Tuesday, October 20, 2020
  Awards and Recognitions, Research

By News and Internal Communications

By Karen Villarreal

MISSION, TEXAS – The U.S. Department of Agriculture has awarded UTRGV a research grant to help determine how on-farm conservation can be applied to reduce impact on the environment and study the social and economic implications for area farmers.

The $1,899,544 grant was announced Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020, at the Mission Center for Education and Economic Development during a socially distanced event, with members of the Valley’s legislative delegation in attendance, including U.S. Congressman Henry Cuellar (Texas-28), and Texas Sen. Juan Hinojosa (District 20).

The project, spearheaded by Dr. Alexis Racelis, associate professor in the UTRGV School of Earth, Environmental, and Marine Sciences, is a collaborative effort between UTRGV, Texas State University, the National Center for Appropriate Technology, and Texas producers.

Racelis’ research team is working to determine how on-farm conservation can be applied, such as through cover crops.

“This project has the potential to dramatically improve environmental and agricultural outcomes across the region,” Racelis said. “Moreover, the grant provides generous support to UTRGV students to work closely with faculty and farmers to help embed practical producer-driven questions into complex systems research.”

Dr. Parwinder Grewal, UTRGV’s executive vice president for Research, Graduate Studies and New Program Development, said the practical nature of the grant itself is exciting. Some grants support research or community service, and this research affects more than 300,000 acres of farmland and the farmers who work that land. UTRGV researchers will be able to provide technical and financial assistance to historically underserved farmers across the region to improve soil health by utilizing cover crops and practicing soil conservation, he said.

“UTRGV made a commitment to conduct research relevant to the region,” Grewal said. “This type of research contributes to that mission. We also said we would be the university of our community – and this is a regional grant. We will work directly with local agencies to make it possible.”

The project includes a rigorous, multi-farm evaluation of the potential of cover crops to contribute to local ecosystems through healthy subtropical soils. Soil health is a national priority as a strategy to maximize biodiversity and minimize soil disturbance (such as over-tilling), which maximizes the presence of living roots, he said.

Cuellar said cover crops are used to prevent erosion and help with soil fertility.

“This will be used to make sure our farmers and folks in the ag area have the best, most innovative practices out there,” he said.


The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) was created by the Texas Legislature in 2013 as the first major public university of the 21st century in Texas. This transformative initiative provided the opportunity to expand educational opportunities in the Rio Grande Valley, including a new School of Medicine, and made it possible for residents of the region to benefit from the Permanent University Fund – a public endowment contributing support to the University of Texas System and other institutions.

UTRGV has campuses and off-campus research and teaching sites throughout the Rio Grande Valley including in Boca Chica Beach, Brownsville (formerly The University of Texas at Brownsville campus), Edinburg (formerly The University of Texas-Pan American campus), Harlingen, McAllen, Port Isabel, Rio Grande City, and South Padre Island. UTRGV, a comprehensive academic institution, enrolled its first class in the fall of 2015, and the School of Medicine welcomed its first class in the summer of 2016.