.”
By Dr. Jim Heird, Glenn Blodgett Equine Chair, Executive Professor and Coordinator, Equine Initiative
The Equine Initiative at Texas A&M was started in 2009 and is a partnership between the Colleges of Agriculture & Life Sciences and Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. Its goal is to utilize the combined excellence of the equine programs and faculty at Texas A&M to better serve the equine industry of Texas, the nation, and the world.
In just a short time, with the help of many within the industry, the Equine Initiative has made phenomenal progress. In April 2014 the first phase of the new Thomas G. Hildebrand, DVM ‘56 Equine Complex was opened and now provides a home for the Texas A&M Equestrian Team, as well as a state-of-the-art teaching and outreach facility. In addition, the curriculum has been enhanced with new courses, an undergraduate Equine Certificate, which utilizes expertise from both colleges, and the new Master of Equine Industry Management program. Further, a new endowed chair has been funded in honor of Dr. Glenn Blodgett of the 6666 Ranch and to preserve a continual leadership position for the Equine Initiative. These projects alone have resulted in gifts of more than $40 million.
The Equine Initiative is now focusing efforts on the next phase of construction. The goal of the second phase is to provide new and modern facilities for the Animal Science equine teaching and research programs, as well as give our world-leading equine reproduction faculty the facilities to support and enhance what they can do for the industry.
If you are interested in learning more about the Equine Initiative please visit equine.tamu.edu, call 979-845-6098, or stop by our new offices at the Thomas G. Hildebrand, DVM ’56 Equine Complex located at 3240 F&B Road in College Station.
For more than 60 years, Texas Water Resources Institute (TWRI) has helped solve priority water issues through research, education, and outreach.
Established in 1952, TWRI has been the state’s official water resources research institute since 1964, when the Water Resources Research Act created a national water resources research program. Today, the institute is one of 54 institutes in the National Institutes for Water Resources, funded by the U.S. Geological Survey. TWRI is also a part of Texas A&M AgriLife Research, the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Texas A&M University.
Dr. Roel Lopez, the institute’s interim director, says TWRI’s mission is more important today than ever before.
“Securing and maintaining ample, clean water is one of the most significant challenges facing Texas today,” Lopez says. “We need strategic and innovative solutions for the serious water supply and water quality issues across the state.”
The institute’s work centers on three program areas: water quality improvement, water sustainability and security, and water resources outreach and training.
“We work not only within Texas A&M University, but we also collaborate with other universities, departments, research and extension centers, and various organizations to offer holistic, effective approaches to addressing the critical water resources issues of our time,” says Dr. Kevin Wagner, TWRI associate director.
The institute is currently involved in more than 20 projects that aim to restore water quality, conserve water, or educate Texans. The projects include collaborating with local stakeholders and governmental organizations to restore water quality in numerous water bodies across Texas and educating private property owners about what they can do to protect and conserve their water resources.
Improving water in the Lower Rio Grande Valley
One new, collaborative project at TWRI addresses water quantity and quality in the Lower Rio Grande Valley. TWRI was recently selected to lead a $2.3 million, five-year initiative funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). The Lower Rio Grande Valley Water Improvement Initiative is part of the new Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). The RCPP is a 2014 Farm Bill program that supports collaborative efforts to deliver conservation assistance to producers and landowners.
The RCPP is a competitive program that funded only 115 out of the 600 projects submitted throughout the country. In addition to leading the Lower Rio Grande Valley project, TWRI is a collaborator on the only other RCPP project funded specifically in Texas: the Texas Gulf Coast Stream and Wetland Initiative. That project, led by the Resource Institute, Inc., focuses on restoring and protecting headwater stream and wetland systems within a 54-county area that includes portions of six major rivers in the Texas Gulf Coast region.
For the Lower Rio Grande Valley project, TWRI will leverage the $2.3 million from the NRCS with more than $7 million of in-kind contributions from project partners: Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board, Texas Water Development Board, Harlingen Irrigation District, Rio Grande Regional Water Authority, Black and Veatch, and Cameron County Irrigation District #2.
Addressing water conservation and nutrient management
The Lower Rio Grande Valley’s population growth, Wagner says, puts pressure on region’s limited water supplies and heightens the need for water conservation, especially in agriculture.
“Between 2010 and 2060, population in the region is expected to grow 142 percent,” he says. According to the 2012 Rio Grande Regional Water Plan, an additional supply of 610,000 acre-feet of water a year will be needed by 2060.
The region’s water quality problems also need to be addressed. The Arroyo Colorado and Rio Grande have been identified as priority Texas watersheds for addressing pollution from many diffuse sources (nonpoint source pollution), such as runoff from agricultural and urban lands. Degraded water quality calls for improved nutrient management and management of irrigation return flows, Wagner says.
“A reduction in nutrients in the Arroyo Colorado is needed to help control excessive algal growth, improve dissolved oxygen levels, and restore aquatic health in the Arroyo’s zone of impairment,” he says.
“Although addressing water quantity is the primary concern, water quality and quantity are inseparable and intricately linked in the Valley,” Wagner says.
To address the critical water issues in the Valley, project partners will work together to enhance agricultural water use efficiency and improve nutrient management on irrigated cropland in the Valley through improved irrigation delivery and scheduling, and innovative irrigation techniques and technologies.
“These innovations will decrease water use, improve productivity and reduce irrigation return flows, thus reducing nutrient and sediment loading to local water bodies,” he says. “However, our approach goes beyond on-farm conservation—although that is critically important—and includes regional planning, irrigation water delivery, education and outreach, and monitoring.”
Providing solutions throughout Texas
The problems facing the Lower Rio Grande Valley are not unusual. Major water quantity and water quality problems exist in many parts of Texas, affecting the environment and the economy.
Recognized as a leader in Texas water issues, the Texas Water Resources Institute will continue to work on these challenges. The institute will continue to provide needed expertise, develop strong, interdisciplinary partnerships, and share important water information with Texans.