HEREFORD — West Texas vegetable growers were briefed on new marketing initiatives and potato research Jan. 19 at the annual West Texas Vegetable Conference here.
Ray Prewett, executive vice president of the Texas Vegetable Association (TVA), explained the workings of the Texas Vegetable Initiative — a grassroots effort designed to help the industry regain lost market share, assess future needs and conduct strategies aimed at long-term economic viability.
“One of our chief goals is to approach the Texas Legislature and gain dedicated funding by 2001 to support research, extension, marketing and promotion of Texas vegetables through agencies such as the Texas Agricultural Extension Service, Experiment Station and the Texas Department of Agriculture,” Prewett said. “But first we need to get vegetables growers across the state together and united in support of this initiative.
“To that end, we will conduct several statewide grower meetings this year and a one statewide coordination meeting in 2000.”
Prewett said four 1999 meetings will be held in Texas’ major vegetable-producing regions, such as the Winter Garden and West Texas (High Plains and South Plains). If widespread producer support results from the meetings, the initiative will move forward in three phases.
“In Phase I, we will promote the health benefits of Texas-grown vegetables — hopefully under the auspices of the Legislature’s ‘Food for Health’ research funding initiative,” he said. “We will then seek an appropriation for dedicated agronomic vegetable research in Phase II, and we will address marketing and promotion programs in Phase III.
“We (TVA) believe the initiative is a win-win situation for all who want to be involved — from growers to industry to educational institutions which focus on agriculture.”
Dr. Creighton Miller, Texas A&M University potato geneticist, briefed growers on new potato strains being tested across the state.
“Our current field research focuses on developing improved red potato varieties,” Miller said. “The most widely-grown potato in Texas right now is Russett Norkotah. It’s good, but it has certain weaknesses.
“We began collecting regional variations of Russett Norkotah in 1989 from several sites in Texas and Colorado. Since then, we’ve grown the best of these in annual field trials — to identify plants which produce good tubers and strong vines. Six plant selections have emerged from these trials. The average yield potential of these hybrids ranges from 332 to 406 hundredweight (cwt.) per acre.”
Miller said three of these six strains soon will be certified under the Plant Variety Protection Act (PVPA). When released, these potatoes will be identified with the prefix TXNS and a three digit variety number.
“TXNS 112, TXNS 223 and TXNS 278 are the ones up for PVPA certification. The other numbered hybrids include 102, 249 and 296,” he said. “We hope that at least two of these pan out as well as 112, 223 and 278 in future field trials.”
Dr. Greta Schuster, Extension plant pathologist and director of West Texas A&M University’s Integrated Pest Management (IPM) programs, outlined potato seed tuber research at WTAMU and Extension’s potato IPM program.
“We initiated a field trial last year to study the effect of several potato seed tuber treatments on plant health and yield. We also looked at whether ammonium sulfate has any effect in reducing potato scab,” Schuster said. “Our trials were conducted in cooperation with two growers at two different sites, with four treatments at each field site.
“Last year was not a good production year for anyone, including our field research. Even so, we saw no appreciable effect on potato yield or marketable tuber yield from any of the seed treatments in our first year of research. We plan to continue these trials to see if results from ‘more normal’ growing years will be significantly different.”
Schuster also briefed growers on WISDOM software — a computer program developed in Michigan. She said WISDOM may become an integral part of potato IPM work on the Texas High Plains.
“Our goal with potato IPM is to help growers reduce chemical applications and thwart pest problems,” she said. “WISDOM uses temperature, rainfall and humidity data collected at the field level to predict the likelihood of disease or insect problems.
“We hope to test the software here soon. Our goal is to help producers develop better management strategies for applying chemicals such as fungicides, and to identify time windows when they should be scouting their fields intensively for pest problems.”