2012 International Spinach Conference in San Antonio has growing interest

SAN ANTONIO — The recent two-day 2012 International Spinach Conference in San Antonio was attended by about 70 spinach producers and others involved in the spinach industry from the U.S. and other countries, said the conference coordinators.

“The conference included producers and representatives of the spinach industry from the U.S., Canada and Europe,” said Dr. Larry Stein, conference coordinator and Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service horticulturist at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Uvalde. “We were able to address many issues of importance to spinach producer profitability, as well as to consumers of spinach.”

The 2012 International Spinach Conference included a tour of spinach research and production locations in the Winter Garden area. Here David Rodriguez, left, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service horticulturist for Bexar County, inspects a field of Ashley spinach with Jan de Visser, a spinach breeder with Pop Vriend Seeds in Holland. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo)

Topics included methods for improving spinach production, consumer trends in spinach consumption, managing plant disease, ensuring product safety and changing the “Popeye” image of spinach.

On Nov. 30, participants participated in a field tour of Texas Winter Garden spinach-growing areas. The tour included stops in Hondo, Uvalde, La Pryor and Crystal City. Attendees viewed a Del Monte strip trial and plant population study at Martin Farm in Hondo, spinach trials in La Pryor, the Tiro Tres Farms Espinaca packing facility, Del Monte Research Farm disease-screening nurseries, and fungicide and herbicide trials.

“The stops on the tour correlated with the previous day’s conference presentations,” said Marcel Valdez, AgriLife Extension agent for Zavala County. “The spinach industry in Texas began in the Winter Garden area and it continues to be a significant agricultural industry. And while there are not as many acres of spinach planted as in the past, new technologies and methods have made it possible to achieve greater production on fewer acres.”

Valdez said conference attendance by spinach industry experts from seven U.S. states, as well as from England, Germany and the Netherlands, demonstrated spinach is “not just a regional crop, but a global one.”

“The fact of spinach being worldwide is also borne out by the fact that our annual conference was held in Holland last year, was in Texas this year and will be in China next year,” he said.

Spinach trials and equipment used in spinach production were among the areas of interest for those on the field tour, according to coordinators.

“At Crawford Farms, we got to see some of the equipment used for planting wide beds of spinach,” said Ed Ritchie, a third-generation producer in the La Pryor area who was also involved in one of the field trials on the tour. “Participants also got to see variety trials for both fresh market and flat-leaf spinach, as well as view the packing of spinach for shipment.”

Ritchie, a produce grower-shipper whose family farm was established 1924, said the tour was helpful in getting first-hand knowledge on which spinach varieties are best suited for commercial production in South Central Texas.

“For many years, Coho had been the preferred spinach variety for both large- and small-scale producers, but seed suppliers are discontinuing making that seed available,” said David Rodriguez, a conference presenter and AgriLife Extension agent for horticulture, Bexar County. “Now Ashley has become a commercially tested and proven alternative for use as both a commercial replacement and for home gardens.”

He said even youth participating in the Children’s Vegetable Garden program of AgriLife Extension in Bexar County, a joint program with the San Antonio Botanical Garden, had planted the new Ashley variety in their garden and that their first “crop” of the new variety would soon be ready for harvest.

Rodriguez touted spinach as a “super-food champion” with nearly twice as much protein, calcium, iron, potassium, Vitamin A, Vitamin B and B2, niacin and Vitamin C as most other leafy greens.

Spinach grown in the Texas Winter Garden area represents about 30 percent of all U.S. spinach consumption. The new Ashley spinach variety is being touted as the commercial and home gardening replacement for Coho, as seed for the Coho variety will no longer be available. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo)

Stein noted that the Ashley semi-savoy Pop Vriend variety had been evaluated as PV-7130 in Winter Garden test plots.

“In our field tests, we have seen that Ashley is disease- and drought-tolerant, and has shown little freeze damage as a result of the cooler fall and winter temperatures in the region,” he said. “Because of the fungus diseases that damage spinach growth and leaf appearance, only certain varieties are recommended, and Ashley shows good resistance to them.”

He said spinach is an ideal cool-season crop for South Central Texas and that commercial growers in this area typically produce about 30 percent of all spinach consumed in the U.S.

“Our annual conference allows us the opportunity to bring together international experts in the areas of spinach research and production and to share the latest information, technology and management practices toward improving spinach production operations and ensuring a safe product for the consumer,” Stein said.

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