Cochran Fellows from Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan visit AgriLife center in Uvalde

Writer: Paul Schattenberg, 210-859-5752, paschattenberg@ag.tamu.edu

Contact: Dr. Daniel Leskovar, 830-278-9151, daniel.leskovar@ag.tamu.edu

UVALDE – A group of scientists, teachers, consultants, governmental and non-governmental representatives from Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan recently visited the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Uvalde to learn how work being done there might be adapted in their countries.

Cochran Fellows from Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan discuss topics of interest at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Uvalde. (Texas A&M AgriLife Research photo)

“The purpose of their visit was to learn how utilizing the strengths of the U.S. land-grant system — of which the Texas A&M University System is a part — might help them with efforts toward  soil enrichment and developing sustainable agricultural practices in their countries,” said center director and Texas A&M AgriLife Research plant physiologist Dr. Daniel Leskovar.

Some of the concepts addressed during the center visit were soil and plant water potential and their applications in dryland crop production, plant root traits in relation to water and nutrient acquisition, practical irrigation scheduling using saline water, water conservation and vegetable cropping systems.

Additional concepts included mapping salt tolerance, genomic selection for salt tolerance, plant responses to environmental stress and nitrogen-use efficiency.

“Both Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan have challenges similar to what we see in areas of Texas, including a semi-arid climate, high-temperature stress and limited water for irrigation,” Leskovar said. “These countries also have a lot of salinity in their soils, plus there are also challenges with their infrastructure and systems models.”

The group inspects a tomato field at the center. (Texas A&M AgriLife Research photo)

The group was brought to the U.S. through the Cochran Fellowship Program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service. Participants were selected in collaboration with the U.S. embassies in their respective countries and the cooperation of the University of Arkansas in Pine Bluff. The three-day Uvalde center visit was the group’s last stop before returning to their respective countries after a two-week junket to several locations in Arkansas and Texas.

In Arkansas, the group visited the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, the USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service and Arkansas Farm Bureau offices in Little Rock, the Lon Mann Cotton Research Station and Soil Testing Lab in Marianna, and American Composting Inc. in North Little Rock.

In Texas, the group also visited the USDA-NRCS’s Southern Great Plains Soil Survey Region 9 in Temple; AgPro Equipment near Castroville; Adam Yablonski Farm in Hondo; and the Uvalde County Farmers Cooperative in Knippa. They also participated in a program focused on alfalfa hay, cotton, wheat and forage produced near Balmorhea.

“This trip introduced the group to the U.S. land-grant system and our methods and resources for addressing soil fertility and improvement,” said Dr. Pamela Moore, associate dean for global engagement at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff who accompanied the group throughout their trip. “It also introduced them to our U.S. legal and regulatory system and how things are done here at a state and federal level.”

Dr. Daniel Leskovar, far right, give the Cochran Fellows a greenhouse tour and tells them about the selection, establishment and maintenance of tomato varieties grown in the center’s greenhouse area. (Texas A&M AgriLife Research photo)

For the group’s “experiential learning exercise” at the Uvalde center, they were given a facility tour as well as presentations and hands-on demonstrations of technology and best agricultural practices. They were also shown the facility’s greenhouse operations, including its hydroponics area, and given a firsthand look at equipment and applications relating to vegetable physiology, plant biochemistry, breeding and genetics, and phytonutrients.

“While cotton is the main crop in these countries, the group was also interested in how to improve their vegetable and high-value crop production systems through the use of high tunnels and tomato grafting and pruning practices,” Leskovar said.

AgriLife Research faculty provided several presentations, including presentations on vegetable stress physiology by Leskovar; agronomy and crop ecophysiology by Dr. Xuejun Dong, crop physiologist; plant breeding and genomics by Dr. Subas Malla, vegetable breeder; and plant system physiology by Dr. Vijay Joshi, plant systems biologist. Dr. Kevin Crosby, vegetable breeder  based in College Station, gave a presentation on vegetable breeding and cultivar selection and performed a tomato grafting demonstration.

Graduate students at the center were also asked to present to the group. Andrea Macias gave a presentation on onion transplant production systems, while Kwan Kin presented on the impact of humic substances on growth yield and quality of bell pepper, and Rahul Raman presented on crop rotational systems.

During the last day, participants from both countries provided reflections from the visit and proposed action plans to be implemented upon their return to their countries.

“We were very interested in learning about technologies and practices for growing tomato varieties in greenhouses and how to graft tomato varieties,” said Dr. Farida Abdullaeva, a senior researcher at Urgench State University, Khorezm Region, Uzbekistan. “If we can grow vegetables like tomatoes, cucumbers and cabbage in greenhouses, we can avoid the need for a heating system and can harvest in early spring to get a much better price.”

Water conservation was a topic of particular importance to the groups.

The group views a  demonstration on the use of a hand-held meter for rapid measurement of soil salinity and pH. (Texas A&M AgriLife Research photo)

“We have problems with salinity and also with getting water from our aquifers,” said Yazguly Atayev, an instructor at Turkmen Agriculture Institute. “When I return I want to get my students involved in efforts to reduce soil salinity and also in how to use organic waste for composting to add nutrients to the soil.”

Leskovar said the group was enthusiastic about their visit to the center and were anxious to return to their respective countries and share and apply the knowledge and practices they learned about during their visit.

“Along with the scientists and instructors, one of the businessmen who visited, Nurygdy Yagmyrov, owner and director of Nurly Meydan in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, said he not only wanted to explore opportunities with vegetables, but also possibly find more heat-tolerant breeds of cattle that might be suited for that country,” Leskovar said.

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