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South Texas Farmer Thinks Outside of the Box to Diversity Farming Operation

By Debra Parsons, Winter Garden Soil and Water Conservation District

It is no secret that a long South Texas drought will cause farmers and ranchers to make tough financial decisions, affecting their livelihood that they would otherwise not make. Such was the case with Zavala County farmer Akram Mohammad. In 2012, Mohammad made the difficult decision to downsize his operations by selling one of his pecan orchards, Arrowhead Farms.

Since that time, Mohammad has kept busy continuing to grow pecans, but on a much smaller scale at his Heavenly Pecans and Fruit Farm. Mohammad grows Pawnee and Wichita varieties of pecans for cross pollination. Last year, Mohammad decided to tap into his many years of experience growing fruit and nut trees in his home state of California.

“Pecan trees are very hardy, so I decided to use them as a windbreak and planted 500 experimental persimmon trees. Unfortunately, between the birds, cut ants, harvester ants, termites, and cotton root rot, only about 200 trees survived. The electric fence did not deter the deer or hogs from doing their share of damage as well,” said Mohammad. Specialty “Super Zee” peach variety.

Even with the setbacks, Mohammad was encouraged with the results. He planted citrus trees as well as a variety of fruit trees including pomegranate, plum, peach, Asian pear and regular pear. He has also planted more persimmon and plumcots, a specialty fruit that is a cross between a plum and an apricot. Within each type of tree, Mohammad has planted from 10 to 20 different varieties. To address the deer and bug issues, Mohammad diligently sprays deer and bug repellants weekly. He has also placed temporary fencing around the orchard borders attempting to keep the deer and hogs at bay.

Mohammad has once again turned to USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) for assistance in his new endeavor. “I have been working with NRCS since the 1980s in California with great results and have had the same experience here in Texas,” said Mohammad. “Several years ago, I installed a micro irrigation system at Arrowhead Farms. I completed a sprinkler irrigation system installation at this farm back in 2017. When necessary, I can efficiently water my entire field in one day utilizing my irrigation system; the turnaround time is quick. I also have the flexibility to cool down the orchard immediately before harvest. Irrigation systems are very expensive; it is nice to know that I can count on NRCS for financial assistance as well as technical assistance.”

Utilizing the NRCS Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), Mohammad has been approved for two conservation practices, cross-fencing and cover crop. He plans to move livestock into one area of the farm and wants to cross-fence the riparian area near the Nueces River. Livestock will keep the area weeds at a minimum and livestock manure will provide nutrients for soil organisms. He will also be planting milo and millet as “trap” crops to deter the birds away from his fruit trees and to reap the benefits of a cover crop, such as increased organic matter, increased water infiltration, and reduced soil erosion. Mohammad’s vision to diversify is an aggressive and innovative one. “I want to put South Texas on the map! I hope to find a new nitch market for these various fruits,” said Mohammad. He will evaluate what has been most successful in his fruit orchard and already plans to plant several cherry mixes, including sweet treat pluerry, a cherry and plum mix and several new plum apricot mixes. The only issue standing in Mohammad’s way is the continued damage to his trees caused by deer and hogs.Mohammad inspects his peach tree, the pecan orchard windbreak is visible in the distance.

Although last year he could not enter his pecan orchard for the entire harvest months of October and early November due to standing water from heavy rains, he remains optimistic about his pecan crop as well and plans to increase the size of his orchard from 20 acres to 100 acres creating an even larger wind break. Substantial amounts of wind are hard on the fruit trees causing “wind rub” and scarring of the fruit which degrades the beauty of the fruit, and in marketing, quality and appearance are everything.

In partnership with the Texas-Mexico Border Coalition, the Winter Garden Soil & Water Conservation District wanted to share the success story of one of its Zavala County producers. For more information about how NRCS can assist you with your land management goals, please contact J. M. Villarreal at (830) 374-3838, extension 3 or visit the local office at 319 N. 1st Ave., Suite #2 in Crystal City.

South Texas Farmer Thinks Outside of the Box to Diversity Farming Operation, By Debra Parsons, Winter Garden Soil and Water Conservation District, (2019, Dec)