Focus and funding for agricultural research will change as state Experiment stations adjust to new environmental and economic challenges and new demands from the marketplace.

“We have to be more proactive to stay ahead of the curve,” said Michael Gould, director of the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station’s Weslaco Center.

Gould, addressing the recent Texas Produce Convention in San Antonio, said Experiment stations must “be careful not to become artifacts. Consumers do not understand the value of experiment stations.”

Consequently, responding to changing consumer preferences will be key in preserving agricultural research relevance. He said trade agreements such as NAFTA and CAFTA and dependence on an export market for much of the fruit and vegetable industry’s revenue also dictate a need for change in research goals.

Funding also will be an issue, he said. “State funding will be flat so we must rely more on grants and contracts,” Gould said. “The Weslaco Center must identify targets for external funding.”

Using those funds efficiently also will require adjustments, he said. “The center will focus on what does well here,” he said. “We have to maximize the impact of the funds we get and concentrate on return on investment. We must define our mission and reduce non-research activities and related costs.”

He said the center focus will be cutting edge research and away from traditional programs. “We will create programs specifically to test products from industry and we will work closely with the Extension Service (to develop trials).”

He said research efforts will be integrated and multi-disciplinary. “We will cooperate and collaborate.”

Gould said Experiment stations lose research opportunities by not cooperating with other programs such as the Citrus Center, USDA-ARS, and others.

“We will focus on specialty crops—citrus, vegetables, sugar cane and energy crops. The next generation research will rely on molecular assisted breeding, biotechnology and agronomic systems. We’ll look at high value traits such as diseases resistance and nutrient enhancement.”

e-mail: rsmith@farmpress.com