District 12 includes the 20 southernmost counties in Texas. It is about 200 miles long and averages about 100 miles in width and includes counties from Brownsville to Eagle Pass, eastward to Atascosa County and West of I-37. Agriculture is a dominant part of this state and it has a rich history to accompany it’s promising future.
South Texas was a vast grassland at one time until cattle were introduced to the area and helped spread mesquite and other brush species that are now common in the area. It also served as a buffer between Mexico and Tejas, one of many territories it inherited from Spain when it won its independence in 1821. Texas rebelled against the federal government of Mexico in 1836 in the well-known battles recorded in Texas history. When Mexico returned to reclaim Texas in 1845, Texas enlisted the support of the United States by requesting statehood. In defending its new state, the U.S. fought two major, decisive battles at Palo Alto and Resaca de las Palmas around the Brownsville area. Young graduates from West Point used flying artillery strategies to defeat the Mexican army in these two battles, which were a prelude to subsequent battles that eventually captured Mexico City and led to the Treaty of Miguel Hidalgo. Palo Alto Historic Site is located between Brownsville and Los Fresnos and is an interesting site to visit.
The Spanish laid claim to present Mexico and most of what is now the Southwest. For 300 years they explored this area for gold and with orders to secure the land, map it, assimilate indigenous populations, and defend the territory against aggressors.
Mexican history comes to play after the Spanish are defeated following the famous “Grito” that made Father Miguel Hidalgo synonymous with Mexican independence. Much like the Spanish, the Mexican government provided land grants and invited foreign investors (mostly ranchers) into Texas in an attempt to settle the land and develop it. This strategy was so successful that these foreign investors began to arrive in large numbers, ultimately making up about 80% of the local Texas population. Eventually, disagreements associated with slavery, representation, and governance issues led to a revolution that ended in a declaration of independence for Texas.
The Constitution of 1824 set the terms of the agreement between the federal government of Mexico and the state of Coahuila y Tejas (represented by the two stars on the state flag). Coahuila got most of the attention and “Tejanos,” as residents of Tejas were known, grew impatient and intolerant of the lack of attention and priority placed in it by the federal government. Governed by a strong, centralized federal government, the Tejanos wanted more local control and authority. Thus, the fight began in 1836 and officially ended in 1845.
Now let’s look a little closer at agriculture in the region. Just to keep myself organized..somewhat…I’ve grouped comments I want to share into five general areas. First a little closer look at the history of agriculture in the region to go with general history of the region. Then we’ll look at demographics of the region, some issues in the region along with programmatic responses. Next, for lack of a better term…FEATURES…or simply “things” that are part of our district that are important to agriculture but may not be fully production-oriented. Finally, a look at some of the crops and commodities.
This is a windmill…a common feature on the ranges and ranches of South Texas born from a lack of electricity but still common and useful. This was taken on the Juan Salinas Ranch south of Encinal in Northern Webb County. It is now owned by his nephew, Ricardo Palacios, an oil & gas attorney in Laredo. Juan Salinas was an icon in the ranching community of South Texas and a world class calf roper, mentor to Toots Mansfield, won national titles and was ultimately inducted into the Cowboy Hall of Fame. Mr. Palacios wrote a book on him called “Tio Cowboy”. South Texas was essentially ranching country until row crop production began to take shape in the 1920s. Scenes like this were ALL you saw and still MOST of what you see. Because South Texas traded hands so much throughout this history and didn’t become part of the U.S. until the mid-1800s, the blending of cultures was more common between Anglo settlers and local Tejano landowners.
These are pictures of agriculture as it arrived in the Rio Grande Valley, where row crop agriculture became most prevalent. Enticed by land companies with significant land interests in the Rio Grande Valley, producers began to flow into this area in the early 1900s, purchasing land and clearing it for row crop production. Quickly behind this interest, the land grant university for Texas, in partnership with local commodity groups, landowners, and civic leaders, land was purchased by the Agricultural and Mechanical College System at about $275/ ac and accompanied by a local matching donation of land that set aside about 120 initial acres to be used for research and development of agricultural crops suitable for the area. The top left pictures shows one of the first pickups purchased for “SubStation #15” as it was named originally. The truck says “Texas A&M College Agricultural Experiment Station - Substation #15”. The site was Llano Grande (Large Plain), the site of a failed town that supported local national guard troops stationed in the Valley (1916-1917) to patrol the border during the “border bandit” period associated with the period of the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920). They left the Valley in 1917 to join the fighting in World War II. Below that photo is a picture of a cabbage field in 1923, where the going price was $100/ton. Beets and carrots went for $1/bushel, which was significant in those days and provide strong support funds for research from the industry. Top right picture is a telegram from the state research director (B. Youngblood), dated October 6, 1923, to H.B. Seay of American Rio Grande Land and Irrigation Company, congratulating them on the new research station. The bottom right picture is the sign “Valley Headquarters” for the research center, citing “Research – Graduate Instruction – and Extension Teaching.” Weslaco was named for the “W.E. Steward. Land Company”….borrowing letters from each word.
The top left picture here shows lined irrigation ditches being built by land and irrigation companies in the Valley. There are literally miles and miles that make up this irrigation water conveyance system. This is the same system in use today although continued technology improvements have been made in irrigation systems and introduction of telemetry to monitor and measure flow rates. Bottom left is a pumping plant in Mercedes used to lift water from the Rio Grande River and deliver it to this conveyance system. These pumping plants are the heart of irrigation districts today along with a closely monitored water supply. There are over 30 irrigation districts in the Rio Grande Valley that serve land in Cameron, Hidalgo, and Willacy Counties. Bottom right is the beginning of organized industry associations in citrus.
W.H. Friend was the first supervisor at Substation #15. Here he is pictured in a field of corn. Many followed him and initial reports described agricultural crops to be full of disease and insect damage, a considerable task to be tackled by early researchers. Arthur T. Potts had set up the first citrus and insect trials, but also reported testing a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, legumes, cotton and sugarcane. Friend and Potts reported many research challenges: root rot, freezes, hurricanes, salty river irrigation water, marketing problems and heavy infestations of insects and plant diseases. Top right is a reservoir built on the Center in 1953 which proved invaluable during the drought. Bottom right is onion harvest.
This is the AgriLife Research & Extension Center today. Extension joined the Center in 1969 and USDA also joined the site, co-locating USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) with the state university’s agricultural research program.
This photo was taken in Brownsville at their Historical Museum. Cowboy poets told stories about the history of ranching in the region and the museum captures this history through pictures and artifacts. McAllen, Yturria, and other prominent ranching families were part of this event. Here are some other facts about South Texas and its agriculture.
District 12 has 20 counties in it, identify by category according to size of the population, # farms, and scale of agricultural production and operations. We have a little of all shapes and sizes of counties from Category 1 counties of McMullen and Kenedy to larger counties of Hidalgo, Cameron, and Webb, and everything in between.
Population is about 1.7 million according to 2009 U.S. Census estimates. The 2010 count should provide an update to these figures. 1.2 million of these people live in 2 counties. Hispanics, mostly of Mexican descent, compose about 87% of the population throughout the district.
Here are some figures on agricultural income. The left side shows estimates of cash receipts for raw agricultural products sold at the farm gate…so to speak…in 2008. Top 5 commodities were “other beef” which boils down to cow/calf operations, followed by nursery crops, sorghum which has been enjoying a good run, hunting, then vegetable production. Total ag. Income is estimated at $1.1 billion. A breakdown of this according to crop and livestock totals is at the lower end of the table along with ag. Related income, which includes hunting, fishing, and other ag related forms of recreation/tourism. The right table is 2009 and shows you how things can change from year to year. Some of the top commodities swap out with sorghum falling to #5 mostly due to lower prices and hunting rising to the 2nd hole. Total ag income dropped a bit but the rank of the district across the state rose from 9th to 7th. Cotton acreage is down significantly due to strong grain prices but that acreage is beginning to increase which should put cotton back in the top 5….although rainfall this year makes it anyone’s guess.
Here’s a look at county rankings for counties with the highest level of ag. Income. Much like commodities, there can be shifts in where counties fall but overall, these counties tend to be the counties with the highest level of income.
WayneHanselka was out long-time Range Specialist until his retirement in 2009. He embodies the role of the specialist and how they work with agents to address issues of importance to south Texas agriculture through educational programs in agriculture. Following are some issues of importance to South Texas and the border for agriculture & natural resources along with families and youth.
Health and wellness is one of our biggest issues and
Features of our region affect agriculture in our region. The Rio Grande Valley Livestock Show was founded in 1939 by the Mercedes Chamber of Commerce. It supports projects for the entire Rio Grande Valley area (4 counties), although each county also has local shows. It’s the “major” show for most of our youth in the area.
Mexico is our neighbor, our competitor, and our partner. Bugs, disease, rainfall…none have any clue that the Rio Grande River is an international border and this has implications for agriculture. This is the INIFAP research station in Rio Bravo.
This is the border fence…in case anyone hasn’t seen it yet. I doubt any person hasn’t HEARD about it.
King Ranch History
Kenedy Ranch and other notable Ranches (Yturria and ranches formed from descendents of Francisco Yturria). George Strait’s Ranch shown in bottom right.
The Honorable Kika de la Garza…I would say…is easily another prominent feature in South Texas when it comes to Agriculture. As Chair of House Ag. Committee, he’s responsible for a lot of benefits to agriculture in the many years he served in Congress. He lives with his wife Lucille in McAllen but still makes his rounds and supports charitable causes. The USDA Center in Weslaco…along with many other facilties throughout the country bear his name.
Hurricanes are also a feature of South Texas. Most recent ones were Dolly in 2008 and Alex in 2010. Floodway provides a way for water to drain without flooding major population areas in the Valley.
These are 3 of about 300 pictures taken during Dolly. Dolly came in late July and knocked out a whole swath of citrus along with most all row crops in its path.
More pics of Dolly.
Major dams that control water along with border. Note IBWC logo and its international role in water & boundary management.
Photos of Alex.
Right is the floodway immediately after Alex then after dam releases a few weeks later.Left are aerials of the flood damage to crops, including about 20,000 acres in the floodway.
Flood control isn’t the only function of reservoirs. Irrigation districts manage the water cooperatively with Mexico for irrigation. Top rights is after a rain….too much irrigation.
Now for a look at commercial production. This is dozer work being done in Starr County. Notice the deer blind in the background.
Crops make up 57% of income for ag producers in District 12 as a whole. Commodities are listed to the left in order of their income. All figures are based on the 2009 crop year. Pictured is a test plot in Hidalgo County.
Cotton production – Cotton acreage has declined in recent years but acreage is expected to increase.
Other crops….recently introduced crops such as sunflower and soybean. Spinach is a staple crop in Zavala County, who were also host to the international conference recently.
Hay is a key crop as well. Some is grown in dryland conditions but most is irrigated.
Corn crops. Corn grown in the valley is mostly for export to Mexico for use in tortillas. In addition, Pioneer and operation in the Rio Grande Valley and contracts with valley growers for seed corn production for export to Mexican markets as well.
Grain sorghum…also an energy crop, which drove prices up recently.
Rio Grande Valley Sugar Growers, Inc. Capacity of the plant will support grinding rights for about 40,000 acres. Planting is in the September and harvest begins shortly after and ends around March or early April. Cane is burned to facilitate harvest and handling. Sugar is stored in the warehouse prior to shipping. A new warehouse was built recently at the Port of Harlingen for shipping.
Peanut production is most prevalent in Frio, Atascosa, and Zavala Counties with smaller acreages in Dimmit and surrounding counties.
Onions remain a popular vegetable crop with markets. Most is grown in the Rio Grande Valley with small but active production areas along the river in Starr, Zapata, and Webb Counties.
The largest production area for pecans is in Maverick County along the river in Quemado area.
Spinach in Zavala County, Drip irrigation at Center on papaya project.
Top left is squash between wind rows with a similar crop on bottom left. Another green, possibly kale or swiss chard is on the bottom right.
Citrus production has declined over the years but remains a strong industry with 25,000 acres, mostly in Hidalgo County but also present in Cameron and to a lesser extent in Willacy County. At least as much citrus is produced in back yards throughout the state as well. Citrus Greening is a newfound threat to Citrus that is being researched by AgriLife, USDA, and the TAMUK Citrus Center.
Urban Agriculture. Nursery crops are the #1 crop in District 12.
Many traditional row crop land has been moving into turfgrass production and greenhouse production of ornamental plants has been increasing alongside urbanization of the region.
These are commodity areas in order of their cash value. Fed beef is a distant second.
Typical buffelgrass stand on south texas rangelands. On most ranches, you’ll hear the watering tank called a “bebedero” (thing you drink from). This smaller tank is gravity fed from a much larger “pila” (Spanish word for battery) … or basically a storage tank that is directly fed from a windmill.
Buffelgrass..introduced to south texas and made the cattle industry. It’s native to India & Africa and considered a pest now in the desert southwest (invasive species) but research to improve it continues in south texas along with other range grasses. Pictures is a typical Santa Gertrudis cow, which is likely a crossbred cow along with registered cattle (Thomas Ranch), which are also found throughout the area in the form of Beefmaster, Simbrah, Braunvieh, Zebu, and a number of other breeds with Brahman influence.
These are King Ranch Quarter Horses along with brush clearing implements and horse facility on the King Ranch. “Assault” was the 1946 Triple Crown Winner from the King Ranch along with the San Peppy line of horses. The Santa Gertrudis breed of cattle were founded at the King Ranch along with their more modern lines of Santa Cruz and other composite breeds.
Hunting is a staple industry in South Texas.
Livestock Markets are present throughout South Texas although not as numerous as in past years. Markets continue to operate in Rio Grande City, Edinburg, Alice (Gulf Coast), Live Oak County, and Atascosa County. The calves in this picture were part of a beef development program hosted at Rio Beef Feedyard.
For sport…and for business.
Goats and horses are a minor commodity but popular.
Much of the border is affected by the fever tick quarantine of livestock. Given the lower numbers of livestock, ticks move on to secondary hosts such as deer. The quarantine area expanded recently but has been relaxed somewhat. Deer have to be inspected prior to being removed from a quarantined area…along with cattle.
Photos of livestock facilities at Edinburg saleyard.
Kenedy Ranch and King Ranch got into a dispute about this alternative land use enterprise. Like many other places in Texas, wind-powered generators are a new source of income for landowners including the Kenedy Ranch. There is also a proposal to place these in the Gulf of Mexico. Hunting, recreation and coastal & marine resources are a significant source of income.
My father-in-law has said….show me a prosperous South Texas rancher and I’ll show you a landowner with production. Oil & gas revenue is a significant source of income with uranium coming onto the scene recently amid much controversy. The bull in the top right picture is the best herd sire you can have on a South Texas ranch.
Cola Blanca contest in Laredo is held annually and covers a broad range of counties, including Mexico. It’s sponsored by the Chamber but has a long-standing community and business support. Whitetail hunting is a big deal in Webb County and throughout the district.
Javalinas…collared peccary. Feral hogs.
Whitetail rub (top left), bobwhite quail (right), Mourning dove (bottom left)….all top game species that are big income generators.
Exotic species include zebra, axis deer (this one in velvet)
Game species … shown on King Ranch website.
Typical south texas hunting setup. Water tanks support livestock but also serve as a natural source for watering of wildlife, typically more averse to drinking from man-made watering containers. More and more ranches have fewer and fewer livestock, especially among absentee landowners who purchase large tracts of land for recreational use….that usually doesn’t include livestock. This is most prevalent in the northern part of the district, with Maverick, Zavala, Dimmit, La Salle, McMullen, Atascosa Counties…it’s not uncommon for over 50% of land holdings to be tied to Houston, San Antonio, and Dallas business interests.
Helicopter surveys of wildlife are the most common method of taking inventory of whitetail deer and other premium wildlife species. Notice strips (vesanas) done to enhance edge effect for deer habitat.
Top left is a windmill with a pila (storage tank). Bottom right is a medium size whitetail (8-pointer) probably about 3 years old.
Tony Reisinger with Brownsville-Port Isabel Shrimp Producers…typicalshrimping boat. 7 tugs pushing & pulling a platform out into the Gulf.
Santa Cruz fleet during off season. Cambered door was engineered by Sea Grant to reduce drag and save fuel.
Chachalaca, Mexican game species. South Texas has a major birding trail and high numbers of bird species. This is one unique to South Texas and for many others, this area is the northern limit of their range. Recreation - coastal and marine resources
Fishing…choke canyon (bottom left), Falcon Lake (top left/bottom right)
District 12 agriculture
Issues & Programs
Features Affecting Agriculture
Category 1—McMullen, Kenedy
Category 2—Brooks, Jim Hogg, La Salle
Category 3—Dimmit, Duval, Live Oak, Willacy,
Category 4—Frio, Jim Wells, Kleberg, Maverick,
Category 5— Atascosa, Webb
Category 7— Hidalgo
*2009 Cash Value of Ag. Income for top counties in District 12
Health & Wellness
(diabetes, healthy lifestyles, family health, wellness, safety,
community nutrition, food safety)
(parenting, youth issues, technology education,
environmental, housing & home, higher ed)
(healthy lifestyles, youth issues, leadership, character
education, youth livestock, sex education, drug abuse)
(financial literacy & mgmt, parenting, rage mgmt, memory
education, housing & home)
Agriculture & Natural Resources
(water quality & conservation, whitetail deer mgmt, range
mgmt, ag profitability & sustainability, shrimp profitability)
(business development, job skills, economic
development, emergency management, cultural arts)
GAPs – Food Safety
Master Naturalist (Red Tide, Bahia Grande)
Whitetail Deer Management
Financial Planning for Limited Resource
Range Management – Prescribed Burns
Water well screening
Fever Tick Workshops
Gardening & Horticulture
INIFAP - Northeast Center for
federal agricultural research –
Rio Bravo, Tamps, Mexico
Extension Economist Luis Ribera
speaking to Mexican growers
about US market
Mexican Producers at Cameron
County Field Day exploring