WESLACO — Danielle Sekula has been named integrated pest management entomologist for cotton, grain sorghum and corn at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Weslaco, according to an official there.
Sekula replaces several well-known entomologists who have filled the position in years past, including John Norman, LeeRoy Rock and Amanda Anderson (nee Cattaeno), according to Dr. Ruben Saldana, the South District Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service administrator.
Sekula, a native of Edinburg, said assuming her new post fulfilled a lifelong dream.
“Even when I was little, we would drive past the Weslaco Center with my parents and I would say, ‘One of these days I’m going to work there,’ and here I am,” she said.
Sekula began her job Jan. 2 and predicted she would remain for some time.
“I’m from here; I’m home,” she said. “This is my dream job and I plan to be here for the long haul.”
A graduate of Edinburg North High School in 2001, Sekula received her bachelor’s degree in business management and biology from the University of Texas-Pan American in Edinburg in 2006, and her master’s in plant and soil sciences from Texas A&M-Kingsville University in 2008.
While working on her master’s thesis at the Texas A&M-Kingsville University Citrus Center at Weslaco, which involved alternate methods of rust mite control in citrus, Dr. Mamadou Setamou, Sekula’s supervisor and thesis project advisor, realized he was working with one of the best research assistants he had ever encountered.
Setamou, the center’s citrus entomologist, said Sekula’s initiative led to new recommendations for growers that will soon be published in academic journals.
“Danielle is highly motivated, inquisitive, energetic and works well with her peers and the growers,” he said. “I’ve had many students come through my lab, but Danielle loved fieldwork, whereas most students prefer lab work. Danielle excelled at both. Her energy out in the field (orchards) was remarkable; I would tire long before she did.”
It was during an effort to study the ecology of citrus rust mite, an insect that blemishes both citrus leaves and fruit, that Sekula developed a new and effective proactive spray control program that helps growers produce higher quality fruit, Setamou said.
“Common practice for decades had been to spray once citrus rust mite populations were established, but Danielle said, ‘No, let’s try early control.’ She worked tirelessly to document the fact that by spraying early in the year during the trees’ dormant stage, rust mite populations are knocked down, growers get the best residual control and it takes a long time for their populations to come back. We are now recommending that growers use Danielle’s approach, which is a highly beneficial innovation in citrus grove care.”
After leaving his lab in 2008, Setamou said Sekula began working as a field scout at Rio Queen Citrus, Inc., a wholesale citrus shipper in Mission, where she excelled again.
“She quickly became their lead scout and for a while was alone in managing pests on almost 5,000 acres of citrus,” he said. “She did such an excellent job in reducing pest pressure that the overall quality of their citrus improved. She is impressive, fearless and a very quick learner. That’s why I recommended her for the integrated pest management position and why I think she will be a huge asset to the AgriLife Extension and the Valley’s row crops industry. She’s an excellent hire.”
Sekula became interested in biology after working at the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge near the city of Alamo on the Rio Grande, she said. As a park assistant and tour guide, she became fascinated with the native wildlife habitat, especially insects.
“I wanted to make a living in wildlife or agriculture, but it wasn’t until I began working with Dr. Setamou that I discovered I could make a living looking for bugs,” Sekula said. “And now I’m so excited to be working here in Weslaco as an entomologist. I’m not an expert in row crops insects yet, but I’m determined to be molded into the entomologists that growers want. Citrus growers call on me for my expertise and in time so will cotton, sorghum and corn growers.”
Saldana said he has every expectation that Sekula will excel in her new position.
“Danielle has a proven track record and we are fortunate to have her on board,” he said. “She will work exceptionally well with our cotton and grain producers here in South Texas and is already immersing herself in the job. I have every confidence that just as citrus growers did, cotton and grain producers will soon be calling on her to help manage pest populations to increase production.”