UVALDE - Quietly and consistently, the people at the Texas A&M University System Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Uvalde have been helping Texans with a variety of agricultural issues for more than 30 years.
While much of the center’s work has gone unheralded, it has played a significant role in supporting and expanding one of the region’s major industries.
“Of the 28 counties making up the Southwest Texas region our center serves, agricultural production is the primary economic base for two-thirds of them,” said Joe Peña, professor and Extension management economist at the center.
The center’s efforts have been helpful in securing the economic prosperity of the area, especially as it relates to agriculture and agribusiness, he said.
“Farm and ranch cash receipts from the region exceed more than $1 billion annually,” Peña said. “The receipts are only part of the economic impact. Agriculture and agribusiness bring more than $3.6 billion to communities in the region.”
Agricultural production in the area is almost equally divided between crops and livestock, he added.
Because agricultural production in the state is so diversified, the center was located in Uvalde to help meet the needs of those living in the southwestern part of the state, said Dr. Bill Holloway, the center’s resident director of research.
“The goal of the Uvalde center is to provide residents of this region with useful and practical information, along with technology and technical assistance, that will contribute to their prosperity,” he said.
The research done at the center is implemented through Texas Cooperative Extension, Holloway said.
“The center’s signature’ programs are developed around two valuable commodities in the region,” he added. “Our main research and education efforts focus on water and wildlife. We keep those two things in mind in everything we do. That includes our studies and activities with other regional agricultural cornerstones, such as beef cattle, meat goats, cotton, corn, milo and small grains, and vegetable crops.”
One of the center’s major efforts involves trying to reduce agricultural water use in the region by 25 percent a year.
“We hope to achieve this in the coming years through a combination of technology and a better understanding of plant and animal water needs,” said Holloway. “We’re studying new ways to increase water yield from rangelands and decrease water use from irrigation.”
Remote sensing technology to determine water stress’ of various plants and developing more efficient irrigation scheduling are a few of the methods being used to try and bring more water into area aquifers and rivers, he said.
Wildlife habitat management is another mainstay of the center’s research and Extension education activities.
“We do a lot of research on habitat quality and use, as well as the interaction between wildlife, livestock and other domestic animals,” Holloway said. “Center personnel are involved in managing deer populations, helping control the spread of disease by wildlife, and improving the habitats and nutrition of dove, quail and other area wildlife. Many of these activities benefit nature tourism in the area.”
The center is also involved in research on beef production and finding ways to ensure consistent beef quality.
“Though genetics and animal husbandry, we’re trying to help cattle ranchers produce consistently tender, juicy, flavorful and lean beef,” he said. “We also want to help them manage their land resources as effectively and efficiently as possible.”
Center researchers are doing similar work to produce consistently high quality spinach, cantaloupe, watermelon, peppers and other crops, he said.
“We are also developing new animal breeds and more nutritious crop varieties, such as a high-carotene carrot,” Holloway added.
As part of its public education and outreach for residents of the region, the center also coordinates a variety of programs and activities through numerous county agents of Texas Cooperative Extension. This includes coordination and support of dozens of 4-H programs and activities each year, as well as supporting a variety of consumer education efforts.
“The county agents and others within the Southwest Texas region, which is our District 10, bring a lot of useful information, hands-on education and technical assistance to residents in this area,” said Cheryl Mapston, Extension administrator for the district. “The outreach they do ranges from education on agriculture and natural resources to youth leadership and character development. They also conduct educational programs on nutrition, wellness, safety and financial literacy.”
While located in Uvalde, much of the work done through the center has an impact throughout South Texas, added Holloway.
“Austin and San Antonio, two of the largest metropolitan areas in Texas, are in this region,” he said. “Many of the issues we address through education, research and technology have an effect on these urban areas, as well as the rural areas we serve.”
Some of the center’s major programs, particularly those related to water capture and conservation, may also have an significant impact beyond the region, he said.
“Having a sufficient supply of water is vital to the future of the region and the state,” he said. “We’re working toward better ways to capture and manage this valuable commodity, so it will be available for future generations of Texans.”
The center’s efforts toward conserving the region’s natural resources, as well as toward increasing the prosperity of its residents and improving their quality of life, serve to benefit the entire state, he added.