AgriLife Research project gathers momentum

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Writer: Kay Ledbetter, 806-677-5608, skledbetter@ag.tamu.edu

Contact: Dr. Charlie Rush, 806-354-5804, crush@ag.tamu.edu

AMARILLO – Dr. Charlie Rush is claiming success – tomatoes from a Texas A&M AgriLife Research high tunnel project are being sold in an Amarillo grocery store.

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Texas A&M AgriLife-grown tomatoes were offered for sale in United Supermarkets in Amarillo. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo by Dr. Charlie Rush)

And now the real work begins.

“We delivered tomatoes to United Supermarket in Amarillo, and they were thrilled to get them,” Rush said. “The next day we delivered jalapenos and poblano peppers. We can produce a quality product and there is clearly a market for the produce.

“Now, we need to work on maximizing yields, cropping systems and pest management, provide an economic analysis and convince a few growers to give it a go.”

Rush, an AgriLife Research plant pathologist in Amarillo, said the project is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Ogallala Research Initiative and the Texas Department of Agriculture Specialty Crop Block Grant Program. The project’s goal is to provide locally grown tomatoes and other high-quality vegetables to the public.

This year’s crop, which suffered setbacks in its inaugural season, has produced about 1,500 pounds of tomatoes, of which almost 500 pounds were marketed through United, along with almost 500 pounds of jalapeno and poblano peppers, he said.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-xOa-mOrqMs&feature=youtu.be

Rush started construction of four high tunnels in April. Dr. Kevin Crosby, an AgriLife Research tomato breeder in College Station, and a breeder with a private company in California each identified the best varieties for the project and provided seed for the study.

Those seeds were planted in a greenhouse first, then transplanted in early May. Drip tape was installed to water the 20 plants of each line in each of the four tunnels.

The trial provided learning opportunities, Rush said. Rabbits ate early crops so fencing was installed. There were initial difficulties getting water and electricity to the high tunnels. Extreme heat in the high tunnels caused a number of the newly planted seedlings to die, and the entire study was replanted May 16. That was followed by a high incidence of tomato spotted wilt in the transplants, so the entire study was replanted again on June 30.

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Newly planted tomatoes in the Texas A&M AgriLife high tunnels near Bushland. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo by Kay Ledbetter)

Rush said a typical high tunnel has six rows in cultivation, but only two rows were planted this year in two different high tunnels. An exact replica of the high tunnel experimental design was planted in a field adjacent to the tunnels for comparison.

The first tomatoes were harvested on Sept. 27 and the fruit was picked weekly, divided into marketable and unmarketable, and weighed, he said. Then it was sent to the Vegetable and Fruit Improvement Center at Texas A&M University in College Station for quality analysis.

Tomatoes purchased from local retail grocers were included in the quality analysis as comparative commercial controls, Rush said. The tomatoes from all four cultivars raised in the high tunnel plots were evaluated in a blind test for taste and appearance.

Tomato yields have been higher in the high tunnel plots than in the field, he said. Of the four cultivars, the three from the Texas A&M program have significantly out-yielded the commercial entry from California, possibly because the Texas A&M entries were developed for Texas growing conditions and the California entry was not.

In the taste and appearance test, the Texas A&M cultivars grouped together in the results and all were judged to taste significantly better than either the California entry or commercial control, which also grouped together statistically in the rankings, Rush said.

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Taste test participants were asked to rank five varieties of tomatoes, four of which were grown in the Texas A&M AgriLife Research high tunnels. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo by Kay Ledbetter)

He said the testing allowed participants to rank the five entries first on looks, then on taste, as well as do another taste comparison between tomatoes grown inside and outside.

“The taste test is really what it is all about, because it gets down to the consumer and what they like and what they don’t like,” Rush said.

The California entry also was significantly different in quality parameters measured at the Vegetable and Fruit Improvement Center from the Texas A&M cultivars, but it was the same as the “grocery store” controls, Rush said. This could be because there is a high likelihood that tomatoes obtained as a control from the grocery store came from California.

He said tomato plants growing inside the protected area produced about 25 percent more than plants growing in outside plots, and quality inside the tunnels was as good or better than those grown outside.

“That means you can get more tomatoes inside the high tunnels and get just as high quality of a product as trying to grow a tomato outside,” Rush said. “Often you hear that greenhouse-grown tomatoes are not very good. And certainly tomatoes that are shipped from hundreds if not thousands of miles away and end up in the grocery store are often not very tasty, especially when they have to be picked green and shipped so far.

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Tomatoes growing in high tunnels. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo by Kay Ledbetter)

“We demonstrated this year that it is possible to produce good yields of very high-quality, locally grown vegetables and market them to local retailers,” he said.

United Grocery Markets began collaborating with Rush in the middle of the project, stating they were looking for a steady and constant supply of high quality, locally grown produce. The first AgriLife Research-produced tomatoes from the high tunnels were delivered to their store Oct. 27, and peppers grown in the high tunnels followed a couple days later.

“In the coming months, we will complete analyzing and graphing of the data from this project,” Rush said. “We will compare how the tomato varieties differed in the incidence and abundance of major pests and beneficial insects.

“We will also quantify seasonal pest pressure, which will be useful in providing recommendations for planting time and pest scouting efforts in the High Plains,” he said. “Quality and yield data will be analyzed to compare the cultivars used in this study and high tunnel and field production.”

Another aspect Rush is monitoring is water savings.

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Dr. Charlie Rush, Texas A&M AgriLife Research plant pathologist in Amarillo, looks over tomato plants growing in high tunnels. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo by Kay Ledbetter)

“Tomatoes are fairly water intensive in their requirements, but you are able to get so many more tomatoes in such a small area compared to an acre of corn, so way more income with a lot less overall water.”

Rush estimated, based on limited production the first year, that a high tunnel with six rows, about 240 plants, could produce almost 2,300 pounds of tomatoes. These could be sold for $1 to $3 per pound, depending if they were sold to a retail grocery store or at a farmers market.

“To get that yield this year, we applied 38,000 gallons of water,” he said. “Although that sounds like a lot of water, is isn’t much when compared to what is required to grow a corn crop. For instance, the average yield of corn is approximately 175 bushels per acre and it takes about 21 acre inches or about 570,000 gallons of water to grow it.

“At today’s market price of around $3.50 per bushel, that means a farmer would gross a little over $600 for an acre of corn, and he would need 21 acre inches of water to do that. At just $1 a pound, growing tomatoes in just one high tunnel could gross $2,300 for only 1.4 acre inches of water.”

Rush said he thinks he can increase tomato yields and use less water than he did this year, but he also acknowledges that labor costs for production of high-value vegetable crops will be much higher.

He has recruited Dr. Bridget Guerrero, an agricultural economist from West Texas A&M University, to conduct an economic analysis of high tunnel vegetable production.

“Her analysis is the type of information required by farmers to determine whether they are willing to try this new venture,” Rush said. “It won’t be for everyone, but because of the declining water table in the Ogallala Aquifer, small farmers and those with limited irrigation capabilities may consider giving high-value vegetable production a try.

“We are convinced this research will reveal a number of new business opportunities for agriculture in the Texas Panhandle,” he said. “We are very excited about its potential for the future. We are saving water, producing a commodity that people like and that is locally grown, so it looks like it is a win-win for everybody.”

Dr. Bhimu Patil honored as fellow by the Brazilian Horticulture Society

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By: Kathleen Phillips

Contact: Dr. Bhimu Patil, 979-458-8090, b-patil@email.tamu.edu

RECIFE, Brazil — Dr. Bhimu Patil, director of Texas A&M University’s Vegetable and Fruit Improvement Center in College Station, has been named a fellow by the Brazilian Horticulture Society for “his exceptional research and international collaborations in the area of produce, health, food and nutritional security.”

Patil was keynote speaker at the 56th Brazilian Vegetable Congress in Recife. He also met with Brazilian scientists from different universities to discuss partnering with the Vegetable and Fruit Improvement Center, which aims to improve human health by multidisciplinary collaboration.

The title of fellow is bestowed by scientific societies to designate one who has made exceptional contributions to research and academia, according to the Brazilian Horticulture Society.

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Dr. Bhimu Patil, director of Texas A&M University’s Vegetable and Fruit Improvement Center in College Station, has been named a fellow by the Brazilian Horticulture Society. (Photo courtesy of Texas A&M AgriLife).

Patil has been given the fellow title by three other entities: the American Society for Horticultural Sciences, Texas A&M AgriLife Research and the American Chemical Society’s Agricultural and Food Chemistry Division.

Patil was cited for being a global leader in the “farm to consumer” approach to increase consumption of fruits and vegetables and thus reduce risk from certain diseases.

“I strongly believe that using a systemwide approach, ranging from production to consumer, using multidisciplinary scientists to produce healthy produce is helpful for providing nutritional security while reducing food insecurity issues around the globe,” Patil said.

He is a liaison with Texas commodity and allied food industry groups and provides leadership for “foods for health” by interacting with stakeholders, producers, retailers, processors and seed companies. He currently chairs the Medicinal and Aromatic Plants Section of the International Society for Horticultural Sciences. He also served as chair of the Division of Agriculture and Food Chemistry of the American Chemical Society.

In 2005, Patil co-founded an international Human Health Effects of Fruit and Vegetables symposium, a biennial conference that continues to draw premier researchers from almost 40 countries to share the latest findings on enhancing the healthy aspects of fruit and vegetables.

He developed two unique multidisciplinary, multistate courses: “Science of Foods for Health” and “Phytochemicals in Fruits and Vegetables to Improve Human Health,” which are offered at several American universities.

More information about Patil and the Vegetable and Fruit Improvement Center can be found at http://vfic.tamu.edu/.  

Find more stories, photos, videos and audio at http://today.agrilife.org

Texas tomato growers slicing into vegetable market with fresh fruit all fall

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By: Kathleen Phillips

Writer: Kathleen Phillips, 979-845-2872, ka-phillips@tamu.edu

Contact: Dr. Kevin Crosby, 979-845-7012, k-crosby@tamu.edu

crosby tomatoes

COLLEGE STATION – Tomatoes are the Type B’s of the vegetable world: Laid-back, creative, collaborative.

Want a slice on a burger? Fine. Chopped into a salad? Great. Pureed and slathered over a pizza crust? Yum. Steeped in a winter stew? Ahhhh.

But fresh is what most consumers covet, and that’s what Dr. Kevin Crosby, Texas A&M AgriLife vegetable breeder in College Station, had in mind when he released a new variety called Hot-TY.

“It’s very heat tolerant, so if you plant it now from San Antonio to College Station south, it will start flowering within a month,” Crosby said. “And you can harvest from late October until after Thanksgiving or until there is a frost.”

Dr. Kevin Crosby, Texas A&M AgriLife vegetable breeder in College Station, explains to growers new techniques for producing tomatoes. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo by Kathleen Phillips)
Dr. Kevin Crosby, Texas A&M AgriLife vegetable breeder in College Station, explains to growers new techniques for producing tomatoes. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo by Kathleen Phillips)

The fresh frenzy is tempting Texas tomato growers statewide, serving up potential for the industry to recoup some of its steady decline over the past 50 years, Crosby believes.

In 1960, Texas growers harvested 28,500 acres of tomatoes valued at almost $7.7 million, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service. Only an estimated 300 acres are grown in Texas now for commercial canning, Crosby said. But last year, Texas fresh tomato yields from about 900 acres were valued at almost $4.9 million.

Here’s the catch, according to Crosby: Tomatoes are coming back for the small-scale and backyard farmers and organic growers, not large-scale commercial growers. And they are selling to grocery stores and farmers’ markets for consumers who want fresh, vine-ripe tomatoes.

“It’s growing in those areas because the value of the crop is very high in that sector, especially around metropolitan areas,” he said.

That can be seen when adjusting the 1960 price for inflation to 2016. Tomatoes in 1960 sold for $5.27 per hundredweight which would equal $42.09 in 2015, the latest year for which production figures are available. But the price per hundredweight in 2015 was about $60, almost 40 percent higher than what farmers were receiving more than 50 years ago when adjusted for inflation.

Crosby noted that vine ripe, organic tomatoes can gross $50,000 per acre these days.

Interest was obvious recently when Crosby invited Texas tomato enthusiasts – be they commercial, niche or backyard growers – to a workshop to learn the most recent tips for producing the high-dollar fruit. Crosby said that in working on a joint tomato project with the Texas Department of Agriculture, he found growers had lots of questions. More than 50 growers came to learn about the new variety, how to graft onto rootstock, what diseases are on the horizon, how to combat them and what researchers are finding about the human health aspects of tomatoes.

“Flavor and quality – that’s what people want in a vine-ripe tomato,” Crosby said. “Maybe that kind of tomato is less than 10 percent of the market, but it’s very lucrative. So theoretically, though the acreage may be less than 1,000 acres, I guarantee you they’re making a lot more per acre than when there were 40,000 acres.

“And there is a lot of interest in not just quality but in better farming practices when you’re making a profit. There is no question tomatoes are one of the healthiest vegetables, and we consume a lot of them. They deliver a lot of nutrients and minerals and are important to a lot of cuisines, so it helps that you can add that to your diet and benefit from it.”

Among the most recent research on the health aspects of tomatoes is the potential to prevent prostate cancer, according to Dr. Bhimu Patil, director of the Vegetable and Fruit Improvement Center at Texas A&M.

“Some vegetables might be slightly higher in levels of phytochemicals, but you may not like them as much,” Crosby said. “Think about mustard greens. I mean, they are very nutritious, but I think people like tomatoes better.”

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Nobody Can Prove That Cold-Pressed Juice Is Better for You

Fruit

Fruit

IF YOU’RE THE type of modern citizen with a gym membership and/or a road bike, you’ve probably heard at least a little about cold-press juicing. Celebrities deliver breathless testimonials about their juice’s improved nutritional profile, magically legitimizing $12-a-bottle prices. And startups are popping up to capitalize on the trend—one raising $120 million by promising to deliver pre-packaged fruit, ready to be juiced on its proprietary machine.

The science, at first, sounds pretty good. Good enough, at least, to convince consumers to pay up to $2,500 for the privilege of making the right kind of juice at home with their own blender. See, most juice blenders are centrifugal, with fast-spinning blades that rip apart produce, exposing it to oxygen and heat in the process. Both of those things can degrade vitamins and phytochemicals—the things, nominally, you’re trying to consume. But a cold-press (or “masticating”) juicer crushes and squeezes, sidestepping the nutrient-killing extra oxygen and heat.

Seems legit, right?

But those claims don’t hold water (or juice). The nutrients that go into your juice are not necessarily nutrients that stay there. And they’re not necessarily the nutrients that your body is going to absorb, either.

How you make juice definitely changes the nutrients that show up in the final fluid. Plenty of research shows that cold-pressing’s high-throughput industrial cousin, high-pressure processing, does a good job at preserving more of the micronutrients in produce than the alternative, thermal processing, which raises the juice’s temperature to kill bugs within. But that generalization doesn’t apply to every nutrient. For example, different technologies don’t have much impact on minerals like calcium, iron, and magnesium.
And certain micronutrients have their own weird outcomes, changing the impact of processing on a fruit-by-fruit or vegetable-by-vegetable basis. Take tomatoes, for example. You’ve probably heard that the lycopene in tomatoes is good for you; ketchup manufacturers love to tout its health benefits. But lycopene actually comes in two slightly different structural forms, called isomers. The trans isomer of lycopene shows up in red tomatoes, but your body doesn’t absorb it well. Add heat, though—like maybe from a centrifugal blender—and those trans-lycopenes turn into cis-lycopenes, which your gut is much better at absorbing. “In some cases, the heat is helping convert the metabolites into useful, absorbable compounds,” says Bhimu Patil, director of the Vegetable and Fruit Improvement Center at Texas A&M University. So cold-pressing’s lack of heat isn’t always a good thing.

On top of that uncertainty, everybody’s guts handle nutrients differently. The bacteria that line your intestines chemically transform the nutrients from your food, which can make them more or less absorbable. “I cannot say that what you see in the juices is what you see in the human body,” says Patil. In an ideal world, everyone would get their gut microbiome sequenced like Michael Pollan to help determine which nutrients will be favorably absorbed. But for now, it’s kind of a (ahem) crapshoot.

Finally, the way your gut lining absorbs those nutrients depends significantly on the other compounds that are in there at the time. Consuming fruits and vegetables with fats can significantly improve their uptake, for example. And while one of the big arguments for cold-pressed juices is that they include more of the natural fiber that occurs in fruits and vegetables, that isn’t necessarily awesome. “Fiber might actually sequester some of these compounds,” says Steven Schwartz, a food scientist at Ohio State. In other words, the fiber can prevent certain nutrients from being absorbed.

You’re detecting a bit of weaseling here—in some cases this, in some cases that. But that’s how things are with nutrition research, especially when you’re trying to figure out something as complicated as the metabolism of the hundreds of vitamins and phytochemicals in produce. “It’s expensive to follow all the nutrients through whatever processing you’re looking at,” says Diane Barrett, a fruit and vegetable product specialist at the University of California, Davis. Food scientists often use vitamin C as a stand-in for a laundry list of phytochemicals, because it’s quite susceptible to both heat and oxygen. But really reliable results would require that “every nutrient has to be studied on its own,” says Schwartz. His lab at Ohio State is beginning to do just that, analyzing the broader metabolic profiles of study participants before, during, and after they eat and drink.

Until then, if you love juice, keep drinking it (as long as you’re balancing it out with other foods, obviously). The levels of nutrients in juice certainly change depending on how you make it, but with so much variability—and with so much science left to be done—that it’s impossible to tell on a recipe-by-recipe basis which kind of blending will give you, individually, the best nutrient absorption. And it’s not even clear whether absorbing those nutrients will make you that much healthier; long-term studies of fruit and vegetable intake show the biggest effects on cardiovascular disease reduction, but scientists don’t know if juices would do the same thing. Plus, levels of nutrients and phytochemicals in your juice depend more on the quality of the produce: how it’s grown, when it’s harvested, and how fresh it is. In a big-bag supermarket, the farm-to-produce-aisle cycle can be weeks long.

That’s the important part: Is it worth shelling out hundreds of dollars for a cold-press juicer on the off-chance it’ll improve a few nutrient levels? Nobody knows. So no.

Go Back to Top. Skip To: Start of Article.

Is cold-pressed juice really that healthy, or is it all just hype?

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The Globe and Mail

Cold-pressed juice is the elixir for our time-starved, nutrient-deprived lives, if its devotees are to be believed. That’s part of the reason a 355-ml bottle can cost $12.

The latest health fad has become a multibillion-dollar industry and has been deemed the new “status symbol,” helped along by celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow. Companies such as Whole Foods and Starbucks are riding the trend, with a market estimated to be worth up to $3.4-billion (U.S.).

But at this point, marketing hype is running ahead of science. And the massive popularity of cold-pressed juice comes at a time when there are many initiatives to discourage us from drinking juices because of their sugar content.

In perhaps the biggest sign yet that we should be eating fruits, not drinking them, Health Canada may eliminate fruit juice from Canada’s Food Guide.

“The department is in the process of reviewing the evidence base for its current guidance to Canadians,” Health Canada said in a statement released Tuesday. “Depending on the conclusions of the scientific review, guidance for consumption [quantity and frequency] of various foods, including juice, could be updated in the future.”

The statement was released following a report on the Canadian Medical Association Journal website that Hasan Hutchinson, director general of Health Canada’s office of nutrition policy and promotion, recently implied at the Canadian Obesity Summit in Toronto that the agency may remove juice from its dietary advice.

The Heart and Stroke Foundation released its own statement on Wednesday applauding the Health Canada announcement.

“This is a huge step in the right direction,” Manuel Arango, the foundation’s director of health policy, said in the statement. “We need to provide clear messages to help Canadians make the healthiest choices, and conveying that juice is not a healthy alternative to fruit is definitely in the best interest of Canadians’ health.”

Meantime, cold-pressed juice marketers continue to make a compelling sales pitch: The spinning blades of traditional centrifugal juicers expose fruit and vegetables to heat and oxygen, both of which degrade nutrients. Most store-bought juice has been pasteurized, which also involves heat. But cold-pressed juice is squeezed through an auger, meaning there is no heat (and thus the juice is “cold” pressed).

But experts say there isn’t enough scientific support for the claims that cold-pressed juice is any better for us than other kinds. Even if it does contain more nutrients, they may pass right through our guts.

“Cold-pressed may definitely have some benefits compared to other types of processing,” says Bhimu Patil, director of the Vegetable and Fruit Improvement Center at Texas A&M University. “The question is: Is that processing helping the absorption?”

He adds, “We just assume there are [more] nutrients, but if they are not absorbed into the system, they may or may not be helpful.”

Larger amounts of nutrients don’t necessarily mean greater health benefits. For example, we know that fresh, or “raw,” orange juice contains more vitamin C than frozen, concentrated OJ. But even a single 355-ml serving of juice made from frozen concentrate provides about 200 per cent of the recommended daily amount for adult women and more than 150 per cent of the recommended amount for adult men.

“So aside from enriching the vitamin C content of the sewage system, it’s not clear what the benefits of more vitamin C would be,” Susan Barr, a professor of nutrition at the University of British Columbia, said in an e-mail. “Of course, taste is another issue entirely, but that [in combination with cost] is personal,” she added.

Dr. Patil’s Insight on the Cold-Pressed Juice Hype [Wired.com]

Nobody Can Prove Cold-Pressed Juice is Better for You (Wired) [Featured Image]IF YOU’RE THE type of modern citizen with a gym membership and/or a road bike, you’ve probably heard at least a little about cold-press juicing. Celebrities deliver breathless testimonials about their juice’s improved nutritional profile, magically legitimizing $12-a-bottle prices. And startups are popping up to capitalize on the trend—one raising $120 million by promising to deliver pre-packaged fruit, ready to be juiced on its proprietary machine.

The science, at first, sounds pretty good. Good enough, at least, to convince consumers to pay up to $2,500 for the privilege of making the right kind of juice at home with their own blender. See, most juice blenders are centrifugal, with fast-spinning blades that rip apart produce, exposing it to oxygen and heat in the process. Both of those things can degrade vitamins and phytochemicals—the things, nominally, you’re trying to consume. But a cold-press (or “masticating”) juicer crushes and squeezes, sidestepping the nutrient-killing extra oxygen and heat.

Seems legit, right?

But those claims don’t hold water (or juice). The nutrients that go into your juice are not necessarily nutrients that stay there. And they’re not necessarily the nutrients that your body is going to absorb, either.

In some cases, the heat is helping convert the metabolites into useful, absorbable compounds,” says Bhimu Patil, director of the Vegetable and Fruit Improvement Center at Texas A&M University. So cold-pressing’s lack of heat isn’t always a good thing.

On top of that uncertainty, everybody’s guts handle nutrients differently. The bacteria that line your intestines chemically transform the nutrients from your food, which can make them more or less absorbable. “I cannot say that what you see in the juices is what you see in the human body,” says Patil. In an ideal world, everyone would get their gut microbiome sequenced like Michael Pollan to help determine which nutrients will be favorably absorbed. But for now, it’s kind of a (ahem) crapshoot.

To read the full article, see the Wired post online at “Nobody Can Prove That Cold-Pressed Juice Is Better for You.”

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For Center, 20 Years of Creating Vegetables [Texas Monthly]

r, 20 Years of Creating Vegetables [Texas Monthly] - Featured Image

TexasMonthly

by FRANCESCA MARI – APRIL 5, 2014 – Texas Monthly; NY Times

Original article: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/06/us/for-center-20-years-of-creating-vegetables.html?_r=2

Workers in South Texas last year harvested the sweet Texas 1015, an onion created to stop tears.

In 1983, after more than 10 years of research, a Texas A&M University horticulturist named Leonard Pike created an onion that did not make people cry. This alone was revolutionary, but Dr. Pike also conferred another attribute upon his plant progeny: a single center.

Workers in South Texas last year harvested the sweet Texas 1015, an onion created to stop tears. Credit Jody Horton

Workers in South Texas last year harvested the sweet Texas 1015, an onion created to stop tears. Credit Jody Horton

Previous onion varieties had multiple centers and were a mess of interlocking circles when sliced, but the sweet Texas 1015 — named after the optimal planting date, Oct. 15 — would cut into perfect concentric circles. This meant that restaurants chains like Outback Steakhouse and Chili’s and food suppliers like Sysco could efficiently produce onion rings and, more important, people would want to eat them.

This pragmatic approach is at the heart of the Vegetable and Fruit Improvement Center at Texas A&M, which Dr. Pike founded in 1993 and is celebrating its 20th anniversary. The center, which is intended as a collaboration of science and industry, is now led by Bhimu Patil, one of Dr. Pike’s former students and a professor at A&M.

In a partnership between research and business, the 11 members of the advisory board, which includes representatives from the chemical company Monsanto and the grocery chains HEB and Kroger, identify the center’s priorities based on industry needs — namely, breeding fruits and vegetables that taste better, have more nutrients, tolerate heat and drought, and resist disease. More than 40 scientists, doctors and academics at the center incorporate these needs into research that includes crop management, plant physiology, human nutrition, pharmacology and sustainability. The combined effort can, in turn, help secure grants from agencies like the National Institutes of Health and the United States Department of Agriculture.

For a relatively small institution, the center has contributed a great deal to the produce aisles. It has bred about 40 cultivars, or new vegetable and fruit varieties, and identified 56 bioactive compounds that are important for health research and are worth an estimated $6.3 million. Before retiring in 2006, Dr. Pike created the maroon carrot, which has up to 40 percent more cancer-preventing beta-carotene. David Byrne, an A&M AgriLife Research scientist, released his 19th peach varietal, TexFirst, designed for Texas’ mild winters. Kevin Crosby, an A&M associate horticulture professor, is responsible for seven types of peppers, including the golden yellow mild habanero, which is low in capsaicin — the chemical responsible for a pepper’s heat.

The center has generated $1.10 million in royalty revenue for A&M from seed sales, and its most famous vegetable, the Texas 1015, has had an economic impact of about $1 billion since it was released in 1983, according to Agricultural Economics.

As the center celebrates 20 years, Dr. Patil said, it remains committed to its market-driven approach to crop improvement and consumption, which was the focus of a recent conference: “Produce for Health: The Intersection of Sustainability, Food and Nutrition Security, and Education.” Held at the AgriLife Center on A&M’s campus, the conference featured more than 25 speakers and attracted more than 200 attendees.

Dr. David L. Katz, the director and a founder of the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center, argued in his keynote address for the role of a plant-based diet in fighting the leading causes of death, including cancer and heart disease. “If you were told there was a drug safe for old and young with no side effects that was very cheap, and that taken daily would reduce chronic disease by 80 percent,” Dr. Katz said, “you’d call your doctor immediately for a prescription or you’d call your stockbroker.”

“But that drug already exists,” he said, referring to a healthy lifestyle with lots of fruits and vegetables.

“We’re facing health problems amounting to $30 billion dollars a year by 2025,” said Susan Combs, the state’s comptroller and former agricultural commissioner. “We need to invest in these high-value fields, and it’s clear that agriculture with clear nutritional health benefits is one of them.”

Research, she added, was part of the state’s diversification after the 1980s oil bust and brings a high return on investment.

Health also sells. To prove the point, Dr. Patil invited Emiliano Escobedo, the executive director of the Hass Avocado Board, established in Irvine, Calif., in 2002 to promote avocado consumption. The board invested in research to communicate the crop’s nutritional benefits to consumers. The result was the motto “Love One Today: naturally good fats, cholesterol free.” From 2002 to 2013, Hass avocado consumption in the United States increased to nearly 1.7 billion pounds from 484 million pounds.

“We wanted people to feel they’re getting more out of their $1 or $1.50,” Mr. Escobedo said.

After one speaker called for research to build consumer trust, Sekhar Boddupalli, Monsanto’s head of Global Consumer Research and Development, rose for his presentation. “Oh, wow. Having Monsanto follow a speech about trust. I wonder if that’s a setup,” he said. Dr. Boddupalli did not discuss genetic modification, for which his company is known. He instead focused on consumer disappointment with taste.

Improving taste, of course, along with health, is what the center is all about, Dr. Patil said. Recalling the Texas 1015, he noted that it contained reduced amounts of pyruvate, the tear-provoking compound known to fight cholesterol and cancer. But its success had helped change both habits and lives.

“People derive greater health benefits from mild onions they eat,” he said, “than from more nutrient-rich onions they don’t.”

fmari@texasmonthly.com

A version of this article appears in print on April 6, 2014, on page A27B of the National edition with the headline: For Center, 20 Years of Creating Vegetables.

Link to article: PDF

The Results of a 7-Yr Study are In! Vegetarian and Pescovegetarian Diets Shown to Lower Cancer Risk [WSJ]

Featured Image: Wall Street Journal - Vegetarians Reduced Cancer Risk

WSJ Street Lgoo

The Wall Street Journal reports that a vegetarian diet may be optimal for warding off the second most deadly cancer in the US.

The study included 770,000 participants and showed a 22% relative reduction in risk for bowel cancer and a 43% reduction for those who ate fish, as well. Although the relationship between fish and cancer reduction is unclear, the study found positive effects of decreased meat and increased vegetable intake on bowel cancer risk overall.

SOURCES: Michael Orlich, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor, preventive medicine, Loma Linda University, Loma Linda, Calif.; Alfred Neugut, M.D., Ph.D., oncologist and epidemiologist, professor, Columbia University Medical Center, and co-director, Cancer Prevention Program, New York Presbyterian Hospital, New York City; David Bernstein, gastroenterologist, North Shore University Hospital, Manhasset, N.Y.; March 9, 2015, JAMA Internal Medicine, online

Follow the link to watch the video online at the Wall Street Journal and read more!

How Scientists Get You to Eat Your Vegetables [Prevention Magazine online]

Every seat in the College Station, Texas hall was filled with scientists and folks from the food industry, gathered for one reason: to wish a happy 20th birthday to the Vegetable and Fruit Improvement Center.

When you first hear that such a place exists, nestled inside of Texas A&M University, the name sounds ridiculous. How can you improve upon a vegetable? I imagined subterranean laboratories where veggies are injected with a secret bacon-flavored serum, a mutant supergarden where veggies are crossbred with kale to make super superfoods.

What I learned was that the VFIC wasn’t just a place where scientists aim to make vegetables healthier (though they often do by boosting antioxidant and vitamin content.) Above all else, it’s where they try to get people to simply eat their vegetables. The best way to maximize the health benefits of vegetables, of course, is to get people to put them in their bodies.

“The final end product of this whole center is to provide healthy, tasty, and flavorful vegetables and fruit, which will eventually reduce healthcare costs,” said Bhimu Patil, director of the Vegetable and Fruit Improvement Center. Studies have shown that fruits and vegetables help inhibit diseases of all stripes, from cancer to obesity.

“I guess sometimes we’re in a little academic bubble here,” said Kevin Crosby, a vegetable breeder and associate professor of horticultural sciences at the VFIC. “We think people should eat vegetables, and we don’t know why they don’t—but we also need to think how to educate the public, how to spread that interest or that excitement about vegetables to everyday people who don’t even think about vegetables.”

To read the complete article by Mandy Oaklander of Prevention.com, either download a PDF or visit the original link.

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The Rise of the Avocado, America’s New Favorite Fruit [The Washington Post]

Rise of Avocados [Featured Image]

Original post by Roberto A. Ferdman from The Washington Post’s “Wonkblog,” January 22, 2015. 

Avoado - dramatic [Flickr, cyclonebill] -webcrop

America is in love with avocados.

The country’s appetite for the creamy versatile fruit (yes, avocados are fruit) has grown just about every year for the past 15 years, according to data from the Hass Avocado Board, invading kitchens and menus across the country. The rise is such that sales of Hass avocados, which make up more than 95 percent of all avocados consumed in the United States, soared to a record of nearly 1.9 billion pounds (or some 4.25 billion avocados) last year, more than double the amount consumed in 2005, and nearly four times as many sold in 2000.

Once a rare treat, enjoyed only by cities on the west coast fortunate enough to sell fresh fruit when they were in season, avocados can now be found year round piled high at supermarkets nationwide, on restaurant menus in even the most remote towns, and in Subway sandwiches across the country.

“The demand has just been incredible,” said Emiliano Escobedo, director of the Hass Avocado Board. “I think avocados are pretty much mainstream at this point.”

Why the sudden outpouring of love for avocados? A few reasons stand out.

The most tangible explanation is that the rise of avocados in the United States comes on the heels of loosened import restrictions, which used to ban shipments of the fruit from Mexico. The restrictions were problematic, because Mexico was (and still is) the world’s largest producer. Without the supply, all of avocados the United States consumed instead came from California, which couldn’t grow them year round or consistently put fresh ones on supermarket shelves outside of the west coast.

Avocado Graph [TheWashingtonPost]Washington Post Logo

To read the full article, visit the original link on the Washington Post’s website or click here to download a PDF.