Despite adversities, South Texas agriculture has an economic impact of $1.6 billion and is poised to expand to help feed and fuel the world well into the future, according to a new study by a Texas AgriLife Extension Service agricultural economist.

“Drought, urbanization and low market prices have taken their toll, but agriculture in South Texas continues to grow and the outlook is promising,” said Dr. Luis Ribera, an economist at the Texas AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Weslaco. In the four-county Lower Rio Grande Valley, agricultural production has grown steadily in the past decade, providing income not only to growers, but the entire economy.

“All sectors of agriculture here have shown increases,” Ribera said. “The direct value, or what’s called farm gate receipts, has now reached $732 million annually. Growers spread that money around, creating a yearly economic impact of $1.6 billion in just this four-county area.”

A few other areas of the state produce more, but at number eight, the Valley remains among the top regional producers. And in a good year, the race could get closer, he said. “We’re running neck-and-neck with three other areas: the Coastal Bend, the southeast and the north.

Individually, Hidalgo and Cameron counties are ranked seventh and 24th among the 254 counties in the state, while Willacy and Starr counties are among the top 85 counties. So the Valley ranks among the top producers in one of the country’s richest agricultural producing states.”

At almost $19.2 billion, Texas ranks third in the nation in annual agricultural cash receipts, behind California ($36.2 billion) and Iowa ($24.75 billion). “In 2007, Texas fell from No. 2 in the country to No. 3 and we’ve been there ever since, but that type of income certainly qualifies us as an agricultural state; it’s still a very important industry in our economy,” he said.

The study shows the top Texas agricultural commodities include beef, 33 percent; feed crops, 15 percent; and miscellaneous crops made up mostly of nursery sales, 11 percent. Cotton comes in fourth at almost nine percent, or $2 billion.

“The nursery business is especially healthy in Texas,” Ribera said. “New and used homes use lots of sod, palm trees and a huge variety of landscape plants.”     The commodities that keep South Texas agriculture humming include beef, vegetables, nurseries and eco-tourism, the study shows. “Investors look at trends when deciding where to put their money,” Ribera said. “And the trends for South Texas show the value and demand of crop production growing.”

Projections show that by 2050, the world’s population will grow to 9.2 billion people, Ribera said. “Those people have to eat, so those projections translate into opportunities in agriculture because we’re talking about more people with more money in developing nations like China and India. Purchasing power will increase and with more wealth, people tend to buy food first,” he said.