Texas, and especially South Texas, is uniquely qualified to compete with other states like California for those food sales. “We have a competitive edge to feed the world because right now we have the necessary water, land, climate and friendlier environmental regulations,” he said.

Ribera cites a study that compares the regulatory costs of growing citrus in Texas and California. “When you add up training compliance, air and water quality requirements, pesticide regulations and others, California growers spend $216.19 per acre while Texas growers spend only $44 per acre.”

There are also huge opportunities in producing biofuels in South Texas as opposed to elsewhere, Ribera said. “By 2022, according to the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, this country must produce 36 billion gallons of renewable biofuels per year,” he said. “We’re ideally situated to contribute to that effort, thanks to our subtropical climate that allows us to produce biomass year round.”

The area is also poised to produce fuel from microalgae because of its proximity to the Gulf of Mexico and the potential use of abundant marginal land that would not compete with land used for conventional agriculture, he said. “It won’t be easy; there are lots of challenges,” Ribera said.

“But investments into research to increase production here would be money well spent. According to a recent study at the University of California-Davis, for every dollar spent on agricultural research and extension, society gets $32 in return. Not a bad investment.”