Texas A&M University-Kingsville

A&M-Kingsville Breaks Ground on New $7.2 Million Citrus Center

KINGSVILLE - June 24, 2009

Contact: Julie Navejar
julie.navejar@tamuk.edu or 361.593.2590

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Texas A&M University-Kingsville’s Citrus Center in Weslaco has served the Rio Grande Valley citrus industry for 60 years, providing new varieties of fruit, new ways to manage pests and disease and new students eager to learn. Now the faculty, staff and students at the Citrus Center are getting something new—a 25,000 square foot building.

Officials from the state of Texas, The Texas A&M University System and Texas A&M-Kingsville gathered Tuesday, June 23, to break ground on a $7.2 million building designed help researchers continue the work they have started and continue to serve the $200 million Valley citrus industry.

Joining A&M System chancellor Dr. Michael D. McKinney and university president Dr. Steven Tallant at the ceremony was Todd Staples, Commissioner of Agriculture for the state of Texas. Also present at the ground breaking were State Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. of District 27; State Representative Armando “Mando” Martinez of District 39; Ray Prewett, president of Texas Citrus Mutual; and Geof Edwards, architect for Kell Muñoz.

“The Citrus Center has been an important institution for the Rio Grande Valley for 60 years and with this new building, they can continue to be a friend to citrus growers for many more years to come,” said Tallant. “This new state-of-the-art building will provide our researchers and students with the equipment and facilities they need to help the growers in the Rio Grande Valley create a better start.”

“Faculty at the Citrus Center are the leaders in citrus research and they bring in the expertise needed to address modern agricultural problems from the molecular genetics research needed for new varieties to the entomology research needed to protect and maintain the orchards,” said Dr. Allen Rasmussen, dean of the Dick and Mary Lewis Kleberg College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Human Sciences and interim provost and vice president for academic affairs.

Dr. John da Graca, director of the Citrus Center said the new building is designed specifically to allow the faculty to integrate their research programs even more than they currently can. “There also is room for future growth and flexibility for new technologies. The facility will be one which we hope will attract future faculty, visiting scientists and students.”

“The center has always moved with the times and now uses cutting edge technologies in our research, but always with the benefits of the Texas citrus industry in mind,” said da Graca. “The citrus industry will continue to face some of the same challenges it has always dealt with like established and new pests and diseases, weather events and market changes, but the staff at the Citrus Center will be ready to deal with whatever comes our way.”

Da Graca said there are several research projects going on right now at the Citrus Center including

  • development of new varieties by means of natural and induced mutations, embryo rescue and gene transfer. A patent application has been submitted for a new grapefruit variety.
  • studies on the genetics of stress factors like disease, cold and drought that may lead to reducing losses by producing trees with gene modifications designed to reduce losses and costs.
  • strategies for pest and disease management strategies to reduce losses growers experience.
  • the use of micro-budded trees as part of the strategy against greening disease, an insect-transmitted disease currently causing serious losses in Florida.

About the New Building

The new Citrus Center will be built adjacent to the current facilities at 312 N. International Boulevard in Weslaco. The two-story building will be approximately 25,000 square feet. The construction cost is $7.2 million; however, it will have a total price tag of $9.5 million once furnishings and equipment are added.

The first floor will have meeting rooms and classrooms, administrative offices and sample intake and diagnostic labs. On the second floor will be faculty and research technicians’ offices, graduate student space and labs.

Architects from Kell Muñoz in San Antonio designed the building and Skanska of Houston and Harlingen are the contractors.

Work on the building is scheduled to begin in August with completion in the fall of 2010.

The History of the Citrus Center

The Citrus Center originated in the mid-1940s when a group of local citizens and citrus growers approached then-Texas College of Arts and Industries in Kingsville with the idea of establishing a research and training facility specializing in citriculture for the Lower Rio Grande Valley.

In 1947, the original campus site and research farm were purchased with funds contributed by the citrus industry and other community institutions. By 1948, buildings were acquired from the deactivated Harlingen Air Base and the center was in operation.

In the 1960s with the help of the Jones-Collier Foundation the 200-acre South Research Farm was added. Two more properties were purchased in 1974 and 1977 in Hidalgo County. From 1984 through 2004, a 40-acre farm north of Mission was leased to the center by the Looney Family. This has been replaced by a 50-acre farm in Monte Alto leased from Rio Farms Inc.

In 1990, when Texas A&I University joined The Texas A&M University System and became Texas A&M-Kingsville, ties with the nearby Texas A&M Agricultural Research and Extension Center were strengthened.

Due to increased administrative demands caused by dramatic growth and the overwhelming success of the programs at what is now the Texas AgriLife Research Center and the Citrus Center, full-time leadership was re-established at both facilities.

The Citrus Center currently employs four research scientists, 28 other state-funded employees and a number of grant-funded employees.
           
The Citrus Center is best known to the public for the two dark red grapefruit varieties developed there, the Star Ruby and the Rio Red. The Rio Red is the major grapefruit variety grown in the Valley, while the Star Ruby is grown in other parts of the world like South Africa, Australia and Turkey. Both are marketed under the Rio Star name.


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