The SARC is the only facility on the U.S. mainland that researches quarantine issues related to tropical pests and one of only four that does work on honeybees. Scientists at the center are engaged in such critical research as citrus greening, zebra chip in potatoes, fever tick eradication in cattle, control and eradication of invading tropical fruit flies—especially the Mexican fruit fly, which infests 150 kinds of fruits and vegetables—eradication of cotton boll weevil, the development of bio-fuels from sugar, hot water dips for importation of certain produce items, and setting international standards for radiation and quarantine.

Dr. Webb Wallace, executive director of the Cotton & Grain Producers of the Lower Rio Grande Valley, says the closure of the Weslaco center “would leave a hole in regional and national research efforts.

“We have experienced a period of success fighting boll weevil in U.S. cotton, but recent setbacks in Mexico’s boll weevil eradication program now threaten our well being on this side of the border, and the (Weslaco) SARC provides that buffer between  problems that could spill over the border,” Wallace says. “The loss of this valuable research center will leave holes in research and eradication programs like boll weevil and, more recently, the threat from verde bug.”

Wallace says the Weslaco center is especially valuable to South Texas cotton growers, the only sub-tropical cotton growing zone in the U.S.

“Cotton production in the Rio Grande Valley has declined in recent years, but we are seeing more acres this year than in recent years and cotton could continue to be a viable crop in the lower Valley, especially with support of programs and research like those provided by the Weslaco Center,” he added.

Dr. Robert L. Mangan, acting location director of the Kika de la Garza Subtropical Agricultural Research Center and Research Leader, Crop Quality and Fruit Insect Research, agrees and says the center’s proximity to Mexico makes it an important first line of defense against invasive tropical pests and diseases.

“The Lower Rio Grande Valley is one of the most dynamic agricultural systems in the United States, undergoing constant changes in local crop diversity as well as the flow of imported products from other countries. The scientists at the ARS Kika de la Garza Subtropical Research Center have historically been able to respond quickly and effectively to the pest problems associated with these conditions. Without the efforts of the center’s scientists, the risk of pest invasions would be greatly increased, threatening the viability of U.S. agricultural production. The Kika de la Garza Center is on the front line in the battle to preserve American agriculture,” Mangan says.

The center is the only ARS research unit with secure quarantine facilities for fruit flies and is located in the middle of a Fruit Fly Eradication Zone. Recently center scientists received a National Mango Board grant to evaluate the role of hydro-cooling mangoes after treatment to evaluate quality and security of treatments. He also points out the center is located less than an hour’s drive from the INIFAP regional center operated by the Mexican government, and says there has been a close relationship between the center and counterparts just across the border.

“In addition, the Center is located 12 miles away from the largest agricultural bridge port of entry in the U.S.  This represents the largest port of entry for commercial and contraband mangos, citrus, guavas and avocados. Technicians from the port of entry can deliver intercepted specimens for identification by an ARS scientist and propagate risk analysis the same day as the interception,” Mangan adds.