AMARILLO – Greenhouses that will make it possible for researchers to grow experimental varieties of wheat year-round will be dedicated in honor of principals of the state’s wheat industry in ceremonies May 22.
The event will be held during the Wheat Field Day planned at the Bushland Experiment Station, a joint research facility operated by the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station, which is a unit of Texas A&M University System, and the U. S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service.
The formal dedication of the three state-of-the art greenhouses will be held at noon. Field day tours will begin by 9 a.m. The new greenhouses are beside the Kenneth B. Porter Seed Processing and Storage Building, named to honor the pioneering researcher whose work is credited with changing the way wheat is produced across the Southern Great Plains.
The $250,000 price tag for construction was paid with funds raised almost exclusively from private sources, said Dr. John Sweeten, research director of the Panhandle-based unit of the state’s Experiment Station.
“Texas Wheat Producers Board and Producer Association has provided valuable leadership and long-term support of wheat research and education,” Sweeten said. One greenhouse will be named to honor the wheat organization.
The other two will be named for individuals who themselves or through their families have made significant contributions to the wheat industry — the late Gabe D. Anderson III, and D. G. (Bill) Nelson, former TWPB executive vice president. Greenhouse tours will follow the morning program.
The state’s wheat industry pumps nearly $2 billion annually into the state’s economy. Texas also tops national production of wheat used both as grain for human consumption and forage for livestock. Each year, more than 6 million acres of wheat are grown from the High Plains to the Gulf Coast.
Two phases of a three-part expansion planned at the Bushland Station have been completed to broaden Texas A&M’s statewide crop improvement, breeding research and education program. The third construction phase will erect a connection or ‘head house’ between the Porter Building and greenhouses.
“We’re making real progress toward our goals for improving wheat varieties particularly suited for semi-arid, drought-laden areas of the state,” said Sweeten. Support for the expansion has been provided by the wheat industry, interested individuals, and the Amarillo Economic Development Corporation.
Over the past few years, Texas has suffered significant losses due to drought and other stresses, as well as ongoing low commodity prices. New varieties, particularly the drought-tolerant and disease-resistant ones coupled with prudent management practices will be the key ingredients for industry success in the future.
A&M’s Agriculture Program, with its research partner, USDA, are nationally recognized for the wheat improvement and production technology developments. Texas Cooperative Extension will continue its role in transferring information on new varieties and production practices to the state’s producers.
The Bushland and Vernon Experiment Stations started breeding programs in the late 1940s. Improvements were steady and yields increased for producers. Today, the TAM wheats are among the most widely grown varieties in Texas and elsewhere in the world.
TAM 110, known as ‘greenbug-resistent’ wheat, was released in the late 1990s. Savings to the state’s producers tops about $30 million annually, with almost one-third of the savings due to reduced pesticide applications. In 2000, the program released a hard winter wheat with resistance to leaf rust, powdery mildew, and yellow dwarf virus that out-yielded other varieties by nine bushels per acre.
With the new greenhouses at Bushland, researchers will be able to grow wheat year round.
“Our progress will only accelerate,” said Jackie Rudd, Experiment Station wheat breeder, “Everything will be highly specialized with specific parameters tailored to fit specific experiments.”
A&M’s effort calls for a multi-faceted approach to crop improvement to strengthen and expand the production tools available to today’s wheat farmer. Beyond the characteristics intended to make wheat better, Experiment Station scientists working in plant pathology, entomology, and the agronomic disciplines can respond to a variety of needs within the industry.
As part of its vision for the state’s wheat industry, the Texas Small Grains Advisory Committee, composed of industry representatives, and university scientists and research administrators, recommended that A&M redouble its statewide research plans.
Since 2001, two centers of excellence have been created within A&M’s Agriculture Program. The High Plains hub includes programs and scientists at Amarillo/Bushland in the Panhandle where breeding, crop stress and drought tolerance are targeted and at Vernon/Chillicothe in the Rolling Plains where grazing and forage research excels. The Central-South Texas components at Texas A&M University at College Station combine work in plant improvement and molecular genetics by cooperating scientists.
“This framework successfully pulls everything together and makes sense geographically to help Texas wheat producers,” Sweeten said.