The Lower Rio Grande Valley area of Texas is in the southern region of the state, in the area surrounding the Rio Grande River. The arid climate is conducive to growing citrus, sugar cane, potatoes, spinach, and other heat-tolerant vegetables. The challenges this region face include water quality, irrigation efficiency, water conservation, pest management, and crop disease resistance.
The Weslaco Center, located about 60 miles from the Gulf of Mexico, is the main research hub here for Texas AgriLife Research. Research conducted at the center also includes improvement of next-generation crops to create super-nutritious fruits and vegetables; “biofactory” crops, and energy crops to be used as feedstocks for bioenergy and biofuels production.
- A Weslaco researcher developed and evaluated internet-based applications and mobile phone and tablet applications to improve crop efficiency, productivity, and profitability per unit of irrigation of water applied.
- Weslaco scientists are developing “biofactory” crops that produce high-value compounds for medical, therapeutic, and industrial uses.
- One area of disease-resistant research at the Weslaco center is developing virus-resistant transgenic sugarcane and sugarcane that is resistant to broad spectrum of insects that transmit plant viruses.
Crop water efficiency
Dr. John Jifon seeks to increase crop water use efficiency without sacrificing yield by monitoring soil moisture depletion patterns and water variables. Potential outcomes include on-farm water conservation, reduced water production costs related to water supply, and more water available for non-agricultural use.
A watershed and risk management tool for sustainable production of bioenergy feedstocks
Robin Taylor and John Jifon are studying bioenergy crops for biofuel feedstocks – sugarcane, Miscanthus, switchgrass, and miscane. They are using APEX – a watershed and land management simulation model – to evaluate combinations of feedstocks and water options under different weather and soil conditions.
In addition, they are using an economic financial model to estimate production costs and economic feasibility to determine the minimum price at which farmers can grow bioenergy crops. Finally, they will create an online tool for decision makers to evaluate cost-benefit ratios and the risk of investment.
Dr. Jorge de Silva is developing new varieties of sugarcane based on sugar content, resistance to pests and disease, and other methods to encourage high yield of sustainable sugarcane production in South Texas.