Experts at the recent Texas Plant Protection Association Conference stressed the importance of science and technology used to develop future drought-resistant crops and produce higher yields.

Todd Staples, Texas commissioner of agriculture, told attendees that 2011 has been a year of trying times for the state’s farmers and ranchers, crippled by a historic drought and billions in economic losses.

Prior to addressing conference attendees, he told reporters that Texas agriculture producers “are resilient and they will find a way to make it through. They know the game isn’t won or lost in one inning or one season.”

During his keynote, Staples emphasized the need for science and innovation to develop drought-tolerant seed to boost yields.

“Americans don’t want to be dependent on foreign oil; they (also) don’t want to be dependent on foreign food,” he said.

Staples said the average age of an agricultural producer is 59 years old and producing food and fiber is a “very capital intensive business.”

“You are fighting drought, wildfire, pests and diseases,” he said. “We must do everything to produce future outcomes.”

He said getting educational information out about the latest innovations in science and research related agricultural production to producers is critical.

In some parts of the world, that doesn’t happen, he said.

“That’s why we rely on (Texas AgriLife) Extension so much,” he said. “I send people your way all of the time.”

Staples also praised the efforts of both Texas AgriLife Extension Service and Texas Forest Service, also part of the Texas A&M University System, for their roles this year in drought education and wildfire prevention.

Despite more than 100 job cuts and a reduction of 40 percent in general revenue, Staples said the Texas Department of Agriculture is moving forward and has cross-trained many staff members. He also discussed job growth in the Texas economy in the midst of a sluggish national economy, noting that Texas has an unemployment rate lower than the national average.

Dr. David Lunt, associate director of Texas AgriLife Research, said during conference opening remarks that the world population has exceeded more than 7 billion people.

“It’s estimated that food production will need to increase by more than 50 percent,” Lunt said.

Science and technology are “crucial for this to succeed,” he said.

Lunt also lauded the efforts of the conference planning committee for developing topics that address critical issues affecting agriculture production globally.

Aflatoxin

Aflatoxin was one topic highlighted at the conference. Aflatoxin is toxin produced by a fungus that grows in some grain and oilseed crops. It is a cross-cutting issue affecting both humans and animals, said Dr. Tim Herrman, director of the Office of the State Chemist headquartered in College Station.

“The one-sample program is science-based adoption to risk management,”

Herrman said.

Contamination is both a food safety and public health issue, because at high doses the toxin can lead to serious illness, including acute liver cirrhosis and death in both humans and animals, Herrman said.

“At sub-lethal doses, aflatoxin exposure could increase risk of liver cancer,” Herrman said.

The one-sample strategy is a voluntary program administered by the Office of the Texas State Chemist, a regulatory agency headquartered in College Station and part of AgriLife Research. The program incorporates U.S. Department of Agriculture sampling methods outlined in the USDA Risk Management Agency Loss Adjustment Manual Program, Herrman said.

Participants must use Federal Grain Inspection Service-approved test kits validated by the state chemist office for measuring aflatoxin up to 1,000 parts per billion.

Herrman said state chemist office field investigators conduct on-site training of grain industry personnel on how to perform sampling for aflatoxin testing using official procedures. He said the field investigators “serve as the competent authority to ensure that official procedures are followed during harvest.”

Previously, without a standardized test, multiple results led to confusion among sample testing, Herrman said.

“In fact, multiple tests conducted by multiple agencies have multiple outcomes. To help bring together these multiple activities into a single activity, with encouragement of the Texas Corn Producers Board, Office of the State Chemist advisory committee and Texas Farm Bureau, we have launched the one sample strategy.”

Since the one sample test began, Herrman said tests have gone from a 60 percent deviation to 23 percent current deviation on test results.

For more information about the one sample program, visit http://otscweb.tamu.edu/Risk/OneSample/Default.aspx .

The Texas Plant Protection Association receives planning support from both AgriLife Extension and AgriLife Research, as well as industry partners. This year’s conference co-sponsor was Southwest Farm Press. For more about the association, visit http://tppa.tamu.edu/