Weslaco workshop to address alternative orchard crops and small-farm loans

Alternative crops include pomegranate, fig, blackberry and papaya

WESLACO  –  The Orchard Crops and Small-Farm Loans Workshop will be held from 9 a.m.- 2:30 p.m. March 21 at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center, 2401 E. Highway 83 in Weslaco.

Dr. John Jifon, a Texas A&M AgriLife Research crop physiologist at Weslaco, evaluates several early and mid-season varieties grown using white plastic mulch to conserve water. (AgriLife Research photo courtesy of Dr. John Jifon)

Dr. John Jifon, a Texas A&M AgriLife Research crop physiologist at Weslaco, evaluates several early and mid-season varieties of papaya grown using white plastic mulch to conserve water. (AgriLife Research photo courtesy of Dr. John Jifon)

Registration starts at 8:30 a.m., according to Barbara Storz, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service horticulturist in Edinburg.

The workshop will be hosted by AgriLife Extension, the National Center for Appropriate Technology and the Cooperative Extension Program at Prairie View A&M University. A registration fee of $20 includes lunch.

“This is a program for landowners in South Texas who would like to produce a relatively low-cost yet profitable alternative crop on a few acres,” Storz said. “This could include people who have never grown anything for profit, or it might be somebody who is looking to replace citrus. We’ll also have some valuable information on a new type government loan often referred to as a micro loan.”

Among the alternative orchard crops to be discussed are pomegranate, fig, blackberry and papaya, she said.

“Monte Nesbitt, an AgriLife Extension fruit and pecan specialist in College Station, will start the program with these three crops suitable for South Texas. Pomegranate is especially attractive because it’s a moderately drought-tolerant plant.”

Several new varieties of pomegranate have been tested in the Uvalde area, including varieties with soft seeds that can be eaten along with the pulp, Storz said. The soft-seeded varieties do well in the Lower Rio Grande Valley climate because they originate in hot, dry areas but are not very cold tolerant.

“Some of these varieties are more flavorful than those typically found in the commercial trade today,” she said. “Blackberry and fig also grow well in South Texas conditions, crops that tend to show up in backyards here. But there is a potential to grow them under an orchard

management system.”

Several experts will then discuss financial assistance for small-acreage growers.

“The requirements for micro loans of $3,500 will be discussed by Benito Garcia, with Texas Ag Finance in Edinburg. Arnulfo Lerma, with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency in Edinburg, will provide information on small-farm loans of $35,000 and under. And finally, Bruce Henderson of  USDA’s Natural Resource and Conservation Service in Corpus Christi and Edinburg, will talk about various orchard crop practices that can be implemented and reimbursed under that agency’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program.”

After lunch, Dr. John Jifon, a Texas A&M AgriLife Research crop physiologist in Weslaco, will provide information on his studies of a wide variety of papayas.

“After his presentation, Jifon will invite the audience to participate in a papaya taste-test to help determine which varieties are more popular with consumers,” Storz said. “There are several varieties in his study that he believes are superior in taste to those currently available at retail outlets.”

Registration is available by calling AgriLife Extension at 956-383-1026 or 800-638-8239.

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