Research

A primary goal of SARA is to significantly increase integrated and applied research in sustainable agriculture, resilient food systems, and rural community development.  Research is currently being conducted at UTRGV that includes the development and improvement of techniques and technologies to achieve resilience and sustainability of the entire agricultural enterprise. This includes the environmental, economic, and social sustainability of the agricultural enterprise.

SARA Research projects include: 

Current Research Projects

Integrated Approach to Graduate Research, Education, and Engagement (IAGREE)—includes a comprehensive fellowship plan to recruit eight students into UTRGV’s newly developed master’s program in Agricultural, Environmental, and Sustainability Sciences. IAGREE provides an educational experience for students in sustainable agriculture and food systems, in conjunction with career-development skills and research training. IAGREE started in July 2017, and is a five-year project funded through USDA-NIFA. For more information about IAGREE, contact Dr. Alex Racelis at alexis.racelis@utrgv.edu

Curricula Development, Experiential Learning, Networking, and Agroecology for a Diverse Student Clientele in South Texas (CENA)—aims to create a high-school, college, career pipeline for Hispanic students, in agroecological- and food-related sciences, through the establishment of an innovative program in agroecology and sustainable food systems.  CENA includes the development of curricula, as well as research, experiential-learning, networking, and career opportunities for students in agriculture-related fields. CENA started in August 2013, and is a five-year project funded through USDA-NIFA. For more information about CENA, contact Dr. Alex Racelis at alexis.racelis@utrgv.edu

Experiential Training in Use of Unmanned Aerial systems (UAS) Technology for Agriculture Applications—increases the number of South Texas students graduating from two-year colleges that transition to four-year Bachelor of Science and master’s degrees in fields related to the agricultural, plant, and biological sciences.  UAS creates coursework in UAV technology, applications, and ethics. UAS started in September 2016, and is a two-year project funded through USDA-NIFA. For more information about UAS, contact Dr. Alex Racelis at alex.racelis@utrgv.edu

Subtropical Soil Health Initiative—focuses on the effectiveness, practicality, and profitability of cover crops and reduced tillage on certified-organic, non-irrigated crop land in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas. This project is operated by the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT), in partnership with UTRGV and local farm operators. The two-year initiative started in October 2017, ends in September 2019, and is funded through USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and other project stakeholders. For more information about this project, contact Dr. Alex Racelis at alex.racelis@utrgv.edu

Comparative Rootstock Analysis: Mustang and 1103P Rootstocks for Blanc du Bois and Lenior Wine Grapes—compares two Texas native-grape root stocks, Mustang (Vitis Mustangensis) and 1103P (Berlandieri X Rupestris cross) for disease and salinity tolerances, production, vigor, high-pH tolerance, and grape quality. Side-by-side comparisons include two rows of Blanc du Bois (26 vines) on Mustang root stock, one row of Lenior on Mustang root stock (13 vines), one row of Blanc du Bois (13) vines on 1103P rootstock, and one row of Lenoir (13 vines) on 1103P rootstock. This research project is being done in collaboration with Rio Farms, Inc. and other grape growers. For more information about the project, contact George Bennack at george.bennack@utrgv.edu

Comparative Trellis Systems for South Texas Wine Grapes—compares and demonstrates a variety of grape-trellis systems, including innovative designs that can be changed over the life ot the grape vine,  and seeks to determine the best system designs for South Texas wine-grape production. This research project is being done in collaboration with Rio Farms, Inc. and other grape growers. For more information about the project, contact George Bennack at george.bennack@utrgv.edu

South Texas Wine Preferences in Locally-Grown Wine—determines the taste preferences of South Texans for locally-grown wines. Data is collected at various events and gatherings, using sample surveys, and then compiled and analyzed. This ongoing project began in January 2018 and is being done in collaboration with Rio Farms, Inc. and other RGV grape growers. For more information about this project, contact George Bennack at george.bennack@utrgv.edu 

Long-Term Impact of Summer Heat on Asparagus Production in South Texas—compares the long-term sustainability of five different cultivars of Asparagus grown in South Texas. Planting of each of the five cultivars of asparagus is replicated five times in one 120-foot row of asparagus. This project involves the continuing care and cultivation of asparagus plots used for an asparagus research project funded through Southern SARE, which is described below in the following section. This research project is being done in collaboration with the Texas/Mexico Border Coalition CBO. For more information about the project, contact George Bennack at george.bennack@utrgv.edu

Past Research Projects

Broadening Agriculture Science Education (BASE) for Hispanic Students through Florida – Texas – New Mexico Consortium—focused on recruiting, cultivating, and developing the next generation of scientists in food and agriculture. The primary objective of BASE was to provide scientific and professional training to students in agriculture disciplines that dealt with natural resources and sustainable agriculture. BASE was a one-year project that started in September 2015, ended in August 2016, and was funded through USDA-NIFA. For more information about BASE, contact Dr. Alex Racelis at alexis.racelis@utrgv.edu 

Subtropical Organic Agriculture Research (SOAR) Partnership—involved a participatory research approach that identified pressing research needs by interviewing farmers, agency staff, and organic inspectors. Once research needs were identified, students helped design and carry out supervised research studies to answer these questions. The project provided experiential learning and practical field research experience for students. SOAR was a three-year project that started in 2013, and was funded through USDA-NIFA. For more information about SOAR, contact Dr. Alex Racelis at alexis.racelis@utrgv.edu

Huitlacoche Production as an Alternative Crop in South Texas—was an on-farm research project to determine if huitlacoche can be commercially propagated and grown in South Texas. Project research helped determine what sources of Huitlacoche spores are best for propagation, what varieties of corn are best suited for huitlacoche production, and what propagation techniques are most successful. This three-year project started in March 2013, ended in February 2016, and was funded through Southern SARE. For more information on this project, contact George Bennack at george.bennack@utrgv.edu

Organic Cultivation Methods for Asparagus as an Alternative Crop in South Texas—tested five cultivars of organically-grown asparagus to compare heat tolerance in South Texas, and to determine if any of the cultivars could be harvested throughout the year in semi-tropical South Texas. This research demonstrated two viable seasons for asparagus in South Texas instead of one season. This 30-month project started in April 2015, ended in September 2017, and was funded through Southern SARE. For more information on this project, contact George Bennack at george.bennack@utrgv.edu

Comparing Root Rot Resistance of Potential Root Stocks for South Texas Wine Grapes—compared Mustang and Dog Ridge root stocks to own-rooted Blanc du Bois and Black Spanish wine-grape vines. This research project involved side-by-side comparisons of three rows of Blanc du Bois grapevines and three rows of Black Spanish grape vines, with each of the two grape varietals on three different root systems. This project clearly demonstrated that Mustang (Vitis Mustangensis) rootstock is far more resistant to Phytophthora root rot than either Dog Ridge or self-rooted stock. For more information on this project, contact George Bennack at george.bennack@utrgv.edu