The Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service recently received a contribution allowing the purchase of a pre-existing facility in Fredericksburg by the Texas A&M University System that will support the state’s viticulture and fruit industries, according to an agency official.
Originally opened in 2007 as the Texas Pierce’s Disease Research and Extension Program laboratory, the 3,200-square-foot facility is located near the Gillespie County Airport. It includes a main building, three large exterior greenhouses and an adjacent research and demonstration plot.
The facility, which now has been renamed the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Viticulture and Fruit Lab, will provide additional education, outreach and research related to statewide fruit production, said Dr. Doug Steele, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service director.
“This is a critical partnership for us as we make a commitment to the facilities, staff and programs that will make a difference across the state,” Steele said. “We greatly appreciate the contribution of Frio Canyon Vineyards and industry encouragement to maintain and expand our efforts in Fredericksburg.”
He noted that while the facility would be staffed by AgriLife Extension personnel, its expanded scope of addressing challenges and opportunities for Hill Country and statewide fruit production would allow for successful collaboration with Texas A&M AgriLife Research, also part of the Texas A&M University System.
“This facility is important geographically because it is in the heart of the Texas Hill Country wine-grape and fruit-growing region, so experiments and Extension research demonstration plots are exposed to the same local environmental extremes as the crops in the area,” said Dr. Dan Lineberger, head of Texas A&M’s department of horticultural sciences, College Station.
The original facility was constructed with the cooperation of private individuals, state and local government, academia, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Texas and California wine industries and others. It was built by a developer at his own expense on county land. While funded by a USDA-APHIS grant, the program paid rent to the developer.
“After the program was no longer funded, we continued to pay a reduced rent from other grant funds. But then a benefactor, Frio Canyon Vineyards, made a contribution to the agency so it could acquire the facility for the Texas A&M University System,” said Jim Kamas, AgriLife Extension pomology and viticulture specialist, and Texas Pierce’s Disease Program outreach coordinator. “Now we’re looking for industry support to help us with utilities and upkeep while we will do our best to staff the facility through research grants.”
Kamas said research and education efforts of the original facility focused primarily on how Pierce’s disease, a disease affecting the production of wine grapes, is transmitted from location to location, and how to best detect and control it. The lab also supported off-site experiments seeking to mitigate losses from cotton root rot.
“We will still contribute significant time and effort to these problems in a commodity that has an annual economic impact to the state of more than $1 billion, as well as other issues regarding viticulture,” Kamas said. “But the new, expanded purpose of the facility will also encompass issues and research related to the production and improvement of many other fruits grown in the Texas Hill Country and throughout the state.”
Peaches, plums, pears, grapes, strawberries and blackberries are some of the fruits grown in this region and other areas of Texas,” said Dr. Larry Stein, AgriLife Extension agent for horticulture in Uvalde. “At the laboratory, we hope to help support the state’s fruit industry through providing research and education leading to best management practices for the profitable production of high-quality fruit.”
Stein said plant disease and drought are two major impediments to profitable fruit production in the Texas Hill Country and other parts of the state, and that the new facility will allow for more research and educational outreach on how to best manage these and other challenges.
“We already have completed a planting of what we call ‘sustainable fruits’ at the facility to show how people can grow some crops in this region and similar regions with minimal inputs,” Stein said. “Those include pomegranates, figs, pears, blackberries and some citrus plants.”
“We’re trying to identify pomegranates with tasty, good quality fruit, figs that don’t freeze or recover well after a freeze, pears that are more resistant to fire blight, and blackberries that produce maximum yields of high-quality fruit on either thornless or thorny canes,” he added.
Kamas and Stein agree there are ample possibilities for the sustainable production of traditional and non-traditional fruits in Texas, which could enhance producer profitability and create new opportunities for the state’s agriculture sector.