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.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Agriculture is Big Business in Williamson County

There are not many of the 375,000 people who live in Williamson County who think that agriculture makes a very big economic impact. In fact most people think agriculture is fast phasing out and it won’t be long till agriculture will be gone! Well nothing could be further from the truth and in fact agriculture income is on the rise growing faster than just about any other segment in the county. Now it may not be the same agriculture it was 20 years ago but growing nonetheless.
Let’s look at the numbers and see how much it is growing. First production agriculture or crop and livestock agriculture has seen a jump in income owing mainly to higher prices paid for commodities. In 2008 there were 13,000 acres of wheat with an income of $4,563,000, 92,000 acres of corn with an income of $30,379,000, 32,000 acres of hay with an income of $4,000,000, 16,500 acres of sorghum with an income of $5,220,000 and 19,250acres of cotton with an income of $7,000,000 for total crop sales of over $51,000,000There are nearly 200,000 acres of cropland in the county and depending on the year they can make farmers some good money. Livestock is not as big an enterprise as crops but overall livestock producers sell over $12,000,000 in cows and calves every year. All together our traditional agriculture has grown to sales of over $75 million per year!
Now let’s look at another big part of the agriculture industry in this area. Dr. Marco Palma is the Extension Horticulture Marketing Specialist for Texas AgriLife Extension Service and he puts together all the horticulture sales for the state. Recently he compiled a report for the Texas Nursery and Landscape Association on the growth of horticulture sales in Texas with a breakdown by county. If you take a look at the table below you can easily see why horticulture is a big business in this state. Even in this down year horticulture is one area that has seen huge growth as people stay home and garden.
2007 $1,512,784,904 $3,528,713,498 $8,397,293,419 $13,438,791,821 6.91%
2006 $1,496,345,000 $3,317,146,231 $7,696,608,179 $12,510,099,410 3.24%
2005 $1,585,219,000 $2,945,490,188 $7,574,317,424 $12,105,026,612 13.43%
2004 $1,424,295,000 $2,521,156,402 $6,533,642,507 $10,479,093,909 13.01%
2003 $1,324,625,000 $2,198,716,514 $5,592,864,633 $9,116,206,147 9.06%
2002 $1,341,270,000 $2,059,453,093 $4,889,625,927 $8,290,349,020

Environmental horticulture or the green industry includes production of nurseries, greenhouses, sod, herbs, cut‐flowers, retail garden centers and florists, and landscape and tree services. The environmental horticulture industry, often referred to as the “Green Industry” is one of the fastest growing sectors of agriculture in the US. Let’s look at a breakdown of the numbers in 2007 for Texas.
Production/Manufacturing 1,512,784,904
Nursery & Greenhouse 1,313,177,628
Lawn & Garden Equipment Manufacturing 135,890,873
Prefabricated metal buildings (Greenhouses) 63,716,403

Horticultural Services 3,528,713,498
Landscaping Services 3,357,212,338
Landscape Architectural Services 171,501,160

Wholesale & Retail Trade Horticulture Products 8,397,293,419
Flower, Nursery Stock and Florist Supplies Wholesalers 442,554,604
Lawn & Garden Equipment & Supplies Stores 3,036,616,696
Florists 1,002,171,450
Building Material & Supplies Dealers 1,315,941,634
Food & Beverage Stores 302,673,427
General Merchandise Stores 1,588,642,734
Farm & Garden Equipment Wholesalers 708,692,873

Total All Sectors 13,438,791,821

Now the numbers for all the state don’t mean much to us in Williamson County but according to Dr. Palma’s individual county numbers we rank 10th out of all 254 counties in total horticulture sales with a total of $317,995,060. Broken down that is $158,500,000 in wholesale and retail trade and $148,400,000 in horticulture services. The total for all agricultural sales in the county is close to $400 million with horticulture making up a huge portion.
So looking at the numbers a very diverse agriculture industry in Williamson County is by no means fading away but instead is growing every year. The continued urban growth in our area only fuels the growth of this industry insuring a bright and long future for agriculture!!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Budding and Grafting-What Is It?

Most people don’t have a clue what budding or grafting is or if they don’t know why we do it! I can sure understand this since most of the reproduction in the world on the human side is not asexual it is sexual. Wow! How did we go from budding and grafting to SEX? Well in budding and grafting we bypass the typical crossing of a male and a female to produce offspring by either budding or grafting a portion of the plant we want onto the same type of plant. For instance, in pecan trees the nut that is produced can be planted by a squirrel and grow up into a big beautiful pecan tree but the nuts on that tree may not resemble the planted nut at all. This is because the nut was produced by sexual means. The male pollen was produced on another tree and it floated on the wind and fell on the pecan tree flower of another tree. Once on the flower parts, the male and female parts mate and the resulting nut now has the genetics of the male tree crossed with the female tree. As any parent knows our children may or may not be like us! In nature this natural crossing produces what we know as native pecans.
Now in budding and grafting we bypass this uncertainty by taking a bud or a piece of graftwood with buds from a tree we like and transfer these buds onto a tree or rootstock that produces poor quality nuts. This is an asexual method which reproduces exactly the nuts we want. This is also used on all our fruit trees as well as our nut trees. Basically we can use either buds or grafts depending on the tree type, personal preference or tree size. Most nurseries growing small trees use single buds called budding and in orchards we use grafting which is putting a small limb with several buds onto a tree.
Having said all this there are still many people who grow pecans but very few that have ever grafted one! If you are in this category then you won’t want to miss the Pecan Grafting Workshop set for Tuesday, April 21 at the Extension Meeting Room. The real work will start at 7:00 p.m. and will go on till you have perfected your grafting technique. Local pecan growers with years and years of experience will be your teachers and in this hands on workshop you can learn to graft both the inlay bark graft and the four flap graft. Plus if you would like to learn other techniques as well there will be Extension bulletins and experts to discuss how they are done. Also it is our hope to have some pecan graftwood available but supplies are limited in this drought year. If you would like to attend the grafting workshop then call the Extension office at 512/943-3300 to reserve a spot.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Fruit Tree Insect and Diseases

I think we can blame the drought for causing another problem, terrible insect pressure especially on our fruit trees. Most if not all fruit trees have made it through the winter, and most have survived the drought, if you watered. They have made it through freezes and most have small fruit, no small miracle for Texas fruit production! Now after making it through all these problems we have one more to add to the list, stink bugs!
Both the brown stink bug and the green stink bug overwinter in grassy areas and under brush or wood. They wait for warm weather to come out and begin looking for energy sources to replace lost body reserves and the plant of choice is fruit. The brown stink bug causes the fruit to deform and the green stink bug causes the fruit to exude a resin or gummy mess that can accumulate on the fruit especially on peaches. Both insects have long snouts that they use to pierce the skin and suck out juices. In the case of the green stink bug this resin attracts wasps and bees so that they get the blame instead of the stink bug. Stink bugs are hard to control especially since they have piercing/sucking mouthparts. Carbaryl or permethrins are two of the most effective inorganic chemicals but for organic growers your only choice is neem oil and its effectiveness is not good
There is one major peach insect that everyone wants to get rid of, the Plum Curculio. This small worm or grub feeds inside the peach mostly near the seed and can cause anyone who has found one a real heartache. This worm or larva is laid by an adult snout beetle, similar in looks to the oak, pecan or cotton weevil. This adult overwinters in the soil at the base of the fruit tree and comes out early with the plums and moves to peaches as plums mature early. The adult female will chew a small hole in the fruit skin and lay eggs just under the surface. The eggs hatch into small larva that feed in the fruit for 2 to 4 weeks and of course this is what causes the problems.
To control this insect sprays have to be made from shucksplit (about the time the fruit is formed) and for two applications at two week intervals and then 30 days before fruit harvest. This last spray is probably the most important since the eggs laid hatch out and the larva are still in the fruit at harvest. Recommended sprays are malathion, carbaryl or permethrin and organic is garlic and citrus oil, and neem oil to repel the adults. There is no insecticide to treat the soil with but keeping old fruit off the ground helps prevent next year’s problems.
Another problem some homeowners have complained about is the gummy mess coming out of fruit tree limbs. This gum or resin is caused by a bacterial canker that has infected the limb. This canker develops in the fall and as the trees break dormancy in the spring, gum is formed by the infection and can break through the bark and flow down the tree limb. Stress in trees is the main culprit and treatments are not effective. Keep damaged wood trimmed out and supply water and nutrients to promote tree health.

Zinc is Essential for Pecans

In the Texas Pecan Handbook, John Begnaud, Extension Horticulturalist writes that, “Over 40 years of pecan zinc research confirms that the pecan tree is a poor accumulator and transporter of zinc, especially when grown in high pH soils.” Any commercial pecan grower in the state can testify that this statement is true and none of them will miss a zinc spray unless it rains. Unfortunately many new growers and perhaps some in the business a long time forget how important zinc is in pecan growth.
What does zinc do? Well zinc is necessary for the production of natural plant hormones that induce cell elongation and cell division or better said overall plant growth. In our high pH soils we can have lots of zinc but little of it is available to the tree and so we see deficiency symptoms such as small, narrow leaves. These leaves are usually on thin shoots with very short internodes. When you only have small leaves and possibly less leaves then you don’t produce pecans or a smaller crop than expected. Continual zinc deficiencies can result in bunchy terminal growth and even some canopy die-back. Dr. George Ray McEachern, pecan specialist, describes zinc deficiencies as small leaves that curve, leaf edges waxy, leaves with dark interveinal discoloration, shoots growing in thick bunches with some dead some alive.
Now what do we mean by zinc applications? In the many research trials that have been done the only effective and efficient way to get zinc into a pecan tree is foliar applications. Over the years soil injections, tree injections and fertilizer applications have all been tried but still foliar applications are the best. Unfortunately our high pH soils very quickly make and soil applications of zinc bound up and unavailable. Tree injections move zinc to existing growth but since zinc is immobile in the plant the new growth doesn’t get the benefit. This unique set of circumstances forces growers to make repeated foliar applications to new growth to ensure adequate zinc uptake in pecan leaves.
Another aspect of the zinc research in pecans is the best formulations for zinc uptake. To date three compounds have been the most effective, zinc sulphate, zinc nitrate and NZN. Of these three the most widely used is zinc sulphate probably because it is just as effective as the other two but is cheaper. Another part of this research has shown that the effectiveness of zinc uptake is enhanced by the addition of liquid nitrogen in the tank. It doesn’t take much zinc or liquid nitrogen, only 2 lbs of zinc sulphate and 1 quart of liquid N per 100 gallons of water. For homeowners there are numerous products on nursery shelves for zinc applications and all work well. Use a hose-end sprayer to reach tree tops.
Now the hard part is getting the trees sprayed on a timely basis. Remember that zinc is not translocated so a grower needs to make regular sprays during the spring flush. The first spray should be at green tip or what we call budbreak, then 1-2 weeks later followed by another 1-2 weeks later or with casebearer insect sprays and then one more 2-3 weeks later. Pecan growth is fairly mature by mid-June so that sprays can be discontinued on all but young trees which should be sprayed until August.
Of all the things you can do to a pecan tree to help make pecans there is probably nothing more important than zinc sprays and now is the time to get started!