About Me

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As an Agriculture Extension Agent for Texas AgriLife Extension Service I have had an opportunity to be involved in just about every aspect of agriculture. From the 5,000 cow dairy to the types of trees to use in a home landscape I have had a chance to learn how the different parts of an agriculture systems work together. Seedless watermelons, drip irrigation, pecan orchard management, fruit crop development, dairy nutrient management, environmental issues confronting agriculture, producer tours, field days, research projects and more have been a part of my life for over 30 years as I lived and breathed agriculture. Since 2004 I have been actively involved in consulting internationally working in Honduras, Guatemala, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, India, and China. I have worked with missionaries and other groups dedicated to alleviating poverty among third world farmers. I lived in the Middle East in 2007-2008 working on a project for the Borlaug Institute of International Agriculture at Texas A&M University. In this project I was the Chief of Party and Team Leader for a $5.7 Million dollar effort to train Iraqi Extension agents and specialists in all aspects of agriculture.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Stephenville Regional Pecan Show Results

The Bell-Williamson Counties Pecan Show was held December 4th and the results of that show produced some great pecans from all the outstanding pecan growers in these two counties. The first place winners in each county pecan show automatically advance to the four regional pecan shows held throughout the state. Bell-Williamson Counties are in the Central Region and all our pecans are judged at the Texas A&M Research and Extension Center in Stephenville by Dr. Tommy Thompson, Pecan Research Geneticist and Dr. Larry Stein, Extension Horticulturalist.
Bell-Williamson County growers always do well in the regional show and this year was no exception. There were 71 entries at the regional show which was held this past Friday, December 12. Seventy one pecan entries is about one-third the normal numbers owing to the significant drought this year.
In the Commercial division there were 42 entries. In the Choctaw class, Warren Sefcik placed first and this pecan was placed Reserve Champion of the Commercial Division. David Phillips placed first with his Desirable and Darwin Karkoska placed third in that class. In the Kiowa class Darwin Karkoska placed first and in the Oconee Class Warren Sefcik placed first as well. In the Mohawk class David Phillips placed first.
In the Classic Division Bell-Williamson growers again did an excellent job with Darwin Karkoska placing first with his Brake and winning Champion Classic. Darwin Karkoska also placed first with his Nacono, Shawnee, and Goertz pecan varieties.

Bell-Williamson Counties Pecan Show Results

The Bell-Williamson County Extension Pecan Committees hosted the annual Bell-Williamson Counties Pecan Show this past Friday, December 8, at the Comanche Community Center. This year’s show featured 28 entries, from 6 area growers. Mr. Bill Ree, State Extension Specialist-Pecan IPM served as the Pecan Show Judge for this year’s show. Bill is known throughout the state for his work in pecan entomology and pecan orchard improvement.
The Commercial Division features pecan varieties that are typically found in commercial orchards and are sold in the largest quantities to Pecan Shellers. The fact that they are sold commercially does not limit their popularity with homeowners and small growers who either eat the pecan themselves or peddle the pecans in roadside stands. Every year new pecans are added to the Commercial Division list and old ones are moved to the Classic Division or dropped completely for lack of interest.
In the commercial division there were 19 entries in 9 classes. In the Cheyenne class Warren Sefcik of Georgetown won the class and this pecan was named Champion of the Commercial division. Robert Kaderka of Taylor placed second and Ronny Wells of Belton placed third. Choctaw is a very popular variety in Central Texas noted for its large size and kernel quality. In the Choctaw class Warren Sefcik won 1st, David Phillips of Little River won 2nd and Darwin Karkoska of Granger won 3rd. In the Desirable class 1st place went to David Phillips, 2nd to Ken Gerstenberg of Belton and 3rd to Warren Sefcik. The Forkert Class was won by Darwin Karkoska. The Reserve Champion Commercial pecan was won by the 1st place entry in the Kiowa class and was shown by Darwin Karkoska of Granger. 2nd place Kiowa went to David Phillips. The Oconee class was won by Warren Sefcik and 2nd place went to Ken Gerstenberg. Both the Mohawk, Sioux and Wichita classes were all won by David Phillips of Little River in Bell County. The Sioux pecan is known for being a small pecan with a long slender shape. Its size of 60 nuts per pound compared to a Choctaw at 36 makes it seems like a “native” pecan. But when you start to shell a Sioux you realize it is thin shelled and the pecan meat is one of the lightest colors you will find in a pecan. It is high in oil content which makes it a constant favorite in taste tests.
The Classic Division is made up of pecan varieties that are no longer propagated by commercial orchards but are still enjoyed by growers, hobbyists and homeowners. The Classic Division featured 9 entries in 5 classes. In the Brake Class Darwin Karkoska placed first and this pecan entry was named Champion of the Classic Division with a 58.2% kernel. Darwin Karkoska also placed first with his Nacono entry and Ken Gerstenberg placed 2nd. In the Shawnee class Darwin Karkoska placed first. The Variety Seedling class features pecans from trees where only one parent is known. In this class there were two entries, Darwin Karkoska again placed first and David Phillips placed 2nd. The Other Variety class is for pecan varieties that do not have a specific class and so all are judged together. The winner of the Other Variety class was Darwin Karkoska with a Goertz Seedling and this pecan was named Reserve Champion of the Classic Division. David Phillips placed second with his Imperial and he also entered an Aggie variety to win 3rd.
The Native Pecan Division consists of pecans grown on trees that are the result of nature planting the trees mostly in pecan bottoms. The genetic background of the trees is unknown but in some cases the pecans can be quite good. In fact many “native” Texans claim that the only good pecan is a native. It is a myth to think that natives have to be small and hard shelled in order to be termed “native”. Many natives are thin shelled and large compared to other native pecans. There have been many years that native pecan entries from the Bell-Williamson pecan show have won the state pecan show. Unfortunately this year the native production was very low and growers did not enter.
All first place class winners automatically advance to the Regional Pecan Show held in Stephenville on Friday, December 12th. The first three placings from each class at the Regional shows advance to the State Pecan Show held each July as a part of the Texas Pecan Growers Annual Meeting. Congratulations to all the winners in this year’s Bell-Williamson Counties Pecan Show!

Lessons to Learn from the Drought

I received an article from the Noble Foundation that discusses the three lessons we should learn from the drought or should I say should have learned from the drought. The rains in August/September helped a little but unfortunately our problems continue and will continue mostly as a result of these three lessons.
Number one, “with no plan in place, producers hoped for the best then waited too long to react.” Waiting led to a severe depletion of forage resources and in most cases damaged the very resource that can help see us through a drought. Because there was no plan or even an early discussion of worst case scenarios this led to severe culling in August. In most cases producers would say to me, “you don’t understand, I have been building up my herd for years and I can’t sell them now.” Remember that you not only build your herd but you build your range and pastures. As we have overgrazed the bare spots are now being invaded by noxious weeds like nightshade, broomweed and ragweed and it will take years to recover these areas. No one would suggest selling all the animals but as was said by many in the drought of 2005, you should only plan for a drought by only using 70% of your potential forage resources in any one year.
Number two, “too often this year, the focus has been on figuring out how to rough them through” rather than maintaining adequate body condition (BCS 5). Producers that use palpation as a way to determine pregnancy and ultimately cow culling are seeing much lower conception rates in fact some might say disastrous! As cow condition slips cows don’t breed or they lose their calves. Only a bred cow has a chance to pay off their drought debt at some point in their lifetime. You must keep your cows in Body Condition Score “5” year round or expect to see reproduction go south.
Number 3, “emergency feeding and marketing were and continue to be nightmares in herds with year round calving.” When you are in supplementation or even full feeding situations like we are in, it is impossible to economically or efficiently feed dry cows and nursing cows together. They have completely different nutritional needs and then you add in the problem of calf ages all over the place and weaning/marketing is even more messed up. Define your breeding season and stick to it. In this area spring calving, fall weaning fits our forage base but whatever time you choose STICK to it.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Pecan Varieties: Where Do They Come From?

In the preface to Dr. Tommy Thompson’s book entitled “Pecan Cultivars - Past and Present he says there are over 1,000 pecan cultivars (varieties) and he documents 1,012 in his book plus 44 hican cultivars. Of all these cultivars we only truly know the parentage, at least one parent, of 156 cultivars leaving all others to be called natives or seedlings. Needless to say we don’t know a lot about the pecans we so dearly love to eat and grow.
Basically there are three categories of pecans used currently to identify pecan cultivars. The first is Native Cultivars. These trees and their resultant nuts have by chance been planted by flood waters, birds, squirrels, etc. and have grown up and flourished in the environment in which they grew. Natives are by no means always small and hard shelled, in fact we have several named varieties today that started out as just chance seedlings known as natives. Consider the Burkett pecan tree grown throughout Texas and it started as a single tree found in Callahan County. There are literally hundreds of named cultivars that started out as native pecans but over time the person who owned the tree named them and then propagated them because they were good pecans. Most of this naming of natives happened prior to 1920 and since then we have used controlled crosses.
The second category of pecans is Seedlings. These pecans originate from a nut planted by man, where only one or neither parent is known. The planted nut could be from a native or an improved cultivar but when it was planted they really didn’t know what kind of tree or pecan that it would make. For instance the Western variety is one of the largest planted pecan varieties in West Texas and New Mexico and it is a San Saba seedling meaning it was a nut planted from a San Saba pecan tree by E.E. Risien. All we know is that the female parent is a San Saba pecan but we don’t know where the male pollen came from so it is called a seedling. Schley and Mahan are both like this too where only one parent is known. In some cases we don’t even know what one of the parents is but it was planted by man from a favorite native pecan tree and grew up to be good trees such as Stuart or Success.
The last category of pecans is Pedigreed Cultivars. This category is made up of pecans where both parents are known because some form of pollination control was used in producing the seed nut. Basically the female nutlets are covered so that no pollen can get to the pistillate flower cluster and then when it is receptive male pollen from another tree is brought over and fertilizes the nutlet. This cross results in a nut with the genes from two identified cultivars. This nut is planted and grows up into a tree and if the nuts from this tree are of exceptional quality and the tree doesn’t suffer from any problems then the nut may be released with an official name.
This may sounds like an easy process but it is anything but easy. It takes years to know if a cross will be of the quality growers need and expect. For instance many pecan varieties can do extremely well as young trees, such as Cherokee, but as they get older their bad qualities begin to show up such as overbearing, dark kernels and poorly filled nuts. Pecan breeders don’t know this until they grow the trees 20 years or more. Basically the process involves making lots of crosses between the two varieties so that there are lots of nuts produced from the same two parents. These nuts are planted and grown until a fruiting bud or limb can be taken from the small tree and placed on a large tree. This step bypasses the long process of growing a small tree till it produces nuts. These grafted or budded limbs are carefully marked with the number of each tree that they came from and then when it produces nuts they are evaluated for quality and size. Of all the crosses with the same parents there may be only one or two that have good nut quality, but if they do, then those trees that did make the first hurdle are further evaluated for production.
Just imagine how hard it is to know which cultivars to cross, there are trillions of possibilities and even if you identify a cross that seems like it might be good you have to make hundreds of cross of those two parents before you might get one that works. For instance Forkert and Jackson are full siblings, same parents crossed at the same time. Forkert is considered a commercial variety with 49 nuts per pound and grading 62% kernel - excellent. Jackson on the other hand has 38 nuts per pound meaning it is a bigger pecan but it only grades 52% kernel. The Jackson tree is considered a “trash” tree producing “trash” nuts because they’re not filled out. These two trees are from the same parents but totally different and this difference is what makes pecan breeding so very hard and time consuming.

Moving House Plants Indoors Can Create Problems

The recent cold weather has forced all of us to bring our houseplants inside and many times when the house plants come inside so do the problems. My wife has already had a problem on her African violets with citrus mealy bug insects and I’m sure there will be some other aphids appear on the other porch plants that are now houseplants. Anytime we put plants outside for the warm months they do very well but they also have an opportunity to pick up many insect problems. Outside predators, beneficial diseases, and cultural practices like a good rain or water shower do a good job keeping the harmful bugs from being a problem. Once inside though these pests can grow and multiply quickly in a warm environment free from disturbance. Here is a list of major house plant insects and signs of damage to look for.
Aphids are tiny soft bodied insects that are from lime green to yellow in color. They suck the plant juices through a piercing sucking mouthpart. The damage will show up as yellow, discolored leaves and you can usually find the insects on the new growth. Taking the plant outdoors on a warm day and spraying with strong blasts of water works well or you can use a spray of water and vinegar on a regular basis. A pyrethrin based insecticide is the safest chemical control.
Mites are a particularly bad problem if you get them. These very tiny insects on the undersides of leaves will suck out the chlorophyll leaving white spots on the leaf surface. They are hard to control, but strong water sprays on a regular basis do help. I use products containing Neem but check labels for the mention of spider mites before purchasing an insecticide.
Snails and slugs love house plants because we usually keep the soil so moist and the pot full of dead leaves. You can know if you have problems by the characteristic silvery streaks left on leaves from their travels. The best method of control is hand picking them off. You can buy a prepared slug bait or use diatomaceous earth or even beer in a lid. They’re heavy drinkers!
Mealybugs are beautiful insects, unfortunately they are harmful. Mealybugs look like very tiny balls of cotton. They move very slowly and suck out plant juices at the stems and leaf bases which cause wilting. Mealybugs can be dabbed with a Q-tip dipped in alcohol or sprayed with citrus oil, or neem oil. Diatomaceous earth can be spread on the leaf and stem surface.
Scale insects can be seen as small bumps on the surface of the stem. They really look natural until sufficient numbers are reached so that you notice them. The first stage of scale insects is called crawlers when they hatch from the egg. These crawlers move along the stem until they locate a good location to feed and then begin to secrete wax in tufts around their body. These waxy tufts form the “scale appearance” that resembles the bump on a stem. Scale is somewhat hard to control because this wax forms a fairly good barrier to other insect predators and to some insecticides. Using an oil based spray like citrus oil will smother the scale giving good control. Be careful anytime you use an oil based spray because they can be harmful to the plant if the oil is too heavy.
Have you seen small gnats flying in the house because this can be a common problem with house plants? Fungus gnats are small flies that are blackish with long legs. Since they're flies, they only have two wings. The larvae are maggot-like and live in the soil of potted plants and they are the real problem since they eat plant roots. Overwatering may be the main problem and a simple way to get rid of the gnats is to reduce the water supplied to the plant by only watering the plant when the soil is dry. Reducing the water supply will get rid of the larvae so will eventually reduce the adult gnats seen flying around. There is no good way to get rid of the adults that are already present.
One last house plant problem is not insect related at all. Remember that heaters do a great job protecting from the cold but they also dry out the air. Keeping house plants away from vents and also spraying with water occasionally will keep them much healthier. Another trick is to buy a spray form of anti-transparent to keep the leaf from releasing too much moisture in the dry winter time.

Mistletoe: Friend or Foe

Talking about mistletoe (Pharadendron engelmanni) this time of year usually reminds you of the Christmas season, presents, stealing a kiss, etc. but unfortunately that is all the pleasurable thoughts most have of mistletoe because it is a parasite for trees all the rest of the year.
A parasite is an organism that derives its survival from another living entity in this case mistletoe is the parasite and trees are the living entity on which it must survive. In this area we see most of the mistletoe on American elm, cedar elm, hackberry and blackjack oak. For some reason these trees seem to be easy hosts for mistletoe to grow in. Mistletoe is dependent on the host tree for all water and dissolved minerals. It is however, a chlorophyll containing plant which manufactures the sugars and starches needed in its growth and development.
Mistletoe stems bear conspicuous green, leathery leaves which persist for several seasons. Nutrients and water are supplied from an absorbing system called haustoria which develops in the bark and wood of the host tree. Flowers are born in the leaf axil and produce the familiar, nearly clear, whitish berries in late fall and winter. These berries are very poisonous to humans so don’t let children play with mistletoe.
Within the tough outer coat of the berry is a single seed which is embedded in a sticky pulp. Birds feed on this sticky pulp and discard the seeds which stick to their bills, feet or other parts of the body. In this way the seeds are carried to other trees or other branches of the same tree and deposited on the bark. When conditions are right the seeds germinate sending root-like structures into the host plant and another parasite is developed.
There are no sure fire ways to control mistletoe. You can break it off but it will eventually grow back. It is recommended that you cut a limb at least 12 inches past the mistletoe to insure that you get all the roots. This of course could really make your tree look bare if you take all the mistletoe out. There are no chemical controls that are currently effective. Weed or brush killers are not recommended because they can move the chemical into the tree through the mistletoe. Mistletoe seldom kills a tree but it can weaken a tree so that it becomes infected with other tree diseases. Having said this, the potential that mistletoe will severely harm a tree is minimal.

Lichens

I get calls all the time about lichens on trees and the supposed harm they are doing. Lichens are the leafy, grey-green looking growths that appear on the bark of trees. Lichens are an example of a symbiotic relationship between algae and certain fungi and as such are capable of producing their own food. The effect of lichens on a tree are only slightly detrimental owing mostly to their appearance which can be “crusty” looking. These are not parasites like mistletoe but are called epiphytes since they derive their nutrition from the air and not from the plant they grow on. Lichens can indicate a problem with the tree they are growing on. They need sunlight to grow so it may indicate a thin or thinning, unhealthy tree but not because of the lichens. If you still insist on taking them out then spray your tree with copper compounds which are deadly to fungi and algae.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Upcoming Events to Note

A Farm and Ranch Seminar in Hearne, Texas for those who want pesticide credit this is the place to go. They are offering 7.5 pesticide credit hours with credits in Laws and Regulations, IPM and Drift. Contact number is 979/828-4270.

Central Texas Regional Pecan Show to be held in Stephenville at the Research and Extension Center on Hwy 281. Show processing starts at 9:00 a.m. and the judging after 1 pm.

Beltwide Cotton Conference in San Antonio January 5-8. This is the largest cotton conference in the world and well worth attending considering how close it is.

Central Texas Cow Calf Clinic to be held at the Milano Livestock Auction in Milano, Texas. The clinic will be held on January 9 starting at 9 am and lasting till 3 pm. Excellent information for beef producers on forages and cattle.

Tree Pruning and Training Seminar to be held on January 12 at 6 pm at the Extension meeting room at 3151 SE Inner Loop in Georgetown. This is a Williamson County Master Gardener sponsored program featuring Rob Grotty with the Texas Forest Service. Rob will also cover information on Oak Wilt Disease.

Vegetable Production Shortcourse to be held at the Williamson County Grain meeting room in Taylor, Texas on January 22. The meeting will start at 9 a.m. and continue through lunch. 2 pesticide credits will be offered.

On January 28 the Professional Grounds Conference will be held in Belton Texas at the Bell County Expo Center. This is a fantastic conference with presentations on turf, landscape plants, trees, irrigation and School IPM. The conference starts at 8 am and goes till 3 pm and includes a trade show. 5 CEU’s will be offered.

Taking Care of Poinsettias

Although the poinsettia is among the most traditional symbols of the Christmas season, it was cultivated by the Aztecs of Mexico long before the introduction of Christianity to the Western Hemisphere.
Poinsettias were first introduced into the United States in 1825 by Joel Robert Poinsett. While serving as the first U.S. ambassador to Mexico, he had occasion to visit Taxco, south of Mexico City where poinsettias grow wild on the hillsides. Poinsett, a botanist when he wasn’t a politician, had some plants sent to his home in Greenville, South Carolina. After supplying his greenhouses, Poinsett also distributed plants to various botanical gardens and to some friends including John Bartram of Philadelphia. John Bartram gave them to a nurseryman friend, Robert Buist, who saw the potential for commercial sales and began production of what turned out to be the largest greenhouse crop grown in the U.S.
Poinsettias are normally grown for sale at Christmas time but by control of photoperiod and temperature they can flower almost any time. Many who buy plants want to keep them from year to year and this is a good thing but there are some problems.
Poinsettias are quite sensitive to light. They need at least 11 hours and 45 minutes of darkness to cause flower bud initiation and you can get a quicker response if the hours are increased to 14 or 15. The problem is that exposures of light even as low as less than 2 foot-candles will nullify the effect of darkness. Homeowners who try to grow poinsettias from year to year grow them indoors and unfortunately common house lights at night will not allow flower initiation.
The other problem homeowners have growing flowering poinsettias is temperature. Poinsettias require night temperatures of 62- 64 degrees F to ensure the most rapid development under the correct photoperiods in late September and October. Most homes are kept at 68 F or better and without low temperatures the plants just keep growing leaves and not flowers. After 10-14 days of the correct photoperiod and temperature you can then raise the temperature to 67- 68F to favor bract development.
Why can’t we keep these wonderful plants and have flowers every year? I think you can see that it is not the plant but the way we try to grow the plant that prevents flowering.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Bareroot, Balled and Burlapped and Container Grown Plants

Winter is a great time to plant trees and shrubs. It is highly recommended that you put any tree or shrub out well before hot weather to give plants a time to grow some roots before they have to face hot temperatures. Now this winter is a little different than most since we haven’t had rain so planting any plant may take some pre-watering to even be able to dig a hole!
Container plants have the advantage of having all of their roots intact and ready to grow if the pot was properly cared for. Container grown plants are great but be careful! Nurseries grow plants in pots so that they can be sold easily but trees continue to grow even in a pot. This growing means that pots can become too small for the tree as it grows and so the plant becomes root-bound (stunted). To check and see if a plant is root-bound just hold the pot and lift the tree out of the pot. If the roots are just to the pot sides and no roots are circling then the tree should be okay. When planting a container grown plant dig a hole bigger than the plant by double the width but no deeper. Remove the container and plant into the hole as quickly as possible. Air kills the little white hair roots very fast if not put into the ground. Once the hole is back filled with soil then water thoroughly to remove the air spaces.
B&B or Balled and Burlapped plants are not container grown and you need to understand that before ordering them. These plants may have been grown in a nursery but they were dug out of the ground so that many of the roots have been cut off but the soil ball is still intact and very heavy. In fact there should be about 10-12 inches of ball for every inch of tree trunk diameter. When you get a B&B plant remove all plastic including any string or twine. You can leave the burlap only if it is not plastic. If there is a wire basket you can leave it as the roots will grow right through. The biggest problem with B&B trees is that the hole is usually dug with the same tree spade that dug the tree. Tree spades leave the hole sides very slick and hard for roots to penetrate. The best hole is wider but not deeper than the ball.
Bareroot trees are just trees that have been dug very carefully in the nursery so that the roots are pretty much intact but there is no soil. As you can imagine these trees are much more fragile but without the soil they are easier to handle both for the nurseryman and you. Most bareroot trees are dug and then “healed in” at the nursery till you purchase them. To plant them be very sure you keep the roots moist at all times while you’re planting. Dig the hole as deep as the roots go and just as wide. Put the tree in the hole and back fill slowly adding dirt while you pack it. Once the hole is full you need to water well to take out air pockets. Bareroot trees need to be planted now and most fruit and nut trees are sold this way.

Water! Water! Water!

If you haven’t noticed before now let me tell you we are way behind in rainfall last 12 months with few signs it will get better. I have had a few calls about watering in the winter and I want you to know that if you don’t get rain then all your landscape plants need at least one good watering per month to survive. Fortunately plants don’t use much water in the winter so watering is not a priority but we do need to maintain some level of moisture in the soil to protect plant roots from completely drying out. So unwind your hoses and set up your sprinklers to water at least a couple of hours for all your trees and grass.