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Texas A&M AgriLife Research Yields Bumper Crop of Discovery

Texas is a leading agriculture state and it is positioned for the future with solid research institutions.

By Jessica Walker Boehm on February 7, 2014

When it comes to agriculture, Texas is a leader on the farm and in the lab.
With 247,500 farms and ranches covering more than 130 million acres, Texas agriculture garners more than $22 billion in cash receipts annually, including more than $7.6 billion from exports.
It is the top state in cattle and cotton production, as well as one of the nation’s largest food processing states. The economic impact of Texas’ food and fiber sector is more than $100 billion.
“From the time people planted the first crops and domesticated the first livestock, those working in agriculture have strived to improve it,” says Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples. “As our technology evolves, Texas farmers and ranchers benefit from increased efficiency and production, and in turn, our state and nation enjoys a safe, healthy and more affordable food supply.”
The Lone Star State’s reputation for efficient, safe food production is a direct result of its extensive agriculture and food research efforts. Texas’ premier research and technology agency in agriculture, natural resources and life sciences is Texas A&M AgriLife Research.
Spanning many disciplines, AgriLife Research has more than 1,600 employees, including more than 550 doctoral-level scientists. As part of a major land grant institution, AgriLife Research has a special mission to serve the public, says Dr. Craig Nessler, director of AgriLife Research.
“Like good Texans, we are always seeking to find practical, economically feasible solutions to problems and issues,” he says.
Where Research Means Business
The institution has been particularly successful in its collaboration with private industry. AgriLife has partnerships with a host of companies, including Monsanto, Ceres., BP Oil and Bayer CropScience. Many of those partnerships are long-term ventures.
AgriLife Research has emphasized development of a sound project management approach to its research efforts, says Nessler, who added that AgriLife focuses on deliverables for its partners, saving them more in research costs.
AgriLife and Bayer CropScience recently signed a multiyear agreement to develop wheat plants that have higher yields and are more drought resistant. AgriLife also has a partnership with Monsanto to develop more efficient varieties of cotton worldwide.
Fueling Energy Innovation
One of the most promising areas of research is in biofuels. In the past five years, AgriLife has participated in more than 40 bioenergy projects with a total portfolio of more than $50 million.
AgriLife Research and BP Biofuels signed a three-year agreement to develop commercialized cellulosic feedstock for the production of advanced biofuels. Part of this research is development of new varieties of grasses and cane plants for use as feedstock in production of biofuels.
AgriLife Research also received a $2 million National Science Foundation grant in 2012 to study ways to get fuel-grade oil from algae and also partners with Ceres Inc., to find uses of sorghum as a potential biofuel feedstock.
“Renewable energy produced from dedicated energy crops will play a vital role for the 21st-century economy,” says Nessler.
Research Keeps Texas At Forefront
Another important area of research at AgriLife is determining better use of water resources for agriculture and horticulture. This is particularly critical due to recent drought conditions in the state.
AgriLife Research continues to make a name for itself in animal science research. A focus in this area is exploring animal temperament in terms of living and transportation conditions. Researchers have found that less stress on livestock usually means healthier livestock.
AgriLife Research is gaining worldwide attention for its work in food safety and medicine, including cancer and nutrition research. The National Center for Electron Beam Research on the Texas A&M campus has received the U.S. Agriculture Department’s Animal and Plant Inspection Service approval to use its equipment in the treatment of agricultural items regulated under the provisions of quarantines and regulations administered by the USDA.
The center is only the second electron-beam facility in the continental United States approved by the agency for phytosanitary treatment, providing protection against invading insects and pests. In addition to those applications, the use of electron-beam irradiation technology is making significant improvements in the sterilization of medical devices.
The approval will allow expanded export capabilities not only for Texas crops, but crops from other states as well, and for products imported from other countries, notes Dr. Suresh Pillai, National Center for Electron Beam Research director.
“Having this capability in Texas can be a boon to agricultural exporters from states such as Georgia, South Carolina and Florida,” Pillai says. “USDA-APHIS is currently revising a federal law to allow the use of this technology on imported commodities in the United States. If this law comes into effect, there will be a significant demand for using this technology on commodities currently being imported from Mexico, such as guavas, mangoes, sweet lime, manzano peppers and carambola.”

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