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Lifescapes Summer 2006

Texas A&M Agriculture


Agriculturalist and Grandfather Super Citrus Fighting Obesity


Fr o m t h e

Vice Chancellor Right before this issue of Lifescapes went to press, we embarked on an initiative aimed at taking a national leadership role in the research and development of bioenergy and alternative fuels. The two great research arms of The Texas A&M University System—the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station and the

(ISSN 1539-1817) is published three times a year by Texas A&M Agriculture. Elsa A. Murano Vice Chancellor for Agriculture and Life Sciences

Texas A&M University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Texas Agricultural Experiment Station Texas Cooperative Extension Texas Forest Service Texas Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory The Texas A&M University System

Texas Engineering Experiment Station— joined forces July 28 in the BioEnergy Alliance, with the goal of hastening the day when bioenergy alternatives are everyday choices for Americans. With our engineering colleagues, we are working toward solving the remaining prob-

Published by

Agricultural Communications Dave Mayes, Interim Head Helen White, Editor Ann Shurgin, Editor Jon Mondrik, Art Director

lems that will provide feedstock fuels for the filling station. We have always taken pride in saying that agriculture is life—it’s the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, the beauty of nature we enjoy, the clothes we wear, and lumber for our homes. Now we believe we will also be able to say that it is the fuel for our cars. From crops—like our world-class sorghum-research program—to agricultural waste (feedlot biomass conversion technologies) to such alternatives as wood and seed oil, our researchers are on the fast track to converting products into such biofuels as ethanol and biodiesel. Texas agriculture can have a bright future in providing a sustainable source of bioenergy feedstocks. What’s more, our engineering counterparts are at the forefront of developing new fuel processes and more efficient engines that can take full advantage of the coming bioenergy revolution. We will be drawing on expertise throughout our agriculture and engineering agencies— and outside the A&M System—to bring us closer to the realization of a national bioenergy industry that has strong roots in Texas. The timing couldn’t be better to begin reducing our dependence on foreign sources of energy, which I believe is important not only for our economic well-being, but also for our nation’s security. There are very exciting days ahead, and I look forward to keeping you updated on the progress we make in this major undertaking, as well as other important initiatives, in future issues of Lifescapes.

Elsa A. Murano Vice Chancellor for Agriculture and Life Sciences Director, Texas Agricultural Experiment Station

Send comments, questions or subscription requests to Lifescapes Editor, Agricultural Communications, Texas A&M University, 2112 TAMU, College Station, TX 77843-2112. Or call (979) 845-2211, fax (979) 845-2414 or e-mail Visit our Web site at for more information about our teaching, research, extension, and service programs. All programs and related activities of Texas A&M Agriculture are open to all persons, regardless of race, color, age, sex, handicap, religion or national origin. Copyright 2006 by Texas A&M Agriculture. Written material may be reprinted provided no endorsement of a commercial product is stated or implied. Please credit Lifescapes, Texas A&M Agriculture.

ON THE COVER Dr. Norman E. Borlaug with granddaughter Julie in front of The Day the Wall Came Down sculpture located in the plaza of the George Bush Presidential Library and Conference Center at Texas A&M University (see story on page 2). Photo: Jim Lyle Back cover photo: Jerrold Summerlin

17,000 copies printed


is not printed at state expense. MKT-3475

C o n t e n t s Vo l . 6 N o . 2 , S u m m e r 2006

Fields of Hope 2 Norman E. Borlaug’s granddaughter Julie recalls growing up with a world-famous agriculturalist


Borlaug Fellows Address Global Crises through Agricultural Innovation 5

Making Room for Wildlife 6 By creating space for endangered songbirds, central Texas partnership improves ranchland, conserves groundwater and returns military training lands to Fort Hood

Suppressing Wildfires 10 Texas volunteer fire departments are better equipped to battle blazes, thanks to Forest Service and Extension


Transgenic Trees Hold Promise for Citrus Industry 14 Researcher develops grapefruit trees designed to resist deadly virus, bacteria and insects

Earth-Friendly Cityscapes 18 Horticulturists help beautify and protect urban environments

Changing the Way People Eat 22 Students in Department of Nutrition and Food Sciences make varied career choices


Fighting Fat 26 New research center will work to reduce obesity in children

White Fields of Cotton Bring Water Savings 29 Crop replacement helps protect a declining aquifer

Giving Wisely 33 Sound business values allow couple to honor 65-year involvement with Texas A&M

D e p a r t m e n t s State Gems 13 Trailblazers 17 Frontiers of Discovery 28 Giving Matters 36

Photo courtesy of Dr. Norman E. Borlaug

Photo: Jim Lyle


Photo: Jim Lyle

Photo: Chris Dowswell, Sasakawa-Global 2000

CLOCKWISE, FROM TOP LEFT: Dr. Norman E. Borlaug began directing wheat research at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in Mexico in 1964. He is pictured at the Toluca Nursery. On a 2000 trip to Nigeria, Dr. Borlaug was welcomed when he visited maize demonstration plots in Kaduna. Dr. Borlaug visits a wheat growth chamber in the Norman E. Borlaug Center for Southern Crop Improvement at Texas A&M, dedicated in 1999. He was awarded the 2004 National Medal of Science for his work in creating diseaseresistant and high-yield wheat that has helped to feed millions around the world.

Fields of Hope Norman E. Borlaug’s granddaughter Julie recalls growing up with a world-famous agriculturalist by Kathleen Phillips


o the grandkids, he is II Daddy (Two Daddy). “My brother knew that our mother called him Daddy,” says his granddaughter Julie. “Since we already had a daddy, he thought that would make our grandfather a second daddy. “I think it wasn’t until I Googled him that I realized who II Daddy is.” Her search was not for “II Daddy,” but for “Borlaug.”

“. . . the first essential component of social justice is adequate food for all mankind.” —Norman E. Borlaug Norman Borlaug—164,000 reference links in half a minute: Nobel Peace Prize winner. Father of the Green Revolution. Benefactor of humanity. National Medal of Science winner. Agriculturalist who helped feed starving people throughout the world. On and on. “We never knew these things about him—he never mentioned any of it,” says Julie Borlaug, now associate manager of donor relations in the Office of International Agriculture at Texas A&M

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University. “No, what I remember of him are things like: He would be sitting in a chair reading a book while my sister and I rolled his hair with pink rollers. And I remember that he taught me to ride a bike, and how he was so into sports like wrestling and baseball. I’ve become more aware of his work only in the past few years.” Julie Borlaug is finding that a grandfather who was her “giant” for allowing curlers in his hair is, to many in the world, “colossal” for helping to feed the hungry. Dr. Norman Borlaug, who recently turned 92, spent decades of labor and research in the fields of Third World nations, figuring out how to make wheat crops yield more food. Awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for those efforts, Borlaug broadened his research to enhance farm production to reach nearly every continent. In 1984, after joining the Texas A&M University Department of Soil and Crop Sciences faculty as distinguished professor, Borlaug divided his residency to teach in College Station each fall and then return each spring to Mexico for continued research and participation in global efforts against world hunger. In recent years, his life’s work has increasingly caught the attention of the science community, and awards have followed him like the furrows of his beloved Yaqui Valley in Mexico.


Through all this merited recognition, Borlaug has stayed focused on the reason for his work. He commented after receiving the 2004 National Medal of Science, “I hope the honor calls attention to the large and ongoing problem.”

appears all too often. We still have about 84 million people added to the world population each year. “Unfortunately, more are in countries that are already food-deficient or marginal, with a lot of poverty and illiteracy. “There are still a lot of poor, hungry, miserable people in the world. That’s why agriculture, with its ability to yield increasingly higher amounts of food, must go hand in hand with efforts to educate the masses,” Borlaug concludes. —Norman E. Borlaug Julie recalls that education has The problem he spoke of is the everalways been high on her grandfather’s increasing world population and the list. He can still recite where he was in resulting hunger and lack of access to the wide world when each of his five education, Borlaug explains. The first grandchildren was born, she says. But affects the ability to feed everyone; the more importantly, he came home from second, the ability to fix the problem. his travels to attend each of their college “We all eat at least three times a day graduations. in the privileged nations, and yet we Chris Dowswell, Sasakawa Africa take food for granted,” says Borlaug. Association program coordination direc“There has been great progress, and food tor and Borlaug’s longtime traveling is more equitably distributed. But companion, says, “He’s a natural hunger is commonplace, and famine teacher. It’s a God-given gift and impera-

“‘If you desire peace, cultivate justice,’ but at the same time cultivate the fields to produce more bread; otherwise there will be no peace.”

tive of his. He has trained thousands in the field.” Dowswell says he came to know Borlaug as a “tremendous mentor” who has had a positive impact on young scientists while conversing with them about their cutting-edge work. Borlaug is intellectually stimulated by finding out about new scientific methods from the young researchers, says Dowswell. “And one comes to see that it’s less a function of age than mind-set or attitude,” Dowswell continues. “In that sense, he has stayed forever young in a creative way.” In work and in family, Dowswell and Julie note, Borlaug has conveyed some valuable lessons. “In my case, there are two legacies: persistence and his philosophy of mentoring,” Dowswell says. “He’s got that inspiring line in most of his talks, about reaching for the stars: ‘You won’t reach the stars, but you might get a little stardust and be surprised about what you can accomplish.‘“ As for Julie, II Daddy planted a special seed in her heart. “The world is our responsibility,” she says. “We are here to give back. His legacy is to fight for the hungry people, for every person to have an opportunity. That’s what I learned from him.”

Dr. Norman E. Borlaug Major Awards and Honors • Nobel Peace Prize, 1970 • Aztec Eagle, Government of Mexico, 1970 • Outstanding Agricultural Achievement Award, World Farm Foundation (USA), 1971 • Presidential Medal of Freedom (USA), 1977 • Jefferson Award, American Institute for Public Service, 1980 • Distinguished Achievement Award in Food and Agricultural Sciences, Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (USA), 1982 • The Presidential World without Hunger Award: Educator/Scientist category (USA), 1985 • The 1988 Americas Award, The Americas Foundation (USA) • Jefferson Lifetime Achievement Award (USA), 1997 • Lifetime Service Award towards Lessening Pains of Hunger, given jointly by Texas A&M University, University of Minnesota, Iowa State University and Cornell University (USA), 1998 • Altruistic Green Revolution Award, Indian Council of Agricultural Research, 1998


• Recognition Award for Contributions to World Wheat and Maize Research and Production, Republic of El Salvador, 1999 • Dedication of Norman E. Borlaug Center for Southern Crop Improvement, Texas A&M University, 1999 • Vannevar Bush Award, National Science Foundation (USA), 2000 • Memorial Centennial Medal of the N. I. Vavilov Research Institute of Plant Industry (Russia), 2000 • Public Welfare Medal, National Academy of Sciences (USA), 2002 • The 2002 Rotary International Award for World Understanding and Peace, Barcelona, Spain • The Philip Hauge Abelson Prize, American Association for the Advancement of Science, 2002 • Award for Distinguished Achievements to Science and Medicine, American Council of Science and Health, 2003 • National Medal of Science (USA), 2004 • Padma Vibhushan in Science and Engineering, awarded by the Government of India, 2006

Life scapes

Photo: Jim Lyle

Borlaug Fellows Address Global Crises through Agricultural Innovation by Blair Fannin Perhaps the biggest hurdle in life is fear of change. Once that fear is overcome, says Dr. Norman Borlaug, there are endless possibilities for technological change that can improve agriculture and fight hunger. Scholars from across the globe gathered at the George Bush Presidential Library this spring to meet with Borlaug and brainstorm on how technological change in agriculture can solve international conflict. The two-day event featured 2001 Wolf Prize winner, Dr. Per Pinstrup-Andersen. In his keynote lecture, Pinstrup-Andersen emphasized that technological advances in agriculture are crucial to solving problems in poverty-stricken countries and reducing future conflict. The Borlaug Fellows Colloquium, which drew more than a dozen scholars from around the world to discuss international conflict resolution, was a highlight of the conference. The Borlaug Fellows Program—established in Borlaug’s honor in 2004 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture—targets developing countries, offering short-term scientific training in the United States for foreign researchers, policy makers and university faculty. Fellows are placed at land-grant colleges and universities, as well as international research centers. They come from all parts of the world. Some are pursuing advanced degrees; others are midcareer professionals serving in various research capacities or administrative government roles. Borlaug told the scholars that “the fear of change is an obstacle to progress,” particularly in technological advances in agriculture. “Develop your own data, and when the time is right, play your cards,” he advised. Borlaug has dealt a few aces during his career, highlighted by the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize for innovations in wheat techABOVE: Borlaug Fellows from around the world came to College Station to attend a spring colloquium. Pictured left to right are Belay Ejigu Begashaw of Ethiopia; Morufat Balogun of Nigeria; Enith Rojas of Panama; Dr. Norman E. Borlaug; Mike McWhorter, International Training Coordinator, Texas A&M Office of International Agriculture; Mariam El Akel of Morocco; Dr. Francis Padi of Ghana; and Ivan Genov of Bulgaria.

Summer 2006

nology. His discovery helped solve hunger crises throughout Europe and launched the Green Revolution. He recalls the era when the technology was first introduced in Mexico. “The people who moved high-yield Mexican wheat technologies, they were very young researchers,” he says. “I told them, ‘We are going to teach you to become rebels in science and technology, but not with guns and daggers. ‘“ That same approach was applied to the first crop of Borlaug Fellows. Belay Ejigu Begashaw, the former Ethiopian minister of agriculture and rural development, is a Borlaug Fellow placed with Texas A&M. “This brings together people of different experiences in science, policy and technology,” he says. Begashaw says he wanted to not only share his own experiences in agricultural issues, but also hear what others had to say in addressing poor farmers in Africa. He participates in the Borlaug Senior Executive Program, designed for seniorlevel officials in developing countries. Dr. Francis Padi, of Ghana, is a research scientist at the country’s Savanna Agricultural Research Institute. A Borlaug Fellow since 2004, Padi focuses his research on improving cowpea and peanut crops. “This fellowship allows me to use [genetic] markers, speeding up the process of generating plant varieties,” he says. Most Borlaug Fellows agree that fear of change can slow improvements in technological innovations in agriculture. Begashaw says farmers may be hesitant to accept change because they don’t want to take risks. “That’s mainly because it’s life or death; they have to feed their families, and their crops are their livelihood. “I believe in the need for proper communication systems for each target group, to convince each group differently,” Begashaw continues. “It’s not possible to convince policy makers on adopting something new to their country by just demonstrating actions at the farmer level. It may be good for farmers, but governments need a lot of information on an issue as well.”


making room for By creating space for endangered songbirds, central Texas partnership improves ranchland, conserves groundwater and returns military training lands to Fort Hood by Blair Fannin


Life scapes

Wildlife D ense stands of cedar (Ashe juniper) on thousands of acres throughout Coryell and Hamilton counties in central Texas make perfect nesting sites for two endangered bird species, but this has created major headaches for two of the land’s other principal users: cattle ranchers and the U.S. Army. Approximately one-third of the 217,000-acre U.S. Army training base at Fort Hood was locked down in the 1990s after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service discovered populations of the golden-cheeked warbler and the black-capped vireo, both protected under the Endangered Species Act. At the same time, Central Texas Cattlemen’s Association ranchers leasing the Fort Hood lands for grazing found they weren’t allowed to improve their pastures by removing any of the cedar because it was considered prime habitat for the songbirds. When rancher Steve Manning first encountered the endangered bird issue on a grazing lease at Fort Hood, he was perplexed. “I couldn’t for the life of me get my arms around why birds would have anything to do with why we couldn’t run cows,” he says.

Summer 2006

Photos: Jerrold Summerlin

Texas A&M Agriculture scientists and graduate students soon found ways to protect the birds and their habitats while reopening the range to allow the army to go back on tank maneuvers and ranchers to graze cattle. Manning and other members of the Central Texas Cattlemen’s Association were quick to adopt the rangeland practices that research showed would improve pastures by removing some of the invasive cedars without harming bird habitats. The successful brush removal project at Fort Hood, a cooperative effort that involved a coalition of ranchers, researchers, and state and federal officials, served as a model for a larger conservation initiative in 2002, the Leon River Restoration Project, which includes land adjacent to the military base. Many of the successful practices of removing brush and preserving bird habitat at Fort Hood were applied along the river basin. At the start of the Leon River project, researchers knew that invasive cedar was taking over land surrounding the watershed, but the severity of the problem was reinforced during field studies. “In some areas, there was almost no light penetration,” says


Wayne Hamilton, director of the Texas A&M capped vireos. About 20 to 30 percent of rangeCenter for Grazinglands and Ranch Management land was occupied by golden cheek, and about 5 and a lead researcher in the Leon River project. percent occupied by black-capped vireos on a “We had to crawl on the ground [to study vegeplace we thought there were none.” tation].” Those evaluations factored into careful planThe goal was to develop a brush management ning for brush removal to enhance habitat and project that would protect endangered species increase bird populations. Springs were also testhabitat while also improving stream flow into ed to measure water flow rates. The Texas A&M the Leon River and its subwatersheds. The projBlackland Research Center at Temple used Photo: Rob Powell ect was so successful that it led to the creation instrumentation to measure water flow on the of the Central Texas Sustainability Partnership larger subwatersheds, including Bullard Creek Black-capped vireo (in April 2005), which is considered a national and Beehouse Creek. Vireo atricapillus model for cooperation among private landownDr. Bob Knight, an Experiment Station rangeers for rangeland recovery. Improving bird habiland scientist, worked with graduate students to Protected under the tat on land surrounding Fort Hood has also conduct rainfall simulation surveys, small waterFederal Endangered Species helped to reopen thousands of acres to military shed studies and spring flow measurements to Act since 1987, the blacktraining. determine parameters before cedar was Texas A&M Agriculture’s expertise in the capped vireo is 4 inches long removed. Dr. Georgianne Moore, a rangeland 750,000-acre Leon River Restoration Project scientist at Texas A&M, continues to work with and has a black cap, yellow addressed four issues: water, wildlife, rangeland students to determine changes that may occur wing bars, and white specta- following cedar removal. and economics. Graduate students were paired with principal investigators in each component. Meanwhile, funding from the U.S. Department cles around red eyes. “Phase I of the project set the baseline,” says of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Its preferred habitat is Hamilton. “We researched as to where the birds Service encouraged landowners to sign up for semi-open rangeland with were, how many are associated with what ecothe Leon River Restoration Project and receive logical sites, plant cover densities, woody plant financial incentives for brush removal. Each parlow-growing shrubs. densities. We addressed water the same way.” ticipant signs a five-year contract, which Fieldwork included a method in which plants includes a specific management plan written for along a 3,000-foot line are identified and counted. “A lot of the property. Management practices such as removing newthat [area] you had to crawl more than you walked,” Hamilton growth cedar by using hydraulic tree shears and prescribed says. “The cedar growth was that thick.” burning, as well as the reseeding of native grasses, are written The data collected allowed for pre- and posttreatment evaluinto the plans. They are designed to not only enhance forage ation. Meanwhile, bird studies were conducted, including PREVIOUS PAGE: Habitat restoration for the golden-cheeked warbler and the blackcounting birds and evaluating their habitat. capped vireo includes clearing dense cedars and reseeding native bluestem “We didn’t think that many endangered birds were on prigrasses. ABOVE, LEFT TO RIGHT: As part of the Leon River Restoration Project, Texas vate lands,” says Dr. Neal Wilkins, Extension wildlife specialist A&M graduate student Shannon Farrell conducts a bird survey by playing recorded birdcalls to help locate and count the black-capped vireo and the and assistant director of Texas A&M’s Institute for Renewable golden-cheeked warbler. Graduate students Michael Morrow and Loren Naylor Natural Resources. “We found very high populations of identify and count types of vegetation in a posttreatment site in the Leon River golden-cheeked warblers and a reasonable number of blackwatershed.


Life scapes

growth on the land, but also improve habitat for “We’ve really seen a change over a large part the endangered birds. of central Texas with our bird species,” Brush removal operators become certified by Wilkins says. attending a Texas Cooperative Extension training During the 1960s and 1970s, groups of course authorized by the Texas Department of woodland birds were rarely seen, he explains, Agriculture. The management plan, approved by a and then populations accelerated with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department biologist, is increase in brush and cedar. The overgrowth custom-tailored to enhance bird habitat in the of juniper was encouraged by changes in land landowner’s area. ownership and use. More land was leased for Photo: Texas Department of Transportation The project pays 85 percent of the costs, with grazing, often by absentee owners. the landowner putting 15 percent into an escrow “A lot of land has changed hands over the Golden-cheeked warbler account. Once the requirements in the contract are years,” Manning says. “Those new landownDendroica chrysoparia completed, the landowner can receive the escrow ers—who in some cases have inherited land— money back, depending on how much was spent have leased the land for cattle grazing or Protected under the on land work. wildlife use, and their main concern in some Federal Endangered Species Nearly $1 million cost-share dollars have been cases is just paying the property taxes. Act since 1990, the goldenallocated for restoration by the U.S. Fish and “Another problem is the Smokey Bear synWildlife Service, as well as a consortium of other drome. A lot of people don’t understand that cheeked warbler is 4.25 federal agencies. prescribed burning is a great management tool inches long, with yellow “The Leon River project has involved more than [for controlling cedar] on rangeland.” 100 landowners,” says Dr. Richard Conner, a Texas cheeks, white wing bars and A key component of the project was evaluatAgricultural Experiment Station economist and ing the mind-set of landowners. Graduate studark legs. project co-leader. “One of the things we’ve found is Limited to central Texas, it dents conducted interviews to profile the costs are highly variable from one site to landowners’ economic considerations and prefers mature woodlands of management philosophies. The profiles helped another for restoration practices. On the 30 different treatment sites, the average cost for brush con- oaks and cedar (Ashe in writing management plans for different trol work is $236 per acre.” properties. juniper). The rolling hills of central Texas once were a The project has resulted in restored habitat mix of grasslands and cedar brakes on steep slopes. However, for the endangered birds and improved runoff into the Leon decades of heavy grazing and a decline of sound land-manageRiver. It has also changed landowner perceptions about workment practices led to an overpopulation of cedar, or Ashe ing with government agencies, Conner says. juniper. “We’ve broken new ground here in putting to rest the landowners’ concerns about having bird habitat on their land,” ABOVE, LEFT TO RIGHT: Hydraulic tree shears are used to thin dense stands of cedar he says. “I think we are showing it can be an asset.” (Ashe juniper) to conserve groundwater, improve pastureland, and create habitat for the black-capped vireo. Graduate student Kent Pollaro compiles waterlevel data on an underground spring after treatment to remove cedars from ranchland near Gatesville. The data showed increased water flow as a result of treatment. Ranchers Steve and Carla Manning have helped lead the partnership efforts in central Texas to improve ranchland, support military training at Fort Hood and protect endangered bird species.

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Web site:


Suppressing Wildfires Texas Fire Statistics January 1–July 28, 2006 Fires responded to by federal or state agencies and local fire departments: 16,504 Acres burned: 1,845,579 Structures lost: 1,005 Structures saved: 21,455 Fatalities: 15 Information provided by the Texas Forest Service, The Texas A&M University System

Photos: Jan Amen

Photo courtesy of Mike Haynes

Texas volunteer fire departments are better equipped to battle blazes, thanks to Forest Service and Extension by Kathleen Phillips and Kay Ledbetter


he call came in at 12:30 p.m. on March 12. A wildfire east of Groom in the center of the Texas Panhandle was being fanned by 40–50 mph winds. Area volunteer fire departments were being asked to help. The Wheeler VFD answered the call and made the 60-mile trip to help fight the fire. Fifty-five hours later, they were still battling the same blaze. It had crossed the rolling hills, sandy lands and occasional canyon until the Wheeler firefighters were fighting in their own backyard. Ken Daughtry, Wheeler County fire marshal and emergency management coordinator for Wheeler VFD, says this fire and others that came in the following days and weeks took their toll on the department’s equipment. As a small volunteer department, the Wheeler VFD has only one steady source of funding: city and county payments. But these payments aren’t sufficient to operate the department. Everything else has to come from donations and fundraisers. The damage done during the month of March, however, would be over and above the fire department’s normal wear and tear. That’s where the Texas Forest Service and its emergency grant program came in. “We couldn’t make it without them,” Daughtry says. “Their grant program with the equipment has been tremendous.”

ABOVE, LEFT (TOP): Bill Spencer, Texas Forest Service firefighter from Lufkin, was among those battling the I-40 fire in the Panhandle in March. (BOTTOM) White Deer volunteer firefighters helped to combat a March wildfire in Borger. RIGHT: Wind-driven wildfire swept over the John M. Haynes Ranch north of McLean, leaving corrals burning in its path.

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In January, one of the first-line grass trucks caught on fire, and the intake system had to be replaced. “We had to repair the truck,” he says. “We would have gone to the bank to borrow the money if we had to.” But a $928 reimbursement from the Texas Forest Service helped them get the truck back on line in time for the busy wildfire season. The department has 10 trucks, three of which are left behind to take care of protecting the town. One of those trucks was purchased two years ago for $63,000, of which $50,000 came from the Texas Forest Service. That truck led the charge on March 12. At one point, a flareup caught firefighters and caused about $2,500 worth of damage when it scorched the truck and burned off three tires, Daughtry says. “We filled out an emergency grant application and they [Texas Forest Service] paid 75 percent of it,” he says. In a typical year, Daughtry says, his department may make 100 to 125 calls of at least one hour apiece. “This year,” he says, “we had one run last for 55 or 60 hours. This is an extraordinary year. That one call took everything we had.” What they didn’t have, but are requesting through the Texas Forest Service, is a 5,000-gallon bobtail tanker. “We actually have half a dozen applications in to them now, including some for rescue equipment, bunker gear and the tanker,” Daughtry says. The tanker would have helped quite a bit in the recent fires, he says. The county furnishes two tankers, but they can’t be driven off-road. “If we had a bobtail, it would save the turnaround time for going back for water,” Daughtry says. And as fast as that March 12 fire was moving, every minute counted.


Photos: Kay Ledbetter

The bobtail tanker costs $125,000 to $130,000, an amount that would be almost impossible to accumulate through donations and fundraisers, he says. But with the Texas Forest Service paying $108,000 of it, the Wheeler VFD will be ready for the next round of wildfires. The Texas Forest Service’s firefighting efforts are fairly well known in the small communities across the state where a handful of local men and women scramble together as volunteers to battle blazes. But until this year, Forest Service officials had a nagging sense that they didn’t know whether the state’s volunteer firefighters were equipped to meet the needs. So Forest Service officials called on Texas Cooperative Extension—a sister agency in The Texas A&M University System—because it has agents working in all 254 counties. “In less than 48 hours, county Extension faculty and staff personally conducted a statewide survey of Texas fire and emergency service departments,” wrote Dr. Ed Smith, Extension director, in a Jan. 9 communiqué. “Our personnel reached 95 percent of the target, completing some 1,740 surveys and entering them in an online database developed by Extension Information Technology.” The need was urgent because the state was seeking emergency federal funds to assist volunteer fire departments in purchasing needed equipment, he explains. “We saw a big spike in firefighting activity from December through March, and we knew the volunteer fire departments were taking a beating,” says Don Galloway, Forest Service volunteer fire department assistant program coordinator. “We wanted a broad, statewide assessment of what the firefighters had and needed.” After the survey, Galloway says, the Forest Service was able to “substantiate the severity,” and that led to providing grants for protective gear valued at almost $800,000 to 259 departments. About 90 departments got equipment-repair grants, totaling more than $702,000, he says. “There were only about 20 counties where the fire departments didn’t report having people in need of protective gear,” Galloway says, “and only 30 counties that didn’t report increased equipment failures.


“We had done a survey several years ago, but that one was more to find out what all the departments were doing than to gather actual figures about what was going on in firefighting,” he adds. The rapid collection of data by Extension’s network of agents throughout the counties drew high praise from Forest Service leaders. Galloway says it had taken the relatively small Forest Service staff more than a year to gather information in previous surveys, whereas this one was completed in about two days. “This is truly a phenomenal effort—it demonstrates the tremendous value of Extension’s statewide network,” Texas Forest Service director Jim Hull says of the survey effort. The Extension survey complements additional assistance Smith instituted in December via the Mission Ready plan, aimed at managing elevated fire danger. The plan included the following: • Using Agricultural Communications’ news team to disseminate public information via the media, in cooperation with the Texas Forest Service communications team. • Engaging Extension agents to help raise public awareness of fire dangers, using existing outlets such as local meetings, newsletters and Web sites. • Encouraging Extension specialists with expertise in various subjects to provide information highlighting wildfire prevention and suppression. • Using Forest Service materials in Extension’s Master Naturalist and 4-H programs to help educate broader audiences. Smith notes that the agents in each county are “resident educators” who are poised to present information to communities in such disasters as the wildfires that occurred statewide—but particularly in the Cross Plains and Amarillo areas—this past season. ABOVE, LEFT TO RIGHT: Hundreds of thousands of acres were blackened by fire in the Texas Panhandle this spring. This Gray County scene is typical of the rangeland destruction that killed or displaced cattle. An estimated 2,500 miles of burned fence line will have to be replaced, at a cost of up to $10,000 per mile. Most property losses in the Panhandle were uninsured.

Life scapes

S t a t e ing our natural resources and learning more about the value of fresh food in our diets,” says Villalon.

McCutchen to Lead Technology Commercialization

School Garden Wins Environmental Award A successful gardening project at Weslaco High School has earned students and their teacher the 2006 Texas Environmental Excellence Award in the youth division. The award is presented by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Dr. Debbie Villalon and her students started the project, a botanical garden classroom, in the summer of 2004, after Villalon attended a Master Gardener program for teachers at The Texas A&M University System Agricultural Research and Extension Center at Weslaco. By fall 2004, their efforts had garnered them the attention of Roy Rodriguez, program coordinator of the Rensselaerville Institute, who presented Villalon and her students with a $2,000 grant from Texas Parks and Wildlife and the Texas Department of Health. From there the project blossomed to include the efforts of students, teachers, administrators, community members and numerous organizations. The garden is located on the school campus and consists of fruits and vegetables, a butterfly garden, and a cactus garden. It represents 30 species of native flowering shrubs and herbs. Villalon previously worked on the human genome project, sequencing cancer genes at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. Her father, Dr. Ben Villalon, is a retired Texas Agricultural Experiment Station pepper breeder, whose credits include the development of the TAM Mild Jalapeño pepper. “The intent of this program has always been to incorporate more handson outdoor activities into our science curriculum and to improve student awareness in two main areas: conserv-

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Dr. Bill F. McCutchen has been named deputy associate director of the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station. He will work with The Texas A&M University System’s Office of Technology Commercialization to facilitate the development of intellectual property from Experiment Station research, with special emphasis on biological sciences. He earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in entomology from Texas A&M and his doctorate from the University of California–Davis, 1993. McCutchen comes to the Experiment Station from DuPont Agriculture & Nutrition, Pioneer Hi-Bred, where he was crop protection and herbicide product coordinator. He is known for his vision, innovation and leadership in working with new herbicide-tolerant transgenic crops and a new-generation weed-management program. “Dr. McCutchen has demonstrated his insight and leadership throughout his career, and that will benefit the Experiment Station as we capitalize on the technology and discoveries of our researchers across the state,” says Dr. Elsa Murano, vice chancellor and dean of agriculture and life sciences and director of the Experiment Station.

Gerik Is New Director of Blackland Center Dr. Thomas Gerik was appointed in May as resident director of The Texas A&M University System Blackland Research and Extension Center in Temple. He had served as interim director of the center for 10 months. The Blackland center is one of 13 statewide centers associated with the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station. The center is internationally recognized for its efforts in developing agri-

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cultural and natural resource simulation models to address soil, water and air quality issues. Software developed at the center includes CroPMan and WinEPIC. The center shares space with the USDA Agricultural Research Service’s Grassland, Soil and Water Research Laboratory and is closely tied to programs affiliated with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, which also has offices there. The center is currently engaged in the Conservation Effects Assessment Program, a project to document environmental and economic impacts of USDA soil and water conservation programs.

A&M Honors Representative Henry Bonilla U.S. Rep. Henry Bonilla—who, as chairman of the House Agricultural Appropriations Subcommittee, has helped to address key issues in agriculture and natural resources—was given the Texas A&M Agriculture Outstanding Public Servant Award May 1 during the 2006 Ag Forum in San Antonio. Bonilla has supported Texas Agricultural Experiment Station and Texas Cooperative Extension research in water conservation, air quality, and enhanced beef quality management. Dr. Elsa Murano (shown presenting the award), vice chancellor and dean of agriculture and life sciences at Texas A&M University and director of the Experiment Station, says, “His work has helped Texas A&M Agriculture serve the citizens and preserve natural resources.” The award is given to an individual not directly involved in production agriculture who has contributed significantly to the well-being of agriculture.


Transgenic Trees Hold Promise for Citrus Industry

Researcher develops grapefruit trees designed to resist deadly virus, bacteria and insects by Rod Santa Ana III hen spring arrives in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas, the air becomes drenched with the sweet aroma of citrus tree blossoms. The gardenia-like fragrance hangs in the air for weeks. Hummingbirds—stopping to recharge before continuing their northward migration—flit from tree to tree as they feast on nectar and insects. Nature’s annual ritual is an olfactory and visual bonus for South Texas natives and visitors alike, but the blooms also mark the beginning of another production season for growers in the area’s 24,000-acre citrus industry. Because each citrus tree blossom is a potential fruit, growers eagerly track the timing, quality and quantity of the yearly blooms to help them predict the yields they might expect nine months hence. Among those anxiously awaiting the flowering event this year was Dr. Erik Mirkov, a virologist and molecular biologist at The Texas A&M University System Agricultural Research and Extension Center at Weslaco. His interest in blooms, though, was not like most other growers’. In late March, Mirkov carefully examined the brilliant white blooms of experimental citrus trees found nowhere else in the world. They are reaching maturity and in due time will produce the first measurable fruit from transgenic, or genetically modified, citrus trees with built-in resistance to devastating insects and diseases. “This is the only field trial of transgenic citrus in the U.S.,” says Mirkov. “We’re pretty sure it’s the only field trial in the world, and I’m certain this will be the first time that fruit was produced from transgenic citrus trees under natural field conditions.” Mirkov is pleased with the large number of blooms he found and the potential fruit set these unique and valuable trees have produced. With a good growing season and a little luck, he will have plenty of fruit to evaluate in late December and early January. If those evaluations show the fruit has the same agronomic traits preferred by growers and consumers, Mirkov’s many years of pioneering research in South Texas will be a phenomenal scientific success. He will have produced the world’s first Photos: Jerrold Summerlin


OPPOSITE: Dr. Erik Mirkov, Texas A&M virologist and molecular biologist at the Weslaco center, examines grapefruit tree cultures from his first experimental trees. ABOVE: Young grapefruit trees in the greenhouse are inoculated with a virus to produce immunity, much like vaccinations for humans. They may be the progenitors of tomorrow’s pathogen- and insect-resistant citrus crops.

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citrus trees that are resistant to a host of nature’s worst ravages while retaining the premium-quality fruit that makes the Rio Grande Valley famous. Success here will mean that millions of new citrus trees, made hardier by Mirkov’s methods, will one day be planted throughout the world. “If the quality and yield tests are good this winter,” Mirkov says, “we will seek regulatory approval from several federal agencies to produce citrus from transgenic trees, the same way it’s done in the U.S. on 70 million acres of corn, 20 million acres of soybeans, and other transgenic food crops with builtin resistance to pathogens and insects.” In Mirkov’s orchard—planted in 2000 after years of oftentimes uncharted research—are 100 Rio Red grapefruit trees, the area’s predominant citrus variety. Of those, 65 have resistance to the tree-killing Citrus tristeza virus (CTV), 10 are resistant to insects, and 20 have bacterial resistance. The Spanish word tristeza (sadness) well describes the devastating effects of the virus that has destroyed millions of citrus trees worldwide. The virus is quickly transmitted from tree to tree and region to region by the brown citrus aphid, a small but highly efficient vector. “The virus resistance in these trees is pathogen-driven,” explains Mirkov. “The gene is actually from the virus itself, much like vaccinations that are given to humans to prevent diseases.”


Mirkov has also developed trees resistant to the brown citrus aphid. “The insect resistance is from a naturally occurring protein from the snowdrop lily, a plant commonly found in the northeastern United States. This protein has toxicity to insects, but not to birds and mammals.” Of the 65 trees produced using the pathogen-driven method, Mirkov has identified five that have resistance to CTV. Inoculated with the virus, these trees show much lower levels of the disease infection than normal trees—low enough to help a tree withstand the killer virus and actually produce fruit. To produce transgenic trees with total immunity (not merely resistance) to CTV, Mirkov is working with another method, called map-based cloning. It’s the same process used to find defective genes for cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophy and other diseases in humans. The method had never been used in citrus, however, so Mirkov had no resources on which to base his work. He had to develop molecular genetic tools and methods from scratch. “In addition to developing the scientific method to do this with citrus, our challenge here is to isolate a single CTVresistance gene from a close relative of citrus called trifoliate orange, which is commonly used only as rootstock,” he says. “That gene provides broad-spectrum, durable immunity to Citrus tristeza virus.” After five years of work, Mirkov narrowed the search for the immunity gene from 120,000 base pairs of trifoliate orange DNA down to 10 genes. It’s like finding the proverbial haystack needle, but Mirkov is confident one of them is responsible for CTV immunity. But the scientific method could only take him so far. As the search narrowed, the final 10 genes could be identified only by transforming individual plants with the potential treesaving genes, which added years to this research. “We’ve challenged transgenic progeny with the virus and we’ve definitely eliminated five genes; they do not provide resistance,” he says. “We have limited data to show two others don’t either, so we’re down to three, one of which is going to be the gene. But the transgenic plants are not yet large enough (they must be 7 to 8 inches tall) to inoculate them with the virus.”


Insects thrive in the Lower Rio Grande Valley’s warm, humid climate. The same climate that allows growers to produce staggered year-round harvests of sugarcane, vegetable, cotton and citrus crops also serves as an ideal breeding ground for pests. Insects cause major losses and exorbitant pesticide management expenses for growers of all crops. For citrus growers, insects cause relentless and irreparable damage—some by weakening and eventually killing trees, others by damaging fruit or leaving blemishes on the otherwise perfect rinds consumers demand on a red-blush grapefruit. Ten of the insect-resistant grapefruit trees Mirkov has developed are transgenic with insect resistance only, using the protein from the snowdrop lily gene. Rigorous replicated trials of insect resistance have not yet begun, but Mirkov is confident they will be resistant to many of the baneful insects that have caused growers endless headaches and heartbreak for a century here. “The snowdrop lily gene in these trees is found in many other transgenic plant systems, including tomatoes, corn and potatoes. It provides broad-spectrum insect resistance, and the preliminary data looks good for resistance in these trees to citrus leaf miner and citrus rust mite, some of the most damaging citrus insects found here,” he says. Cuttings from these trees have been sent to Florida to test for resistance to a relatively new and highly damaging insect to South Texas: the Diaprepes root weevil, whose burrowing injures trees, leaving them susceptible to opportunistic secondary diseases. The bacterial resistance Mirkov has incorporated into the 20 transgenic trees in the orchard of 100 comes from an unlikely source: cows. The gene produces a natural, highly effective protein that provides bacterial resistance found in a cow’s stomach and rennin, an enzyme used to make cheese and yogurt. ABOVE, FROM LEFT: DNA sequencing over a five-year period allowed Mirkov to narrow the search for the immunity gene for a deadly citrus virus down to 10 genes. Careful nurturing of young Rio Red grapefruit plants has led to the first flowering of Mirkov’s 100-tree orchard, which this winter should produce the world’s first fruit from transgenic citrus trees under natural field conditions.

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Tr a i l b l a z e r s The Texas Water Resources Institute, a division of the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station, has received the state’s highest environmental recognition—a Texas Environmental Excellence Award—for a range revegetation pilot project at the U.S. Army’s Fort Hood military installation. The Blackland Research and Extension Center at Temple, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and Fort Hood personnel are project partners. The project uses composted manure from dairy operations in the North Bosque River watershed to help reestablish vegetation and thereby reduce erosion on military training grounds (see story in Spring 2005 issue of Lifescapes). “We are honored to receive this award,” says Dr. Allan Jones, director of the Texas Water Resources Institute and principal investigator for the project. “It was a total team effort.” The project will serve as a model to treat similarly affected areas across the state. A similar protein is also found in mother’s milk, tears and mucous membrane. Mirkov says that despite its wondrous ability to fend off virulent bacteria, government entities consider it as innocuous as food additives and preservatives. “It’s from a group of proteins the Food and Drug Administration classifies as ‘generally regarded as safe,’ or GRAS,” he says. “There are no known allergies related to it, and it’s a fast-track approval.” Tests are still being conducted, but if this gene has indeed been incorporated and is expressed in Mirkov’s trees, it could help fend off some of the most destructive emerging bacteria the citrus industry has ever faced: citrus canker and citrus greening. “These bacteria have no known cures, other than the complete destruction of infected trees,” he says. “They literally threaten the very existence of citrus production in the United States and elsewhere.” Although not yet detected in Texas, citrus canker has caused untold losses in Florida. The state-mandated destruction of infected trees and the resulting litigation and controversy has made the disease a living nightmare. Citrus greening, another destructive bacterium, has, so far, also spared Texas citrus. But as more Florida growers succumb to canker’s seemingly steroid-enhanced cousin, growers here know it’s only a matter of time before the citrus greening menace invades the Lone Star State. Mirkov’s bacteria-resistant trees would be a godsend. “Preliminary results from transgenic plants we’ve sent to Florida for testing look promising for resistance to canker,” says Mirkov. “And at this point we’re in the process of setting up collaboration between the Texas A&M Kingsville Citrus Center at Weslaco and Florida researchers to see if our trees are resistant to citrus greening as well.” The amount of fruit produced by Mirkov’s 100 trees this winter will be so small, relatively, that it won’t register a blip on citrus-production radar screens. But so much is riding on the success of these trees that it will be difficult to calculate their financial worth to the agricultural industry if they live up to even half of their promise.

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The national 4-H Youth Development program has received a Department of Defense Certificate of Commendation for its “exceptional service” to children of military families. The certificate was signed by Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld. Texas 4-H military liaison Marilyn Prause helped bring 4-H programs to military youth and families as coordinator of one of the first Operation Purple camps, in partnership with the National Military Families Association. Twenty-six such camps have been offered this summer, with Texas hosting two. Dr. Danny Klinefelter, Texas Cooperative Extension economist, has received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Southern Association of Agricultural Scientists. During his 27-year career, Klinefelter has developed nationally recognized management programs for agricultural producers and executives. His most notable achievement is The Executive Program for Agricultural Producers (TEPAP). Initiated in 1991, it has attracted more than 800 agribusiness managers and agricultural producers and has been adopted in Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Klinefelter has taught more than 5,000 undergraduate students at Texas A&M and has received two Association of Former Students Distinguished Faculty Achievement Awards. Texas A&M University’s Graduate Degree Program in Water Management and Hydrological Sciences—which admitted its first class in the fall of 2005—has received the 2006 Education and Public Service Award from the Universities Council on Water Resources. The award is given in recognition of exceptional education and public outreach in water resources. The degree is unique in Texas, says program chair Dr. Ronald Kaiser, because it is offered not by any one department or college but by a nearly 50-member Texas A&M water faculty from 11 departments and four colleges. Only a handful of universities in the United States have interdisciplinary programs in water research and education.


Photos: Jerrold Summerlin



Horticulturists help beautify and protect urban environments by Janet Gregg

T Photo: Jerrold Summerlin

exas’s ongoing drought underscores the fact that water supplies are growing more precious. Underground water tables are declining or taking longer to replenish, posing environmental concerns for urban areas. Since the average American household uses an estimated 76 gallons of water per day to irrigate lawns, shrubs and gardens, many municipalities are taking a hard look at how much water is used for these purposes and at ways to adopt practices that promote sustainable water use, encouraging residents to use no more water than is replaced by rainfall. Agricultural—specifically horticultural and turfgrass— research continues to focus on the development of new plant varieties that use less water and are more drought-tolerant. The key, though, is getting the public and municipalities to choose low-water-use and drought-tolerant turfgrasses and landscaping plants. The Texas Agricultural Research and Extension Center at Dallas has taken a lead in the Dallas Metroplex by partnering

OPPOSITE: A bumblebee gathers pollen from blue salvia plants as volunteers maintain a flower garden at the Dallas Arboretum. ABOVE, FROM LEFT: Jimmy Turner, the Arboretum’s research director (left), and Dr. Steve George, Extension horticulturist, admire the abundant blooms on Knockout roses improved by the addition of expanded shale (right), which aerates clay soils, resulting in healthier plant root systems. Unlike other soil treatments, which have to be added annually, expanded shale is added only once.

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with several municipalities and nonprofit organizations to promote environmentally friendly horticultural landscaping practices in high-visibility areas that will also garner increased public awareness and education. For the past six years, the center has worked closely with the Dallas Arboretum on cooperative research and testing. “The arboretum tests roughly 3,000 plants each year,” says Jimmy Turner, director of research for the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Society. “Of those, about 1,000 are tested jointly with Texas A&M University. Annuals are tested a minimum of two to three years in a row, and perennials and roses are tested at least three years.” As a result of the trials, the toughest, most successful plants are named to the North Texas Winner’s Circle or receive designation as a Texas Superstar. “The North Texas Winner’s Circle is a regional program within the statewide Texas Superstar program. Plants that receive either or both designations have already passed the quality and reliability test,” says Dr. Wayne Mackay, a horticulturist with the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station at the Dallas center. “It’s been a great partnership for the arboretum and for us. The arboretum gets research and experience from us, and we get exposure to the public.” Dr. Steve George, a Texas Cooperative Extension horticulturist at the Dallas center and the driving force behind the North


Photos: Michelle Shook and Janet Gregg

Texas EarthKind Roses program, also values the partnership with the Dallas Arboretum. “The trial gardens at the Dallas Arboretum combine the best of organic and traditional gardening and landscaping techniques to create a new horticultural system for the 21st century—a research-proven system based on real-world effectiveness and environmental responsibility,” George says. Center researchers have partnered on another high-profile project in North Texas. The Crape Myrtle Trails of McKinney Foundation and the City of McKinney are planting 100 miles of crape myrtle driving trails throughout the city. To date, more than 2,000 crape myrtles representing some 18 varieties have been planted along 10 miles of streets. Dr. Raul Cabrera, who specializes in woody ornamentals horticulture at the Dallas center, serves as project consultant. The crape myrtle collection at the center provides the research and education base for the trails project, Cabrera says. “Many of the hybrid crape myrtle developments since the mid-1970s were evaluated at the Dallas center before being released to the public.” Steve Brainerd, McKinney parks and development superintendent, says he has been very happy with the crape myrtles they’ve planted. “They like hot weather, and you can take away the water supply for this plant and it will survive—if you have water rationing, for example,” Brainerd says Susan Owens, executive director of the Crape Myrtle Trails of McKinney Foundation, says the public has also responded well to the trail. “The community loves this project,” she says. “People want to know how to get more involved.” Another partnership project grows alongside Grapevine’s recently completed Dove Loop Road. Sixty varieties of rose bushes line nearly 800 feet of the roadway. When in bloom, the garden literally stops drivers in their tracks. “Many drivers slow down and take a look, and others stop and walk the length of the garden, smelling the flowers and reading the name tags placed in front of each bush,” says Kevin Mitchell, Grapevine parks superintendent.


Dedicated last October, the trial garden is a joint project of the City of Grapevine, the Grapevine Garden Club and Texas Cooperative Extension. “The trials currently under way include five roses in the final stages of a statewide research effort for EarthKind designation and 30 rose cultivars in a trial for national and international EarthKind designation,” says Michelle Shook, a volunteer who coordinates the EarthKind Rose Brigade. “Roses designated as EarthKind are naturally disease- and insect-resistant. They also use as much as 70 percent less water, require almost no maintenance, and need no fertilizers or pesticides,” says Landry Lockett, Collin County Extension agent for horticulture and the national coordinator for Master Gardeners in the EarthKind Rose Brigade. “We want to help create beautiful, productive landscapes that require minimal maintenance and maximum protection for the environment.” Addison is home to another EarthKind rose trial garden. The city partnered with the Dallas center nearly four years ago, when the city manager began emphasizing fiscally responsible water use. “Because the parks department is the town’s largest water user, a conscious effort is under way to switch city landscaping to plants that are drought-tolerant,” says Slade Strickland, Addison parks and recreation director. “We’re trying to be proactive about saving water.” Strickland adds that the rose trial garden’s high-profile location at Les Lacs Linear Park, the town’s largest park, has generated a lot of response from the community. “A lot of times we get calls from people who want to know what we’re doing,” he says. “They’re also curious about cerABOVE, FROM LEFT: More than 2,000 crape myrtles currently beautify the city of McKinney, adding color to some 10 miles of streets. When completed, the Crape Myrtle Trails project will create 100 miles of driving trails throughout the city. At a Crape Myrtle Trails conference, executive director Susan Owens (left), Extension horticulturist Dr. Raul Cabrera, and Collin County Master Gardener Diane Sharp discuss the merits of hybrid varieties. Addison’s Rose Trails help to beautify the city with brightly colored EarthKind roses. Visitors to the first EarthKind park in the nation can enjoy displays of colorful foliage, knowing the gardens are conserving water and contributing to a cleaner environment.

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tain varieties of roses, or just want to express how beautiful they are and how much they enjoy having them at the park.” George says Addison has seen a 75 percent reduction in water usage in the garden. Town leaders were so happy with the rose trial gardens that the concept has been expanded to a half-dozen locations around the city, including construction of a new city park built using EarthKind methods. The park, Parkview Park, was completed last fall. It covers 0.7 acres and is the first fully EarthKind park in the nation. It’s an example George hopes other municipalities will follow. “Addison is the first example of a complete EarthKind rose trial, where they follow all of the tenets of the EarthKind approach, both in soil management and plant culture,” George says. “It definitely is a model for park systems worldwide. “It shows how parks can have beautiful plantings with great protection for the environment and significantly reduce maintenance costs. So it’s the prototype for what we want parks, botanic gardens, Master Gardener groups and rose societies across the U.S. to emulate.” Dr. Frank Gilstrap, resident director of the Dallas center, believes in the value of partnerships and says efforts will continue to create new partnerships that benefit research, the center’s surrounding communities and the state as a whole. “We all bring different areas of expertise to the table, and together we could be more productive in regard to regional and urban planning,” Gilstrap says. One example Gilstrap cites is a partnership with the City of Forney. “We’re consulting with the City of Forney on an integrated and holistic approach to installing new yards and renovating old ones,” Gilstrap says. “This is hopefully only the beginning. “Climate, water usage, growth rate, and disease- and insectresistance are all things that should be factored in when yards are being built or renovated,” Gilstrap continues. “And yet we all see new neighborhoods go in with landscaping that is not the best possible choice for our drought-stricken summers with frequent water restrictions—not to mention our cold winters. It’s not fiscally responsible, and it’s not environmentally

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responsible either. With the work we do here at the Dallas center on turfgrass and horticulture, we should be at the forefront of working with cities and developers in this regard.” Gilstrap says the Dallas center will continue to pursue partnerships that promote environmentally friendly plants and landscaping practices to demonstrate their positive impacts.

Dallas Arboretum 8525 Garland Road Dallas, TX 75218-4335 214-515-6500

Parkview Park (EarthKind park) 5032 Parkview Place

Rose Trails Addison, TX 972-450-2869

The Crape Myrtle Trails of McKinney P. O. Box 2909 McKinney, TX 75070 972-542-1550

City of Grapevine Rose Trail Grapevine, TX 76051 817-410-3185 21


Life scapes

Changing the Way People Eat

Students in Department of Nutrition and Food Sciences make varied career choices by Linda Anderson


Photos: Jim Lyle

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alk into Texas A&M University’s new Department of Nutrition and Food Sciences, and doors to the world open. Just ask the students OPPOSITE: Laura Smith, a nutrition science major at Texas A&M, hopes to who are enrolled there. work in New Zealand as a children’s dietitian. ABOVE: Senior nutrition major For instance, Danielle McGee, a senior Danielle McGee talks with department head Dr. Michael McBurney about her nutrition major from Lubbock, studied plans to enter culinary school. abroad in Italy last summer. She has also spent time in Africa and China, which triggered her interest in international cuisine. Now her goal is to use her degree as an entrée into culinary school.


Senior Kerri Schneider talks with an elderly client about improving her diet by replacing refined sugars with fruit. Kerri plans a career in the “people” part of food science.

“I hope to have a television show focusing on international foods,” she says. “That’s my dream. Realistically, I want to provide eating disorder therapy, and on the side have counseling and cooking classes.” McGee practices her cooking techniques on family and friends and has learned to make traditional dishes with healthier ingredients. “I make desserts with whole wheat and no sugar,” she says. “I once made lasagna using turkey and low-fat ricotta cheese. No one could tell the difference. If I don’t tell them, they won’t know.”

great experience to work in a different country with a different culture,” she says. Her interest in nutrition was triggered during her years at A&M Consolidated High School, and she shadowed a dietitian from the College Station Medical Center one summer. “That showed me what I wanted to do,” Smith says. “I wanted to be in a health profession. This way I can combine my love of nutrition and helping others without pursuing medical school.” Kerri Schneider, a senior food science and poultry science major, has career goals that are as wide-reaching, but a little closer to home. “I hope to do something in the field of recruitment in the food science industry,” she says. “I didn’t find the ‘science’ part as interesting as the ‘people’ part.” But that, she says, is what’s so wonderful about the new Department of Nutrition and Food Sciences: —Danielle McGee, nutrition major Each student can choose an area of focus, whether Texas A&M Department of Nutrition and Food Sciences it’s technology or human interaction. Schneider is president of the Food Science Club at Texas A&M and has put her interest in recruitment to She says she also makes a tasty crème brûlée and a cheesework through that organization. cake using low-fat ingredients. “We encourage food industry members to come visit Texas “I love the challenge of finding people’s favorite foods and A&M University and give presentations about their companies making them healthier,” she says. and jobs and the internships available,” she says. “We also tour Laura Smith, a junior nutrition science major, says, “I want food companies and get hands-on experience.” to be a dietitian, probably working with children because I Last fall the group toured HEB’s meat plant and the Oak think nutrition education needs to be started at a young age Farm Dairy plant, both in San Antonio. Spring tours included with prevention of obesity.” She lived in New Zealand for a visits to the Slovacek Sausage Company in Snook and Blue while and says she wants to spend at least two years working Bell Creamery in Brenham. there, although she plans to start her career in a U.S. hospital. “I think the best one we toured was Budweiser in Houston,” “I have a great passion for New Zealand, and it would be a Schneider says with a grin, “and Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream,

“I love the challenge of finding people’s favorite foods and making them healthier.”


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also in Houston. It’s interesting to learn about such different industries—from beer to ice cream.” The visits to the plants underlined her preference for the human side of nutrition and food science, rather than the technical side, she says. “If I had the option, I would work in academia here, or with Texas Cooperative Extension,” Schneider says. “I hope to continue my involvement and recruitment efforts in the Institute of Food Technologists [a nonprofit scientific society headquartered in Chicago].” Opportunities in the ever-increasing fields of nutrition and food science are part of the reason for the department’s formation, says Dr. Michael McBurney, department head. “We are entering an era of unprecedented knowledge of how [human and animal] bodies work and the long-term impact of our food choices,” he says. “That knowledge is going to have to be taken out of the lab and put in the hands of people to help them live healthier lives, in convenient and cost-effective ways.” The Department of Nutrition and Food Sciences officially opened in September 2005. McBurney began his new duties as department head after spending the previous eight years in research and development, product development, and nutrition marketing with the Kellogg Company in Battle Creek, Mich. Currently 17 faculty members—several with dual appointments—staff the department, but that will soon change. Several new teaching and research positions have been approved, McBurney says. The new hires will cover such fields as food chemistry, molecular and cellular nutrition, developmental nutrition, and enology (the science of wine and winemaking). “The new positions will do several things,” McBurney says. “They will contribute to the teaching programs on the undergraduate and graduate levels, expanding the breadth of the courses offered. They will be expected to get research funding and conduct research generating answers to give guidance to health professionals, policy makers and the public, to improve the health and well-being of our bodies and our communities.” McBurney wants the department to offer signature programs, one of which will be obesity research. The new Center for Obesity Research and Program Evaluation, headed by Dr. Peter Murano, was established in January. Murano, who also teaches in the Department of Nutrition and Food Sciences, planned to have the center up and running soon. “There’s a tremendous amount to be learned about factors that control obesity and its diseases,” McBurney says. “Those factors include genetics, metabolism, the effects of fiber in the diet, and vitamins and minerals—as well as community factors such as culture, society and personality.” Obesity and its possible causes and cures is only one field of study available to students. Currently the Department of Nutrition and Food Sciences has about 475 students, McBurney says. Undergraduates can earn either a bachelor of science degree in nutrition or a bachelor of science degree in food science and technology, depending on the focus of their studies. “We are doing a complete renovation of the undergraduate program in nutrition and food sciences,” he says. “These two degrees have operated independently, and we want to see if we have overlap in some courses.”

The basic programs are nothing new at the university, McBurney says. Undergraduate and graduate programs in nutrition and food sciences and technology have been offered for over 20 years at Texas A&M. But this is the first time all these programs have been offered under one roof, so to speak. “This is a consolidation of existing programs that were scattered throughout other departments,” he explains.

“We are entering an era of unprecedented knowledge of how [human and animal] bodies work and the long-term impact of our food choices.”

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—Dr. Michael McBurney, head Texas A&M Department of Nutrition and Food Sciences Faculty members for the new department were already teaching at the university. So why go to all the trouble of reorganizing these programs? “We want to provide students with the best education and the proven best utilization of faculty,” McBurney says. Smaller class sizes promote more opportunity for students, and the consolidation of unit functions gives the students more of an identity, he adds. The students agree. “As a freshman, I really didn’t know what department I fell under,” McGee says. “This department gives me an identity as a nutrition student.” “I think the benefit for the students is the focused attention in our majors as it applies to science-based issues, as opposed to just animal-based issues,” Schneider says. “As part of a smaller group, we are given more opportunities to interact with faculty and staff and truly make connections with others in the department. There is more attention focused on students and the opportunities available to them. I feel that we can only continue to move forward and improve the quality of education for food science and nutrition students.” Graduating from a department of nutrition and food sciences also can give students more of an “in” with food companies, when it comes time to make career choices, Schneider adds. She advises incoming students: “At least take a food science class to see if it sparks your interest. The opportunities are wide and varied, whether you are interested in sales and marketing, chemistry and other sciences, communication, or food processing. If you are looking for a field that will guarantee you a great job straight out of college, food science is it!” “The department unifies us,” Smith says. “It’s neat to be able to have a department with people who care about human nutrition.” Web site:


Fighting FAT New research center will work to reduce obesity in children by Linda Anderson


Life scapes

Photo: Jim Lyle


hat’s the most pressing health issue in the United That led him to the question: What is the current activity States these days? Bird flu? Drug and alcohol abuse? with respect to whole grains in school cafeterias? HIV/AIDS? Cancer? “If we can create a program to conduct not only a needs None of the above, says Dr. Peter Murano, professor in assessment, but also a feasibility study and innovative interTexas A&M University’s College of Agriculture and Life Scienvention to increase whole-grain consumption, we have the ces, in the new Department of Nutrition and Food Sciences. potential to impact children’s behavior and cognition, nutri“Obesity is public health problem number one,” he says. tional health, and body weight in positive ways,” he says. That’s why Murano brought his dream of an obesity “And we cannot leave out the physical activity part in this, research center with him when he returned to Texas A&M which is critical.” last year after several years in Washington, D.C., as an adminSo-called whole grain foods may vary in their whole grain istrator of federal programs, a number of which contained and fiber content. Murano says, “It would be a better strategy obesity-fighting initiatives. Murano has to transition in whole grain flour content to, been named director of the new Center for a 30 percent to 60 percent or so blend “We suspect that flavonoid say, Obesity Research and Program Evaluation at first, because the kids have to eat it and at Texas A&M. like it.” and other molecules in The center was approved by the Board of Parents, teachers, school administrators Regents in January, and until recently and others will also have their say in this whole grains might be Murano was the only staff member. But project. “One key factor of supreme imporbioactive and exert that has changed with the recent hiring of tance is that significant adults be involved in several other staff, including Dr. Jairam the study,” Murano says. “Assessing wholeanti-obesity effects due to grain-food availability in the community Vanamala, a research scientist with expertise in molecular techniques. parents shop for groceries, and edumechanisms as yet unclear, where “The center has been granted three years cating parents regarding best choices are of start-up funds by Texas A&M, the Texas also key,” he adds. such as influencing Agricultural Experiment Station and Texas “We also want to understand which natuCooperative Extension. After that it needs rally occurring substances in whole grains oxidation, energy to be self-sufficient, which can be achieved and other foods might be biologically active metabolism, hunger through a combination of research grants in people and what specific effect [they and contracts, as well as other support,” exert], for example, on hunger mechanisms and satiety.” Murano says. or satiety [feeling full],” he says. Murano already knows where he wants to Certain non-nutrient compounds or molefocus his first research efforts: fighting cules—not vitamins, minerals, proteins, car—Dr. Peter Murano, director childhood obesity. bohydrates or fats—might cause biological or Texas A&M Center for Obesity When he was in Washington as an admin- Research and Program Evaluation metabolic activity that affects the body’s istrator for the U.S. Department of Agriculhealth, and even its ability to store or burn ture’s (USDA’s) Food and Nutrition Service, he worked with fat. These compounds are said to be “bioactive.” such national nutrition programs as the Special Supplemental “We suspect that flavonoid and other molecules in whole Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) grains might be bioactive and exert anti-obesity effects due to and the National School Lunch Program. mechanisms as yet unclear, such as influencing oxidation, Initially, Murano wants to study the effects of whole grains energy metabolism, hunger and satiety,” Murano says. on obesity prevention. He has a proposal pending that, if The new obesity center will emphasize the two kinds of funded, would join his researchers with colleagues in research needed to get a complete picture of how these and Minnesota, to be on the cutting edge in nutrition intervention other substances might play a role in weight management. research in this area. “This includes the area of ‘nutrigenomics,’ or how food “Currently only 10 percent [based on average daily conmolecules affect our genes, and ‘proteomics,’ which studies sumption] of grain-based foods consumed are whole grains,” the effects on protein expression in cells,” Murano explains. he says. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2005, published “It can focus on fat-cell metabolism, the role of hormones jointly by the USDA and the Department of Health and such as insulin and gut peptides, and the effects of bioactive Human Services, recommends 50 percent (see www. food molecules on food intake and the regulation of energy metabolism. A protein called adiponectin is one that we will

likely study. It is associated with obesity and type 2 diabetes in humans.” The other is program and policy research, which, according to Murano, is “based on studies of human populations and their behavior, socioeconomic background and culture.” He says, “We have lessons to learn from basic lab research, but also by developing and evaluating social change and public health initiatives. At our obesity research center, the two approaches will work in concert.” That means both public outreach and corporate and philanthropic partnerships, he says. Just as the center’s support may stretch far beyond its doors, Murano says, so could its impact. The reasons behind the obesity crisis are many and varied— Dr. Peter Murano, director of the Center for Obesity Research and Program Evaluation at Texas A&M, visited a new lab at the center as it was under construction. The lab will conduct research in “nutrigenomics,” or how food molecules affect human genes. Murano plans to focus initial research on childhood obesity and the way whole grains might improve nutrition.

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and complicated. “Our nation did not become overweight to this extent overnight, and it will not be possible to reverse the trend quickly or easily,” he says. Instead, a “sustained, comprehensive effort grounded in sound science, appropriate messages and the right sort of education will impact key lifestyle factors. “The scope of [obesity research] may be founded on nutrition and health, but it goes far beyond, to include the built environment. For instance, where there are no sidewalks or safe playgrounds, physical activity is limited. In addition, psychology, social patterns, genetics and so on, are important to understand and consider,” Murano says. The best obesity research is genuinely transdisciplinary, he maintains, and that goes back to the notion of partnerships. “If we do our jobs well, what we can achieve here can serve as a model for application and delivery nationwide, part of an overall strategy to reverse the current obesity trend.”


Fr o n t i e r s

Study Shows Corn-Fed Beef Lower in “Bad” Fats A recent Texas Agricultural Experiment Station study, published in the international journal Meat Science, indicates that cattle fed longer on corn will produce beef with more of the “good” kind of fat. U.S. consumers like their beef tender and well-marbled, says Dr. Stephen Smith, Experiment Station professor of animal science in College Station. But studies have found that marbling and other fat from young cattle is high in saturated fats and trans fats, although Smith (in photo) says human studies are needed to determine whether trans fat in beef is harmful to human health. Smith says the study showed that the longer cattle were fed corn, the more monounsaturated—and less saturated— fat they produced. Monounsaturated fats are considered healthier than other dietary fats. U.S. cattle producers typically feed 8month-old cattle a predominantly corn diet until they are slaughtered, at about 1,200 pounds. With adequate rainfall and good pasture, producers sometimes “background” their cattle on grass until they are one year old. Japanese beef producers, on the other hand, feed calves more grass and forage, and then, after weaning at 8 or 9 months, gradually increase the amount of grain in their diet until they are 28 to 30 months old. The study involved American Wagyu and Angus steers. Half were fed a highenergy corn-based diet. The others were fed coastal Bermudagrass hay supplemented with corn. The cattle were fed to 16 to 20 months of age (the U.S. end-


o f

D i s c o v e r y

point) or 24 to 28 months of age (the Japanese endpoint). The corn-fed Angus steers raised to the Japanese endpoint accumulated tissue fats that were “remarkably unsaturated,” according to the report, and fatty tissue from the Wagyu steers contained more oleic acid and other monounsaturated fatty acids, “regardless of diet or endpoint.” Both breeds produced more marbling and less trans and saturated fats the longer they were fed. The corn-fed steers had higher marbling scores than the hay-fed steers, Smith says. Steers raised to the Japanese endpoint had higher marbling scores and USDA quality grades than those raised to the American endpoint.

Native Bees More Efficient Pollinators than Honeybees Native bees may be a hundred times more efficient as crop pollinators than are honeybees, says Jeff Brady, research assistant with the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station in Stephenville. For example, 200 alfalfa leafcutter bees can do the same amount of pollination as a 20,000-honeybee hive. Brady, working with Dr. Forrest Mitchell, Experiment Station entomologist, is building trap nests to encourage native bees to pollinate crops as honeybee populations decline due to competition from Africanized honeybees and susceptibility to parasitic mites. Native bees are resistant to two mite species affecting honeybees, and because they are solitary, are not at risk of attack by Africanized bees—although they may fall prey to woodpeckers and parasitic wasps. Native bees build nests in tiny holes or tunnels that they find in trees and shrubs, wind chimes, even in the empty bolt holes of an abandoned tractor.

Unlike honeybees, which have workers with specialized tasks, female native bees collect pollen to deposit with every egg laid. A bee makes up to 100 trips to gather pollen for each of her 15–20 eggs. There are more than 500 species of native bees in Texas alone, and each may be adapted to pollinate specific crops. Brady’s research involves determining their ideal nesting sites and crop preferences to make the most of these ready-made pollinators.

Wheat Research Grant to Foster New Varieties A $5 million grant to wheat breeders could shorten the time between the outbreak of diseases and the development of resistant wheat varieties, helping farmers produce better grain products and maintaining the international competitiveness of U.S. wheat. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service will administer the award through the National Research Initiative. Texas’s portion of the $5 million grant will be $182,750 over four years, says Dr. Jackie Rudd, Texas Agricultural Experiment Station wheat breeder in Amarillo. The Experiment Station matched the first two years of funding with a Cropping Systems Program grant. The research supported by the grant is called marker-assisted selection—it takes genome research from the laboratory to the field via new disease-resistant, highquality varieties. Dr. Monica Menz, director of the Plant Genome Technology Laboratory at the Texas A&M University Institute for Plant Genome Biotechnology, will receive funding for her work with leaf rust resistance, and Dr. Yiqun Weng, Experiment Station research scientist in Amarillo, will get support for his work with greenbug resistance. The genetic information will be stored in national databases and seed stocks deposited in USDA’s Small Grain Collection, providing long-term public access to genetic information for wheat breeders and researchers nationwide.

Life scapes

white fields of cotton

Bring Water Savings

Crop replacement helps protect a declining aquifer by Kay Ledbetter

Photos: Kay Ledbetter

ncome potential, fuel prices and— most important—water helped Larry Stephens decide to start growing cotton north of Interstate Highway 40, which cuts across the Texas Panhandle as a sort of dividing line between white fields and green. Five years ago, less than 1,000 acres of cotton grew north of IH-40. Now, Stephens and other producers have switched to cotton as a way to cope with dropping water tables and the higher price of natural gas, which is used to fuel irrigation pumps. New cotton varieties offer more profits with only half the fuel and irrigation requirements of corn. In the past two years, two gins have


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been built to process the more than 110,000 acres of cotton, a figure expected to increase substantially. With cotton using about 40 percent less water per acre than corn, water savings are expected to be about 60,000 acre-feet per year. That’s 325,000 gallons per acrefoot, or a total of 19.5 billion gallons of water saved each year—the equivalent of about half the volume of Lake Meredith, which supplies water to 17 municipalities in the Texas Panhandle and the southern High Plains. Stephens is one of approximately 10,000 producers who irrigate crops on the Texas High Plains, the state’s most intensively irri-

ABOVE, LEFT: Cotton blooms and squares (buds) are beginning to replace corn tassels in many fields north of Interstate Highway 40 in the Texas Panhandle. RIGHT: Producers can use 40 percent less water by switching from a thirsty corn crop to cotton, which is less irrigation-intensive.


gated and productive agricultural region. The Ogallala Aquifer, a vast underground reservoir extending from the Texas Panhandle to southern South Dakota, supplies virtually all irrigation water. Agricultural irrigation accounts for 90 percent of the groundwater withdrawals in many parts of the Ogallala region. In an area short of precipitation and surface water, the amount of water seeping back into the aquifer is far less than the water being withdrawn, especially in the southern half of the aquifer, where water levels are declining 2 to 4 feet per year. Therefore, assessing water use from the depleting supply is vital to balancing supply versus demand for the coming decades. The Ogallala Aquifer Initiative, established in 2003 and funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service, focuses innovative scientific research on improving the sustainability of agricultural industries and rural communities in the region. The Texas A&M University System, including the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station, Texas Cooperative Extension and West Texas A&M University, has more than 20 researchers involved


in the initiative, in partnership with researchers at Kansas State and Texas Tech universities. Their task is to investigate water management practices and estimate their economic impacts. The agencies will also develop and evaluate crop and livestock systems that optimize productivity and product quality, protect the environment, and increase profitability for producers. As many of their experiments were getting under way, a top priority was to determine how much water is available through the aquifer, how it is being used, and what significant impacts any alterations to the current system could have on the general economy. Economists have calculated that the projected total present value of irrigation in the Southern Ogallala Aquifer region (from Kansas southward) over the next 60 years is $19.3 billion, or $990 per acre. At the same time, they have determined that if no water management strategies are implemented, in 60 years the saturated thickness of the Ogallala Aquifer will decrease by an average of 48 percent (up to 90 percent in some areas). Chris Coffman, director of the

TOP, LEFT: Mature cotton is defoliated and dried before being picked from the bolls. TOP, RIGHT: Texas High Plains Evapotranspiration Network weather stations are placed throughout the region to measure the amount of water plants use daily through evaporation and transpiration during their typical growing season. ABOVE: The Carson County Gin was the first to be built north of Interstate Highway 40 under the region’s new phase of cotton production.

Life scapes

Panhandle Water Planning Group, says some of the important data developed by these researchers has already been implemented into the region’s water plan, saving research time and money for the consultants. “It makes us more effective in the planning process and more efficient as users of the water,” Coffman says. “Our economy is based on water.” He says the researchers are developing techniques that will help Panhandle growers decrease irrigation water use but maintain economic viability. “They are developing a comprehensive approach to water conservation for agriculture that benefits not only our region, but other regions, as well as agriculture around the world,” he concludes. Ogallala Initiative researchers determined that the best options for balancing water savings with impact on the region’s economy were irrigation scheduling, improvements in irrigation equipment, conservation tillage, and precipitation enhancement, says Dr. Steve Amosson, Texas Cooperative Extension economist in Amarillo. However, a larger water savings could be realized if

producers switched from high-water-use to lower-water-use crops. Rising natural gas prices made irrigation savings even more important. Natural gas prices had been oscillating for the past five or six years, but after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita struck in 2005, prices skyrocketed. With cotton being one of the few high-value crops to consider, its ability to save water and generate income on reduced irrigation made it a favorable choice. Cotton replacing corn is basically revenue-neutral to the regional economy, but the difference is in the water savings, Amosson says. Yet if natural gas prices go down, the number of corn acres could go back up. Water availability is an important motivation for High Plains farmers, says Roger Haldenby with Plains Cotton Growers, Inc., in Lubbock. “Making the transition to cotton has been a long-term commitment, as evidenced by their purchase of machinery and development of infrastructure, such as gins and warehouses, as well as the development of marketing strategies,” Haldenby says. Carson County alone increased from

39,000 to 67,000 bales of cotton in one year’s time, Stephens says—and everyone expects it to increase again. “With corn, you have to have enough water to water it, whether it rains or not,” he explains. “Cotton will wait on water some.” He runs three wells into a half-mile pivot irrigation system because water is at a minimum in the area between Pampa and Groom. “We’re pushing the water as far as we can,” Stephens says. “We used to water 170 acres of corn and 170 acres of wheat. When cotton came along, we quit the wheat. Then a rotation situation caused us to drop back to one-third of the irrigated pivot in cotton, one-third in corn and maybe one-third in dryland cotton.” To help get a handle on how much irrigation water is enough, Stephens says he consults the Texas High Plains Evapotranspiration Network Web site ( in summer. A network of weather stations measures the amount of moisture a well-watered plant loses daily through evaporation and transpiration during its Rows of cotton like these seen west of White Deer, one of the communities that has a new gin, have become commonplace in the area north of Interstate Highway 40, where cotton production has tripled over the past three years.

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typical growing season. The Web site helps not only with cotton, but also with corn irrigation, says Stephens. Using a moisture probe helps estimate how much water is in the ground, and the network helps determine what is used on a daily basis. It also helps farmers determine when to return to irrigation after a rainfall. Using the network can save a watering or two, and saving 2 inches on either crop at higher gas prices could mean a savings of $20 to $24 per acre. Panhandle AgriPartners ( programs/agripartners) is another Texas Cooperative Extension and Texas Agricultural Experiment Station program designed to help growers determine the exact amount of water needed for irrigation. AgriPartners data provided the basis for the Region A (Texas Panhandle) Water Planning Group’s more accurate irrigation demand data. Irrigation and water management are monitored on cooperative farms using meters, precipitation charts, soil moisture monitors, and rain gauges at each field site. The resulting reports allow growers to better manage their water. The data also allows comparison of different practices, such as row watering and center pivot or subsurface drip irrigation. Since 1998, 500 demonstrations have been conducted on about 55,000 acres, with more than 400 farmers participating. Economics and water savings will ultimately help determine a balance


in seeding rates and fertilizer as growers experiment to find what works best with minimum water. Stephens says he’s using Texas Cooperative Extension irrigation specialist Leon New’s research on different water levels in milo to determine how to irrigate his cotton, since milo responds much the same as cotton. “If we shoot for three bales of cotton per acre, it will take 10 to 12 inches of irrigation. If we have a favorable season, we can use less water,” Stephens says. “With cotton, we’re still learning here—you can water way too much and all you grow is plant instead of fruit.” Stephens says New also has helped with the efficiency of the farm’s wells by using computer programs to re-nozzle sprinklers to compensate for decreased water capacity. “It’s a tuning issue, a matter of matching everything,” Stephens says. “Hook up the irrigation wells and make sure they are operating as efficiently as possible. A producer can pay back the pump repairs with natural gas savings in just a couple of years—there can be that much inefficiency.” With the region’s future depending on making every drop count, finetuning water management technologies and switching to more waterefficient crops such as cotton will be critical for the Texas Panhandle in the coming years.

LEFT TO RIGHT: Cotton is adding interest to the landscape throughout the Texas Panhandle. As nearby corn fields mature and brown, cotton bolls open and speckle the scene with white.

Life scapes

Giving Wisely Photos: Jerrold Summerlin

Sound business values allow couple to honor 65-year involvement with Texas A&M by Steve Byrns


Historic photo courtesy of Robert and Doris Kensing

obert H. and Doris (Whitworth) Kensing have spent their lives together making sound business decisions and avoiding unnecessary financial risks. Robert, a 26-year Texas Cooperative Extension economist, and Doris, a retired elementary school teacher, credit Texas A&M University with much of the success they have enjoyed throughout their lives. The couple’s recent decision to give over $1 million to the Texas A&M Foundation for a gift annuity—the remainder of which will fund endowments in memory of Robert’s former professors Dr. Tyrus Timm and Fred Brison—goes with their well-planned lifestyle. They hope their gift will encourage others to make similar endowments. The Kensings live and ranch near Menard on two sections (a one-squaremile section of land equals 640 acres) they bought in 1991. Robert, a 1960 graduate of Texas A&M, worked as president and executive vice president of the San Angelo Stock Show and Rodeo after retiring from Extension 20 years ago. The couple spent most of their working careers in San Angelo. The Kensings have known each other since childhood. Robert says their first “common venture” came when they sat together at a movie while attending the 1940 version of what later became State 4-H Roundup at College Station. Two years later, at age 16, Robert enrolled at Texas A&M. In 1947 the couple was married. The two shared ranching backgrounds. She was from Kimble County, and he was from Kerr County. Both families were in the Angora goat


business. They ranched in the Hill Country from 1947 to 1955. Robert served a two-year hitch in the army as a dental X-ray instructor in San Antonio. The Kensings decided to return to school in 1957. Doris put her husband through college by working in Bryan public schools. After graduation, he accepted a job as the Extension farm management specialist at San Angelo. Doris was able to complete her education at Abilene Christian University. Both later earned master’s degrees from Texas A&M. While attending Texas A&M, the couple became close to Dr. Tyrus Timm, head of the Department of Agricultural Economics, and Fred Brison, professor in the Department of Horticultural Sciences. The two men nurtured Robert’s interest in economics and pecan culture and instilled values the couple still live by. “Dr. Timm had a lot of influence on a lot of folks,” Robert says. “I hate to use the term salesman, but that’s basically what he was. He was selling Texas A&M and the Agricultural Economics Department. The department eventually became the largest in the country, and he had a lot to do with that. “Of course, Professor Brison was the finest man I ever met. At that time, everyone going through A&M had to take three hours of horticulture. That’s how I got to know him. He took several of us under his wing, and we took advanced pecan culture. He paid another student and me a big compliment when he recommended us to propagate pecans for the public, something he had never recommended any students to do.

“We made good money budding and grafting pecans. We thought we were so good, we even guaranteed 80 percent viability. That worked in College Station’s high humidity, but when I came to San Angelo, it was a different story. “The Brisons were delightful people who were very good to us. He took your individual progress to heart. “The first pecan show I ever helped judge was in San Saba in 1960,” Robert recalls. “Since then, I’ve judged a lot of pecan shows. One year found me at the state pecan show at College Station facing eleven hundred entries. We cracked pecans day and night. That’s when I cooked up the notion of having regional pecan shows to lessen the work that hit all at one time. But the idea would never have happened without the support of L. D. Romberg, Brownwood Pecan Station. You see, folks thought the nuts had to be shelled right there or they would lose quality. Romberg said, ‘If you can’t store them for show, how can you store them for commercial sales?’ That settled the issue right then and there, but if it hadn’t been for his comment, there probably still wouldn’t be any regional pecan shows.” Robert kept his personal interest in pecans, which led him into a good deal on goats in 1972. The couple had bought a weekend getaway place on Bowie Springs near Menard, and they PREVIOUS PAGE: Doris and Robert Kensing enjoy a view of their ranch near Menard. ABOVE, LEFT TO RIGHT: A young Robert Kensing poses with Angora kids on his family’s ranch. The Kensings share morning coffee in the sunroom of their new home. Robert and Doris have been raising Spanish goats since 1972.

Life scapes

A gift that gives right back wanted Spanish goats—livestock that required little care. “The original 15 nannies came from Hext,” says Robert. “Thanks to Professor Brison, along with my duties as an Extension economist, I became an amateur horticulturist—a pecan guy. That’s before we had Extension horticulturists out here, so when a county agent got a question about pecans he couldn’t answer, I was the one he referred folks to. “An insurance salesman from Lubbock wanted to start a pecan orchard at Hext. So I went over there to check the site for him. He had a pretty nice location for pecans right enough. But what I really noticed was that he had 250 Spanish goats on about 320 acres—way too many. I asked him if he would sell me a pickup load and he said, ‘Sure.’ So he put the whole works in a pen: 15 nannies and a billy we called Old Buford. “We’ve never bought a nanny goat since. And we’ve only bought about four outside billies. The kid crop on the ground now is the 34th generation stemming from those original 15 nannies.” Doris inherited a Kimble County ranch in 1984, which allowed the couple to expand their goat operation. They began leasing Spanish billies, as many as 275 head annually, to other ranchers seeking to improve their flocks. “We know what we’re doing when it comes to Spanish goats,” says Robert. “We raise a good kid crop and know how to take care of them. And we kind ABOVE, LEFT TO RIGHT: Kensing smiles as he reminisces about the good old days with Extension and the many friends he made over his 26 years as an economist. Dieter, the Kensings’ “guard llama,” wants more than his share of feed from Robert’s bucket.

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of accidentally developed a pretty good reputation for full-blood Spanish goats along the way.” Robert says, “We’ve never run any Boer [goats] or anything else, just straight Spanish, but nobody’s ever heard me knock Boer goats, because the Boer goat craze put the meat goat business on the map.” The Kensings say that even though their Spanish goats now bring a price of up to $500 each, it is their investments that provided a way for them to participate in planned giving. “Since we didn’t have any children, we’ve been able to acquire a little money as we went along,” says Robert. “Through Extension, I kept telling people, look, if you get a little money ahead, make nonagricultural investments and you can keep farming from now on. And that’s what we did. We had some investments, and they turned out to be pretty good. “When we started saving, we were making pretty good money, so we invested our surplus in tax-exempt bonds and tax-exempt stocks. When the stock market crash came several years ago, it didn’t affect us. We didn’t have any bonds that paid less than 5.5 percent, tax-exempt, which is approximately 8 percent taxable. We used some of these bonds to give to the Texas A&M Foundation for the gift annuity. “We’ve been involved with Texas A&M for 65 years. We wouldn’t be where we are today without Texas A&M. Just going to school there and learning some of the facts of financial life and then being lucky enough to cash in on them, I feel obligated to Texas A&M. And it’s neat to be able to do this.”

The Kensings, Robert ’60 and Doris ’70, chose the charitable gift annuity as their best option for giving over $1 million to the Texas A&M Foundation in honor of professors Ty Timm and Fred Brison ’21, who made a big difference in their lives. This type of gift provides the giver with a charitable income tax deduction in the year the gift is made and also generates partially tax-free payments for the donor(s) for a number of years. Individuals design their gift annuity to produce payments for one or two lifetimes, as in the case of a husband and wife. Gift annuity rates are based on donor ages at the time the gift is made. Younger donors may make the decision to defer the payments of their gift annuity to a later point in life. At the time that the gift annuity payments cease, the donor(s) may also designate that 75 percent of the remainder of their gift annuity be placed in an endowment to support a particular program, department, or college at Texas A&M University. In the Kensings’ case, the 75 percent will be split evenly to create two endowments at the Texas A&M Foundation in memory of Ty Timm and Fred Brison ’21. The annual distribution from the endowments will be used by the leadership in the Departments of Agricultural Economics and Horticultural Sciences to benefit students and faculty. “This is a good deal,” says Robert. “You make the gift to whomever you want to have it. You not only enjoy a set payment for the remainder of your life, but the gift comes off your taxable estate.” To find out more about this and other plans for giving to Texas A&M, visit the Texas A&M Foundation’s Office of Gift Planning Web site at


G i v i n g

M a t t e r s

Scholarship Established in Memory of Ward Family Members Cathy and Ralph Ward, Jr., Class of 1973, in partnership with the College of Agriculture Development Council (COADC), have established the COADC– Ralph, Linda, and Louise Ward Endowed Memorial Scholarship in Agricultural Leadership. The $12,500 gift will be matched with a $12,500 gift from the COADC, for a $25,000 scholarship endowment. The Wards created the endowment in memory of Ralph’s father, Ralph, Sr.; mother, Louise; and sister, Linda. Ralph Ward, Sr., served for 45 years as CEO of the Bruce McMillan, Jr., Foundation in Overton, and 65 years with the McMillan family. He was instrumental in helping establish the Kilgore College Agricultural Center at Overton and The Texas A&M University System Agricultural Research and Extension Center at Overton, both using property provided by the foundation. The McMillan Foundation is a perpetual trust dedicated to agricultural science and education in the Overton area. “We considered several departments at A&M and because of Dad’s leadership and support of agricultural education and research, we chose the Department of Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communications,” says Ward. Because the couple both graduated from Kilgore College, scholarships will be awarded to students pursuing an undergraduate degree in agricultural leadership, with priority given to transfer students having completed two years in the Kilgore College agriculture program. “In this way we can support both schools and encourage exceptional agricultural students by giving them the financial opportunity to continue their education at A&M,” says Ward. “Support from people like the Wards allows our students to experience a full life at Texas A&M, including academics as well as student organization experiences,” says Dr. Chris Townsend, head of the Department of Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communications. Ward, a former communications specialist with Texas Cooperative Extension, continues his father’s leadership legacy as


president of the McMillan Foundation. He has also served as an officer of the COADC and of the Association of Former Agricultural Students of Kilgore College.

Friends Remember Dr. Harry Howell with Entomology Scholarship In recognition of his outstanding career as an urban entomologist in the Department of Entomology, family and colleagues of Dr. Harry Howell, along with the College of Agriculture Development Council, have established the COADC— Dr. Harry N. Howell, Jr., Endowed Scholarship in Urban Entomology. The COADC will match gifts up to $12,500 to create the $25,000 endowment. With gifts in memory of Howell, the endowment now stands at approximately $40,000. The recipients of scholarships provided by the fund must be undergraduate or graduate students pursuing a degree from the Department of Entomology with an interest in urban pest management. Bill Clark, an industry leader and longtime friend, led the fund drive. “Harry and I go way back with the Entomology Department,” Clark says. “He was a hard worker and an institution within the urban pest control industry, conducting countless workshops and seminars, and was totally dedicated to his profession. When he died in June 2005, there was an outpouring from friends and colleagues who wanted to do something in memory of him.” Clark, a COADC member, says the purpose of the scholarship is to attract bright students who otherwise could not afford to go to college. Dr. Roger Gold, professor and holder of the endowed chair in urban and structural entomology, says the scholarship will have an international impact: “We will be able to not only provide assistance to graduate students, but we can also be more efficient in recruiting young people worldwide to come to A&M.”

Scholarship Endowed for Rangeland Ecology and Management The Charles B. and Jean G. Smith Endowed Scholarship provides scholarships for full-time students pursuing a degree in the Department of Rangeland

Ecology and Management. The endowment, recently established by the Smiths with a $50,000 gift to the Texas A&M Foundation, awards scholarships to sophomore, junior or senior students on the basis of academic achievement, extracurricular activities and financial need. “We have few opportunities to create something that goes on forever the way these scholarships will continue to help our students,” says Dr. Steve Whisenant, head of the department. “As education becomes more expensive, it is even more important to give them this kind of help.” Longtime friends and supporters of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the Smiths are especially proud of their Aggie granddaughters, Heather Miller Haliburton, Class of 2000, and Kristen Ditta, Class of 2005. “Heather is an academic adviser in the Department of Rangeland Ecology and Management, and it was through her work with the students that we recognized a need and wanted to help,” says Charlie Smith. The Smiths, now retired from cattle and ranching businesses, have also given scholarships for students majoring in animal science and in agricultural leadership.

Student Atrium to Honor Howard Hesby To celebrate a devoted professor’s commitment to Texas A&M students, the Department of Animal Science will remodel the Kleberg Animal and Food Sciences Center atrium and dedicate it as the Howard Hesby Student Atrium. The atrium will serve as a focal point and gathering place for students in the numerous undergraduate classes the center accommodates each day. The department’s goal is to raise $300,000 for the privately funded project, with the first construction phase beginning in early 2007. During his 34 years of service to Texas A&M, Dr. Hesby, who died in July 2005, taught or advised more than 15,000 undergraduate students. He taught introductory animal science, animal production, agribusiness and equine science courses. For more information about the Howard Hesby Student Atrium, contact Dr. Gary Acuff, Department of Animal Science at (979) 845-1543 or at

Life scapes


IDEAS. Bright FUTURES. You Make a Difference at A&M!

Dr. Jeff Savell, E. M. “Manny” Rosenthal Chairholder

A gift given by a distinguished former student almost 20 years ago continues to benefit students in Texas A&M’s Department of Animal Science. While a student at A&M, “Manny” Rosenthal, Class of 1942, was an active member of the meat judging team. A longtime supporter of A&M, he maintained close ties with the department during his career as president and chair of Standard Meat Company in Fort Worth. In 1987, Rosenthal and his wife, Rosalyn, established the E. M. “Manny” Rosenthal Chair in Animal Science to support research and education in meat science and to increase the profitability of the Texas agriculture industry. The original gift of $500,000, which was matched by the university, has grown to more than $2 million. Along the way, the funds have been instrumental in conducting research, funding field trips and judging activities, buying equipment, publishing research results, and increasing graduate training for Texas A&M’s nationally top-ranked meat and poultry products programs. “The Rosenthal Chair gives us the ability to bridge funding gaps for programs and the flexibility to respond to the industry’s changing needs for meat science research,” says Dr. Jeff Savell, Rosenthal

Chairholder and professor in the Department of Animal Science. “There’s a great demand in the industry for our students, and we’ve been able to be responsive in the type of students we recruit and what we’re training them in.” Savell notes that the opportunities provided by the Rosenthal Chair increase national and international visibility for A&M’s meat science programs. “It’s amazing how Manny continues to live through the lasting contributions generated by his gift. When I’m introduced as the Rosenthal Chairholder, it brings back the memory of a person who is still recognized as important to our state and national meat industry.” For information on One Spirit One Vision–The Texas A&M Campaign giving opportunities in agriculture and life sciences, please contact the Texas A&M Agriculture Development Office at (979) 847-9314 or by e-mail at Texas A&M Agriculture Development Office 2140 TAMU College Station, Texas 77843-2140



2142 TAMU College Station, TX 77843-2142 Change Service Requested

Virtual Command Center At the Texas Forest Service Emergency Operations Center in College Station, personnel use the latest technology to track wildfires and send urgent weather updates to firefighters in the field (see related story on page 10).

Lifescapes Summer 2006  
Lifescapes Summer 2006  

Lifescapes Summer 2006