The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley was awarded a $1.9 million agricultural innovation grant to help encourage conservation innovation on Texas farms.
The $1,899,545 federal grant, announced on Sep. 29 by Sen. John Cornyn, was funded through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). UTRGV is one of five schools throughout the United States to receive the grant.
“There was a call for proposals that invited researchers to propose on-farm trials for conservation,” Alex Racelis, associate professor of agroecology, said. “In particular, a subset of that was for soil conservation.”
As per the proposal, the school has engendered the support of local farmers in order to come up with a plan to study what the results could be of on-farm conservation.
The program will be considering a technique called cover crops, which are plants grown for the benefit of soil by adding nutrients and organic matter.
“We are targeting this four county region — including Starr, Hidalgo, Cameron and Willacy County,” Racelis said. “At the moment, we’ve got five really close farm partners who’ve agreed to implement this trial and to work with us so that we can document and monitor and research what the implications are in terms of water conservation, in terms of biodiversity conservation, in terms of the socioeconomic aspects of it, and also in terms of maybe improving yield when it comes to on-farm productions.
“What it is, is really kind of embedding practical, producer-driven questions into more complex systems research regarding the ecological, the socioeconomic and agronomic implications of cover crops.”
Racelis said that the project could possibly implement a change to over 50,000 acres of farmland throughout the Rio Grande Valley by improving environmental and agricultural outcomes.
He said that the grant, which he believes to be one of the largest research grants in his unit, is a significant step forward in helping UTRGV achieve its goal of becoming one of the emerging research institutions in the country.
“When it comes to the mission of UTRGV in general, you look at what UTRGV aims to accomplish which is research relevant to our region, community engagement, work that has implications on the health of our region, sustainability and sustainable development, and of course student success,” Racelis said. “This project is really at the heart of the mission of our institution.”
Racelis said that the university has taken strides in providing opportunities for students to become involved in work that is cognizant to the needs and limitations of farmers, which the grant will help to generate support for.
Among those strides are two new degrees offered by UTRGV — bachelor of science in sustainable agriculture and food systems, and master of science in agricultural, environmental and sustainability sciences.
“This is kind of a new wave of experience training that we really want our students to have,” Racelis said.