As the Texas Plant Protection Association prepares to celebrate its 25th annual conference, a bit of reminiscing might be in order.

One key to the success of the conference, organizers say, lies in the program, which includes abstracts of presentations for each of the 24 conferences. Reading through those abstracts offers a historical timeline of agricultural advancements over the past quarter century and also provides a list of Who’s Who in U.S. agriculture—or in some cases, who was who.

For instance, the first conference, back in January, 1990, featured former Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz. Current American Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman spoke at the second annual conference, which was also held in 1990, just 11 months after the first. Officials say the first conference was delayed until early 1990 due to scheduling conflicts.

The Fourth Conference, in 1992, featured Texas Rep. E. Kika de la Garza, former House Agriculture Committee chairman, who discussed the North American Free Trade Agreement. Texas Agriculture Commissioners Susan Combs and Todd Staples have each been on the agenda, as have several USDA undersecretaries.

The late Dr. Norman Borlaug, Nobel Prize winner, spoke on the importance of biotechnology to feed the world at the 15th annual conference.

 

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Ag industry leaders from inside Texas as well as from across the nation discussed policy, new products and emerging technology. Farmers, vendors, and even journalists have offered their experience and opinions on topics ranging from “there is an app for that,” to “here’s the best way to apply that.”

TPPC follows trends

Conference agendas have followed the trends of agriculture and marked significant advancements in issues ranging from integrated pest management, to boll weevil eradication, precision agriculture, genetically-engineered crops, biofuels, bio-terrorism, feral hog invasions, weed resistance, the daunting challenge of aflatoxin and the encouraging opportunity for aflatoxin control.

Conferences have considered the impact of numerous farm bills, ups and down of commodity markets, effects of devastating drought and ideal growing seasons. Experts have reported on cotton, corn, wheat, grain sorghum, peanuts, rice, turf, vegetables, fruit and the possibilities for sesame, canola and castor.

Farm bill discussions have considered everything from Freedom to Farm to when are we likely to get a new farm bill.

Anything that was pertinent to Texas agriculture over the past 25 years has found a spot on the TPPA annual conference agenda.

The first conference, January, 1990, set the stage with the theme, Getting Down to Earth. Secretary Butz encouraged farmers to embrace risk: “It is completely unacceptable to believe that there is no way out of the problems we have created. Unquestionably, there are risks involved, but none so great as the risk that we may quit risking, try vainly to set the clock back, abjectly surrender the goal of a better world in the mistaken belief that this one is as good as it can be.”

Resistant Weeds

Herbicide resistance management was an issue even in 1990, and presenters discussed sulfonylurea products and resistance in prickly lettuce, Russian thistle and kochia. Insecticide resistance was also on the list along with the impact of imported fire ants, disease management in peanuts, Hessian fly in wheat, and Pix management in cotton.

Aflatoxin in corn was a significant concern. C. Wendell Horne, Texas A&M plant pathologist, reported that aflatoxin “was a major problem in corn during 1987 and 1988 due to …unrelenting drought conditions. The major problem encountered in aflatoxin detection and management has been sampling inconsistency.”

In rice, M.O. Way, Texas Extension entomologist, reported: “Rice is grown on about 300,000 acres across the Texas Gulf Coast.” That figure has changed significantly in 25 years with only about 100,000 acres left.

In December, 1990, the second conference offered information on genetically engineered cotton. The theme that year was, appropriately, Agricultural and Environmental Sustainability.

Jumping ahead five years, the 5th annual conference theme was Management Tools for a Brighter Future with discussions on food safety, effective communication as a management tool, worker protection standards for agricultural pesticides, endangered species, reduced tillage, boll weevil control, and insect resistance.

The agenda also included: “Status of Genetically-Engineered Cotton that Produces Insecticidal Proteins to Control Tobacco Budworm, Bollworm and Other Caterpillar Pests.” J.H. Benedict, Texas Agricultural Experiment Station, Corpus Christi, identified advantages, including: reducing conventional insecticide use, reducing environmental contamination and related costs to society and wildlife, increasing the useful life of synthetic toxins, increasing potential for biological control of pests and increasing farm profit.

Speakers also compared the merits of picker versus stripper harvest and discussed the use of a cotton stalk puller to help control boll weevils in cotton.

Feral hogs

Also of interest were presentations on “Feral Hog Damage to Crops and Farmland.” Gary McEwen, USDA Department of Animal Damage Control, said: “Feral hog damage to crops and farmland has been increasing in recent years. Controlling feral hog damage often requires the use of a variety of control methods.”

The 8th Conference in 1996 featured Freedom to Farm—New visions and Perspectives.  Richard Newman, deputy administrator, farm programs, USDA-FSA, explained the new farm law. “Freedom to Farm offers producers new opportunities, new choices, and new risks—all in one package. …with the government’s reduced role in the traditional commodity area, it also requires new ways of thinking about price and production risks.”

At the 10th annual conference in 1998— Plant Protection, Principles, Policies and Production—a John Deere representative discussed precision farming. “Yield mapping systems are widely available for grain crops, potatoes, and sugar beets, but are still largely in the experimental stage for cotton and forage harvesting. … (it is) important to collect data for multiple years before many crop management decisions are altered.”

Also the on the agenda was another update on aflatoxin by Tom Isakeit, plant pathology, Texas A&M. “Aflatoxin contamination was a significant problem in Texas during 1998 because drought conditions predisposed the developing seed to infection,” he said. “Unfortunately, there is no immediate solution to this problem, although the use of resistance, obtained through conventional breeding or biotechnology, appears to be a long-range solution.”

COTMAN for cotton defoliation timing and management of micronaire values was also discussed, along with weed control with “Staple/Roundup Ultra in Roundup Ready Cotton,” and ultra-narrow row cotton.

The 11th annual conference, 1999, ushered in the new millennium: Plant Protection: Contributions and Challenges in the New Millennium. Texas Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs opened the conference with an address on “The History and Future of Plant Protection.” Dale Mott, Texas Extension, did an “Evaluation of Bt and non-Bt corn hybrids for incidence of aflatoxin.” The upshot was, not much difference at that time.

Other speakers discussed the ongoing battle with fire ants, and Paul Baumann, Texas Extension weed specialist, discussed how computer technology helps with weed management decisions. “Cost and acceptance will determine its success,” he said.

Other issues for the 11th conference included drift reduction, second generation Bollgard, and protecting assets with crop insurance. Joe Outlaw said:  “…it is important to know the strengths and weaknesses of all available products to better protect your farm wealth.”

Emerging technology

The 15th annual conference in 2003 featured Agricultural Technology, Biotechnology and the Environment. John Barrett, a Mathis, Texas, farmer, discussed a farmer’s perspective on biotechnology, and Dr. Norman Borlaug offered remarks on: “Biotechnology-Benefiting Agriculture.”

Also, Dr. Mack Gray, deputy undersecretary of agriculture, provided an assessment of the “Impact of Farm Programs.”

Peter Cotty, USDA-ARS, Tucson, Ariz., offered hope for aflatoxin management: “AF-36, a Biological Tool for Managing Aflatoxin.” He reported: “Atoxigenic strains (of aspergillus) competitively exclude aflatoxin producers and thereby reduce the vulnerability of crops to contamination.”

In 2004, the conference included numerous topics on bio-terrorism and agro-terrorism.

In 2007 Paul Baumann discussed a growing concern: “Weed Resistance in the Coastal Bend.” Water issues also were prominent in this session.

The 20th annual conference, 2008, focused attention on bio-fuels markets and water management strategies for drip irrigation and nitrogen requirements for GMO cotton.

Aflagard for aflatoxin management was a key topic for the 21st conference, indicating continuing progress toward managing what had been a decades-long economic issue for corn producers.

The economy was another growing concern as John Miller, Southwest Business Consultants, discussed the negative impact a strong dollar could have on ag commodities. “Uncertainty (brought about by changing ag fundamentals and price activity against the Dow Jones Industrial average, crude prices and the U.S. dollar) suggest that a better understanding of these relationships will help producers in the development and implementation of price risk management plans.”

John Robinson, Extension economist/cotton marketing, also discussed risk management.  He said: “2008 witnessed many influences, some very dramatic, on the risk exposure faced by Texas growers.” Influences included the rise and fall of outside market influences, including the speculative fund sector.

“An example is the extreme cotton and grain price volatility in the spring of 2008 followed by the tremendous deleveraging since July,” Robinson said. “A second influence has been surging input prices in late 2007 and early 2008. A third influence has been the change in farm policy, and the last is the general decline in demand resulting from world-wide recessionary forces.”

Water, water, water

Water management remained a crucial topic as specialists discussed irrigation efficiency through subsurface drip and managing plants to affect water cycle.

Last year TPPA’s conference theme was Facing Ag’s Future and included presentations on Doing Business with Cuba, by Parr Rosson, Texas AgriLife economist. The conference also touched on information technology with presentations from Texas AgriLife media specialist Blair Fannin and Southwest Farm Press Editor Ron Smith discussing: “Ag Communications Now and in the Future.” Dr. John Siebert, Texas A&M professor, Ag Economics, commented on “Preparing the Next Generation of Ag Professionals.” Other topics included “Environmentally Responsible Solutions to Crop Protection Product Container Disposal.”

Travis Miller, professor, associate department head and Extension program leader, Department of Soils and Crop Sciences, TAMU, discussed “Opportunities for New Crops in Texas.” He commented on sunflower, sesame, canola, and castor.  “Opportunities exist for diversifying Texas agriculture,” he said.

Michael Popp, Wharton County, Texas, farmer, offered a producer’s perspective on precision agriculture. “GPS, yield monitors, and variable rate applications are just a few of the tools being utilized on farms today to micro manage fields more efficiently, use limited resources to increase profits per acre,” Popp said.

Beginning in the early 1990s, the conference featured information and updates on the Boll Weevil Eradication Program (BWEP). See related story. Presenters followed the ups and down of a sometimes controversial but ultimately successful effort.

In recent conferences, representatives of the Texas Boll Weevil Eradication Foundation have presented even more promising numbers showing that the boll weevil has either been eradicated or is no longer an economically viable pest except in a few areas in South Texas. The Lower Rio Grande Valley remains the most infested area as the program continues to push the pest back to where it first entered the country more than 100 years ago.

Over the last quarter of a century the annual TPPC has addressed the most crucial issues facing agriculture in Texas and across the nation. Knowledgeable scientists, key government officials and leading farmers have discussed new products, new programs and better ways to improve efficiency and profitability on farms. They’ve followed the progress of genetic engineering, global positioning system agriculture, and improvements in managing such persistent pests as aflatoxin, cotton root rot and boll weevils.

Participants have learned about new products from industry, new research initiatives from University experts and have been both enlightened and uplifted by speakers such as Dr. Norman Borlaug.

Twenty-five years is both a long stretch and a blink of an eye and TPPA leadership continues to attract the brightest and the best to take the organization forward and to find the next critical product, technique or puzzle piece to improve agricultural efficiency.

 

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