2020 was a banner year for Organic Research in Texas. It has been a long-time dream of Dr. Rick Vierling to have an organic research farm and to staff it with a full-time organic researcher and both dreams came together in 2020. Dr. Vierling is the Center Director for the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Vernon, Texas as well as Director for Texas Foundation Seed. In these roles he knows the struggles farmers have with low commodity prices, but he has also seen the significant rise in demand for high quality organically produced products. Organic production works well for many Texas farmers and West Texas is ideally suited for organic production. So, in 2020, after years of work, a 99-acre farm about 7 miles south of the Vernon Center was purchased and an immediate transition to organic production was begun. This 99-acre farm will become the AgriLife Organic Research Station and will be solely used for organic breeding, research, and seed production. The Organic Research Station will be an AgriLife wide asset meaning that both research scientists and extension specialists from across Texas will utilize the facility for research, teaching and education.
But the dream didn’t stop there! In August of 2020, Dr. Vierling was able to hire a new organic research scientist, Dr. Waltram Ravelombola. Dr. Ravelombola is now developing the Specialty & Organic Crops Breeding Program at Vernon, a unique and new program within the Texas A&M System. The ultimate goal of this program is to release organic crop cultivars that are significantly lacking in Texas organic agriculture. Potential crops include organic legumes, peanuts, barley, and other small-grain crops.
Little work has been done in breeding specific crops for adaptations to organic farming systems. This program is a pioneering effort within the State of Texas and even nationally. The program will lead efforts on establishing trait selection criteria for organic breeding. Disease and pest resistance, weed competitiveness, nutritional quality, and tolerance to abiotic stresses are among the top priorities for this program.