What's Happening in the Southwest Region
Armed to Farm
Our office hosted a diverse group of 30 veterans who came from all parts of Texas for an April 13-17 Armed to Farm training in Castroville, Texas. The intensive week-long training included visits to Shudde Ranch, Parker Creek Ranch, Love Creek Orchards, A Y RAAM Farms, and My Father's Farm. NCAT Southeast Regional Office Director Margo Hale led the training, which featured NCAT staff members Robert Maggiani, Guy Ames, and Andy Pressman. Speakers also came from the Farm Service Agency, Capital Farm Credit, NRCS, Texas Department of Agriculture, and Pearl Farmers Market. We look forward to staying in touch with the trainees as they develop their farming enterprises.
New Kid on the Block
Kevin Ellis has joined Mike, Robert, and Justin as the fourth member of our staff in San Antonio. A native of Midlothian, Texas, Kevin is relocating from NCAT's Midwest Regional Office in Des Moines, where he has been working on bringing appropriately-scaled poultry processing facilities to western Iowa. He received his Bachelor of Science in Poultry Science from Texas A&M University and is excited about working with farmers and ranchers in his home state.
In February we learned that our proposal to the Southern SARE Research & Education program was successful, for the two-year project, "Beyond Fresh: Expanding Markets for Sustainable Value-added Food Products in Texas." The project will explore market opportunities for value-added products (such as dried, canned, frozen, or fermented foods) that are made from local and sustainably-produced ingredients. Collaborators will include Oklahoma State University, Texas A&M University, Texas Organic Farmers & Gardeners Association, New Farm Institute, and several Central Texas farms.
Explaining Texas to Norwegians
In March, our office hosted a group of farmers and agriculture workers from Norway. According to their spokesperson, Odd Sandberg, NCAT was chosen from a list of Texas organizations provided by Farm Aid because, "You seem to work with a lot of interesting topics and I also have the feeling that you guys look at things from a little different angle than the big enterprises we will see." The group visited large farms in the Texas panhandle and came to our office with many questions about U.S. agriculture including, "What happens to the family farmer, the local society, what about animal welfare, what about the use of GMOs and growth hormones? And all the transport of food, what does it really cost, and what about the environment?"
Beyond Cantaloupes and Honeydews
Justin Duncan and co-author Jim Ewing have released a new ATTRA publication, Specialty Melon Production for Small and Direct-Market Growers, covering the basics of sustainable melon production, variety selection, and marketing. Robert Maggiani created an accompanying video, Make More Money with Specialty Melons. The publication and video were part of a year-long project, Strategies to Enhance Quality, Taste and Production of Specialty Melons and Artichokes, in collaboration with our friends Dr. Daniel Leskovar and Dr. Kevin Crosby of Texas A&M University. This project was funded by the Specialty Crop Block Grant program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, as administered by the Texas Department of Agriculture.
Drought and its Aftermath
Although most parts of Texas have gotten some rain lately, farmers and ranchers have only begun recovering from the extreme drought conditions of the past several years. Mike Morris and Robert Maggiani led the planning effort for the January 29 Texas Drought Summit, featuring Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, as well as the follow-up webinar on April 9. We also created a new publication, Drought and Disaster Resources for Texas Producers. The goal was to increase awareness and participation in disaster relief programs in Texas, while exploring ways to make these programs more efficient. Besides NCAT, co-sponsors included the Texas Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, Rural Advancement Foundation International, and Farmers Legal Action Group. We are grateful to Farm Aid for providing funding for these events.
Out and About
Staff members from our office spoke at quite a few conferences over the past few months, but Justin Duncan wins the prize for giving the greatest number and variety of talks. Justin spoke on Emerging, Non-traditional Crops at the Texas Organic Farmers & Gardeners Association conference; Genetically Modified Organisms at the Fort Bend Vegetable Growers Association; Strawberry Production at the New Mexico Organic Farming Conference, and Organic Pest Control Methods at the CEP Annual Horticulture Conference in Texarkana, TX.
SOAR Newsletter Now Available
Want to keep up with the latest updates on our SOAR Partnership (Subtropical Organic Agriculture Research) with UT-Pan American? A new SOAR Newsletter is available.