State of Organics in Texas

Did you know that there are estimated to be around 245,000 farms in Texas – that’s a lot, more than any other state.   Of this 245,000 we have around 360 organic farms in Texas or 0.15% – that’s not a lot, especially when you consider there are over 29 million people in Texas.  Just consider this fact, there are 24,719 fast food restaurants in Texas with $25 billion in sales.  Currently we have 398 organic certified entities in Texas buying and selling organic foods and hopefully some of that food is coming from our Texas organic farm families.  

As we look at Texas with its wonderful climate, growing population, abundant resources and outstanding people, Organic Agriculture has only one way to go – UP!

Potential Pesticide Drift on Organic Fields

The Texas Boll Weevil Eradication Foundation (TBWEF) needs your help, and it will be a big help to you!  They want all organic farmers close to any Texas cotton field, to let the TBWEF know where they are located so there are no accidental drifts onto your certified organic fields.  They will GPS locate and mark your fields so that they can protect them.  You can contact TBWEF at 800-687-1212 or email at communications@txbollweevil.org or contact me at bob.whitney@ag.tamu.edu and I will get them your information.

Organic Corn Silage, Potential Medicine for Dairy Cows?

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Almost everyone wants to eat healthy, and some folks really do eat healthy!  Researchers are constantly reminding us about the health benefits of antioxidants, but did you know that they are good for dairy cows too?  

Texas A&M AgriLife Researchers at the Lubbock and Stephenville Research and Extension Centers as well as Tarleton State University are conducting a dairy cow feeding research trial with a new high anthocyanin corn silage variety.  Anthocyanins are a class of compounds that may offer anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, and anti-cancer benefits – to dairy cows.  This means that as the dairyman feeds his cows, they are eating feeds that will reduce long term health issues and keep the cows healthy and productive longer.  

This corn silage variety is NON-GMO and has been developed specifically for organic dairies in Texas.  Texas A&M AgriLife has the license for the technology and is working with both the Texas Corn Producers Board and a private company to research the dairy cow benefits.  Stay tuned for future results of this study!

Organic and Conventional Agriculture: Learning from Each Other to Promote Soil Health and Economic Viability in West Texas

by Dr. Katie Lewis, Texas A&M AgriLife Research-Lubbock

In Texas only about 16 percent of all cropped acres are under some conservation tillage. In semi-arid environments, soil health promoting practices such as cover crops are not well received due to potential soil moisture use and additional input costs. 

However, organic producers have been successful in these environments using crop rotation and cover crops under irrigated and dryland agriculture. It has been estimated that around half of Texas producers are open to the idea of organic farming and thousands of farms are already using at least some organic methods. The National Center of Appropriate Technology (NCAT) recommended that assistance to transitioning producers be a priority as well as a greater commitment for university research and extension efforts in organic production to accelerate the closing of the gap between consumer demand and the supply of Texas grown organic products. 

While Texas lags in organic production overall, Texas is the leading producer of organic cotton, peanuts, and rice. Texas grows over 90 percent of the organic cotton, 95% of the organic peanuts and 41 percent of the organic rice in the U.S. However, organic management practices are not always considered sustainable as tillage is the primary weed control tool. In addition, full benefits of cover crops may not be realized in organic production systems of West Texas as very low seeding rates coupled with early termination via tillage are common. 

We have teamed with the Texas Peanut Producers Board and Texas Organic Cotton Marketing Cooperative to identify agronomic production limitations in respective organic systems. In addition, the research team has a long history of working closely with farmers using conservation measures in conventional cropping systems. Our long-term study goal is to identify management practices that enhance soil health in organic and conventional agriculture and share successful practices that may be incorporated within respective farming operations to improve soil health and economic viability. Results from this project will empower both organic and conventional growers to make informed decisions on inputs that will result in effective soil health promoted practices and optimum economic options.

New Texas A&M Farm and Researcher Dedicated to Organics in Texas

Dr. Waltram Ravelombola, Assistant Professor and AgriLife Researcher – Vernon Research and Extension Center

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. 

New Statewide Organic Programs Specialist

You may be wondering why you are getting this organic newsletter?  I am sure your inbox is full enough but if you have an interest in growing, producing, marketing, making, or selling anything organic I hope you find this newsletter has your interest and curiosity!

I (Bob Whitney) am the new Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Specialist – Statewide Organic Programs in the Agricultural Economics Department.  My job is so new that what I might be doing is still being developed!  Some of the things I hope to do include providing guidance to producers or other entities wanting help with organic certification.  To serve as a liaison connecting organic operators (farm to retail) to Extension and Research scientists to provide guidance on general and specific questions about organics. To communicate with the Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) and other organic certifiers to help facilitate compliance with organic certification requirements. Through this process I hopefully can provide feedback to Texas A&M AgriLife and TDA on the state of organic agriculture based on the many interactions I will have with farmers, ranchers, and other organic businesses. In addition, I will work to eliminate any barriers to organic certification and thereby increase the viability of organic agriculture in the state.

There is no reason that as large and diverse as Texas agriculture is, we can’t have an equally large and diverse Organic Agriculture.  Texas should be a place where organic farm families can consistently and sustainably grow and sell high quality organic foods that promote the health and well-being of consumers.  And Texas companies that make and sell organic products from the small organic bakery to a large retailer like Central Market can and will source some if not all their organic ingredients from Texas Organic Farm Families!

If I can help just call, text, or email and please let interested organic enthusiasts know about this program. bob.whitney@ag.tamu.edu or cell 979.571.2086