Sep 2, 2015
AgriLife Extension specialist to lead East Texas vegetable programs

He’s done so many trainings in East Texas over the years, relocating to to the region is almost like coming home, said Dr. Joe Masabni, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service small-acreage vegetable specialist.

Masabni has been based in College Station since being hired by AgriLife Extension in August 2008, but on Sept. 1, he moved into a new office at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Overton.

The move makes “so much sense in so many ways,” he said. Not only has he often played a role in events such as the annual East Texas fruit and vegetable conference, he has worked with local researchers on such projects as tomato, watermelon and strawberry variety trials, high tunnel research, and pesticide tests.

Moreover, much of the kind of small-acreage commercial vegetable production is concentrated in the 22 East Texas counties of AgriLife Extension’s District 5, which has not had a vegetable specialist assigned to the region for more than 10 years.

Masabni said his first goal is to greatly expand his networking with East Texas vegetable growers. Though he’s conducted many trainings and met with lots of growers over the years, there are many he hasn’t.

“I want to hear from every commercial vegetable grower, large or small, organic or conventional, in District 5,” he said. “I need to learn what their needs are and how better to serve them with education and solving specific production problems.”

Masabni received his bachelor’s in horticulture from Michigan State University in 1985. He received his master’s in pomology in 1989 and his doctorate in vegetable production in 1998 from Michigan State University. Before moving to Texas, he served six years as the Extension fruit and vegetable specialist at the University of Kentucky Research and Education Center in Princeton, Kentucky.

In addition to working on variety trials, Masabni has long advocated the use of high tunnels for vegetable and strawberry production, he said. At first glance, high tunnels look like small greenhouses. Unlike greenhouses, they are more open to the elements and are not climate controlled.

Though not widely adopted by growers, high tunnels protect plants from climatic extremes of high heat or light freezes and can extend the growing season of crops such as strawberries, he said.

Masabni has one professional-level greenhouse at the Overton center and plans to collaborate with other scientists there, including Erfan Vafaie, AgriLife Extension integrated pest management specialist, and Dr. Karl Steddom, Texas A&M AgriLife Research plant pathologist.

Masabni plans to test vegetable production methods that are relatively new to the area, such as hydroponic vertical gardens and aquaponics.

Vertical gardens are a kind of hydroponic system that allow a high concentration of plants to be grown in a small space, Masabni explained. In one system he recently evaluated, high towers supported 700 strawberry plants in 15 towers in a footprint 2 feet wide by 18 feet wide. In the field, 700 strawberry plants would require space for 300 feet of rows. High towers are particularly suited for high-dollar crops such as strawberries.

Masabni can be contacted at 903-834-6191 or [email protected].

— Texas A&M AgriLife

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