Labels Aren’t Always What They Seem.

The old adage “you are what you eat” seems like a pretty innocuous and straight forward saying that can be interpreted to draw attention to the connection between what you consume and where it came from. With the recent uptick in “food consciousness,” such denotations as fair trade, hormone-free, grass-fed, cage-free, all-natural and of course, the Holy Grail of monikers, organic, continue to be ever more present and linked to our consumption habits. However, beyond the aforementioned denominations of food, there is a whole other realm of food labeling and sourcing that can be incredibly misinforming and deceitful.

The U.S. Govt.'s Perception of Where Champagne Comes From

The U.S. Govt.’s Perception of Where Champagne Comes From

Perhaps one of the biggest misunderstandings is due to appellation. Appellation refers to the authority of a specific geographic region to produce and market a product under very particular parameters. These guidelines include very specific methods, processes, and purity standards for said product to meet or exceed in order to be labeled as coming from that specific region. Perhaps the most well-known example of this applies to “Champagne.” Champagne is a wine growing region of France world famous for their very high quality production of sparkling white wines. The distinction of true champagnes only coming from Champagne was so important to the producers, that in 1891, The Treaty of Madrid was created to give France the legal right to create this distinction internationally (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treaty_of_Madrid_%281891%29). Even though Champagne is as an example, the treaty also covers such appellations for wines such as Chianti (Italy), Port (Portugal) and even cheeses such as Parmigiano-Reggiano (Parmesan cheese from Parma, Italy). The treaty had 56 states sign on in agreement, but the U.S. was not one of them. This issue of appellation was of such importance that not only did the Treaty of Versailles (which officially ended World War I) ensure the dissolving of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire and dismantling of German military and economic resources, the drafters of the treaty put in clauses to reinforce the condition of champagnes only coming from Champagne. Once again, the U.S. did not sign.
Today, the European Union has 600 geography-designated products, but the U.S. still lags behind in its accordance with the treaty. Back in 2003, the U.S. did sign the “Madrid Protocol”, which allows for a “trademark owner to seek registration in any of the countries that have joined the Madrid Protocol,” but each country is still allowed to “apply their own rules and laws to determine whether or not the mark may be protected in their jurisdiction” (http://www.uspto.gov/trademarks/law/madrid/). That being said, Congress in 2006 did prohibit American wine companies from putting “Champagne” on their labels unless they had approval to use the term before 2006 and that they also label the wine’s origin (e.g. California). While small steps, initiating such measures should only help if the tables are turned on American producers in case other countries were to start producing wines called “Napa” or “Sonoma” to take advantage of the notoriety of wines from those Californian vineyards.

Kobe Steak on Right Vs. USDA Prime Choice on Left

Kobe Steak on Right Vs. USDA Prime Choice on Left

Another misleading food item is Kobe beef. Kobe beef has a reputation for unparalleled marbling and flavor, but true Kobe beef is produced only in the Hyoyo region of Japan, and can fetch prices of $45/oz. once it reaches here to the U.S. Not only is it very expensive, but it is very limited and hard to find. Japan produces only 3,000-4,000 head of cattle that qualify as Kobe a year, and even then, only 5 and 17 head, respectively, have been imported into the U.S. in 2012 and 2013. Comparing these handful of Japanese cattle against the 29 million head of cattle produced annually in the U.S. really brings doubt into the prevalence of authentic Kobe beef being served at your local fine dining location even if they advertise that they do (http://www.forbes.com/sites/larryolmsted/2012/04/12/foods-biggest-scam-the-great-kobe-beef-lie/). A real cut of Kobe beef should come with a certificate (in Japanese) that traces it back to a cow with a unique 10 digit ID number and scannable QR code that can be accessed on the Kobe Beef Council’s website (http://www.kobe-niku.jp/englishtop.html). As consumers have become aware of this, many in the cattle and restaurant industry have switched to more ambiguous terms as “Kobe style”, “American Kobe”, “Waygu”, etc. in an attempt to be less dishonest with their dishonesty.
The initial intent of these laws serve as a means to protect and promote domestic production of consumer goods in the U.S., but it is still confusing, and I feel misleading, to uneducated consumers who buy “Parmesan” cheese from a dairy in Wisconsin or pay hundreds of dollars for a “Kobe” steak from a cow raised in Oklahoma.

More Appropriate Label For Olive Oil Bottles

More Appropriate Label For Olive Oil Bottles

Beyond deceptiveness of where food items imply they come from, there is an even more nefarious side to what a label says, and what it actually is. A perfect example of this is with olive oil. A recent University of California Davis study of 186 extra virgin olive oils tested in accordance with the International Olive Council’s standards revealed that 73% failed in meeting the standards, and some estimates have that 69% of all extra virgin olive oil in the U.S. is fake altogether (http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2012/jan/04/olive-oil-real-thing). The reason for this isn’t quite clear, but there have been books and multiple investigative reports written that delve into the shady olive oil trade. The general thought about the olive oil industry and its apparent façade is that multiple countries (Morocco, Tunisia, Spain, etc.) ship multiple types of oil (sunflower, canola, cottonseed, and soybean) to Naples, where it all gets mixed together at processing plants before getting slapped with “Extra Virgin Italian Olive Oil” and getting put on your local grocer’s shelf.
chart

Even potentially more disheartening situations occur in the fish market. Recent studies by universities and independent groups find that a large portion of fish served in restaurants and stores are not what they are said to be. Fish sampling via DNA analysis found that 1/3 of 1,215 fish samples taken across 674 retail sellers in 21 states were wrong for what species was advertised (http://www.forbes.com/sites/larryolmsted/2013/02/21/fake-fish-on-shelves-and-restaurant-tables-across-usa-new-study-says/). Some areas of the nation, including Southern California and Texas, had mislabeled fish for 50% of the samples. The most glaring example gleaned from these studies found that only 6%, or 7 out of 120, fish labeled red snapper actually were.

All of these aforementioned stories warrant the “buyer beware” mentality and use of commonsense, but at the same time, there should also hopefully be a certain level of accountability and trust that exists between seller and buyer. Not everyone has the time or money to analyze the DNA of their sushi rolls or have a lab run tests on olive oil for purity, so it can be hard. Perhaps, if anything, such occurrences should help us be reminded of our relative disconnect between what we eat, and where and how it comes to our dinner plate.

Will History Repeat Itself?

The Culprit

The Culprit

Flying amongst the humid air of southern Florida, zipping its way through citrus groves and grazing cattle, was a winged pest that served as quite the detriment to Florida agriculture producers in the not too distant past. This small, voracious villain was an innocuous looking fly that cost the state an average of $20 million dollars in economic losses a year (http://flaentsoc.org/webbaum/baumhover.html) due to the trail of destruction it left in its wake across the whole state and virtually all of the southern United States. No, I’m  not referring to aphids or whiteflys that affect citrus, and I’m definitely not referring to the current problems presented by psyllids as they spread greening disease throughout citrus groves, but rather I am referring to screwworms.

The USDA has recently pledged 1 million dollars and is attempting to bring together both private and public entities (http://southeastfarmpress.com/orchard-crops/usda-syncs-agencies-citrus-greening) to help combat the massive problem that faces Florida agriculture in the manifestation of greening disease among the state’s numerous citrus groves. However, instead of lamenting and writing a doom and gloom piece about greening, I wanted to go over a past successful collaboration between government entities such as USDA and private growers as they faced another winged pest that was a scourge of farmers, and whose front lines of the battle occurred in Florida.

Depiction of wound inoculation by screwworm

Depiction of wound inoculation by screwworm

Screwworms (Cochliomyia hominivorax) were a major setback to livestock growers in both North and South America before their eradication, with the life cycle of the fly consisting of females laying eggs in any sort of open wound (cuts, scrapes, punctures) on livestock that may have resulted from thorns, birthing, eye infections, insect bites, or normal cattle handling procedures such as branding or dehorning. Even newborn calves were susceptible to infestation of screwworms in their navels shortly after being born. Once a female lays her eggs in the wound, the larvae hatch and then begin to feed on the healthy flesh of the infected animal, beginning a process of eating the animal alive. This feeding subsequently attracts other females to lay their eggs in the same wound, and if this cycle is not abated, an animal may die in 5-10 days from the affliction. Their prevalence to infect livestock with such voracity often caused livestock ranchers to restrict calving and working of animals during the winter months when the flies were not present.

Screwworm infestation on cow eye

Screwworm infestation on cow eye

Successful wound treatment during regular screenings of livestock could control the hatched larvae, and this was demonstrated in Florida during the 1930’s, but this was only effective in controlling the fly with intensive management techniques that would be hard to implicate in every herd present in the state. The Florida demonstration was also flawed in the sense that wildlife and other nearby untreated livestock could serve as an infinite repository for wave after wave of flies that could reinfest a recently treated animal. A broader, more drastic approach was needed, and a couple of USDA scientist led the charge by proposing a “sterile male” control theory. This theory required the release of male screwworm flies that had been rendered sterile via irradiation (x-ray machines) out into the wild that would then subsequently mate with the endemic females. Females only mate once in their lifetime, and they retain the sperm from the one time mating event for the production of multiple egg layings during their lifespan. This resulted in females that had mated with the sterile males to lay eggs that were inviable.

Screwworm larvae

Screwworm larvae

After the initial lab tests proved promising, it was time to prove the theory out in the field, and the USDA did so by stocking the sterile males on Sanibel Island on the west coast of Florida. Within months, eggs layed on livestock were only hatching at an 80% rate, but complete eradication could not be achieved or proven due to wild impregnated females flying in to the island from the mainland. To prove the model even further, the researchers next introduced the lab reared male flies onto an island off the coast of Venezuela. This time the experiment was a resounding success, and screwworms were eradicated within 6 months from the island after the implementation of the sterile male stocking.

With confidence in the methodology, the eradication program moved back to Florida and was implemented on a large-scale in conjunction with the Florida Livestock Board in 1955. The program continued successfully  throughout the Southeast in the late 1950’s and finally moved on to its toughest challenge yet in 1962 when USDA researchers in Kerrville, TX begun the sterile male stocking program to alleviate the state of its yearly 1 million cases of screwworm infestations. Texas’ ideal environmental conditions for screwworm proliferation, high cattle numbers, and proximity to Mexico and its infected cattle population served as potential stumbling blocks to the continued success of the program, but within a year, both Texas and New Mexico were declared officially clear of endemic infestations of screwworms. After the continental U.S., the program then spread into the rest of North America, Central, and South America, eventually being implemented everywhere in the world where such pests were a problem.

To this day, the complete eradication of the screwworm has been declared for the U.S., Mexico, and most of Central America. In the U.S. alone, it is estimated that eradication of this pest results in benefits of nearly $900 million dollars. What started out as a small test on a Florida island culminated into a worldwide collaboration between governments and private citizens that resulted in designation of the program being “the most efficient and successful international animal health program in the history of the United Nations Organisation (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cochliomyia).” Perhaps this example of such a success will prove as inspiration or at least as hope for the continued struggle (and future struggles) of Florida as it battles the latest citrus affliction, with an eye towards what great achievements can be made when both private and public entities dedicate themselves towards a cooperative stance in dealing with agricultural issues.

(Please Don’t) Carry On, Wayward Pesticide

As mentioned in a previous post, orchard floor management is a component of field maintenance by which undesirable vegetation is eliminated or controlled via the three methods of cultivation involving mechanical, chemical, or cultural practices. At Terviva’s 150 acre pongamia orchard in Texas, I have focused on both chemical and mechanical practices for weed control.

Within chemical practices, the use of the herbicide glyphosate has allowed for effective control of weeds in the Texas orchard. This systemic herbicide gives lasting control, that in conjunction with regular mowing, helps keep weed competition at a minimum for the trees. The use of a shielded boom sprayer mounted onto a utility vehicle allows for a quick and efficient means to apply herbicides while also disallowing for any possible occurrences of the herbicide drifting onto the trees during application. “Drift,” as defined by the Texas Pesticide Application handbook, refers to movement of airborne pesticide, usually in a dust, spray, or vapor, away from a release site.”

Shielded Boom Sprayer Mounted Onto Field Utility Vehicle

Shielded Boom Sprayer Mounted Onto Field Utility Vehicle

However, despite my prudent herbicide application methods, an occurrence of herbicide damage due to drift still unfortunately happened to a few of the trees last year. The pongamia orchard is bordered on two sides (East and South) by farmland that is often used to grow grain crops. One grain crop in particular, sorghum, is often sprayed with glyphosate to dessicate the crop and increase the harvest yield. Unfortunately, as a sorghum field to the south of the orchard was being aerially sprayed, a prevailing southerly wind and misapplication by the pilot resulted in glyphosate drifting onto a nontarget area, the PONGAMIA trees!

As typical with glyphosate’s mode of action that prevents a plant’s ability to synthesize various amino acids, the leaves of the affected trees yellowed, wilted, and often shedded off.

Severely Affected Tree from Drift Occurrence

Severely Affected Tree from Drift Occurrence

Affected Tree with Yellowing Leaves

Affected Tree with Yellowing Leaves

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Curled Leaves from Glyphosate Damage

Curled Leaves from Glyphosate Damage

To make matters worse, a tree that has been affected by herbicide damage is often much more susceptible to secondary afflictions from such pests as insects and fungi. The affected trees in the orchard held up well in regard to their level of stress and resistance to secondary afflictions, but the new regrowth did exhibit another tell-tell sign of herbicide damage in the form of wavy and curled leaves. This form persisted for some of the trees for the remainder of the growing season, but as rains occurred that spurned new growth, all the aforementioned visible symptoms to the trees became less and less prevalent.

It has since been a little over a year since the glyphosate damage from the drift occurred on a portion of the trees, and anecdotal observations based on the trees’ current status seems to fortunately show no prevalent visible lasting effects on the trees: no dead trees, no yellowed/wilted or curly leaves, and no obvious stunted growth. This points towards the trees’ robustness and vigorous growth characteristics having overcame what was hopefully minimal amounts of herbicide exposure. However, only time will tell if any lasting effects on the affected trees’ performance will manifest itself in the future. The two pictures below show the same drift affected area of the orchard from shortly after the incident occurred, to its appearance last week.

Same Area October 2013

Same Area October 2013

Area Affected by Drift August 2012

Area Affected by Drift August 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Keith Kutac is TerViva’s Operations Manager and provides technical support and advice for customer plantings while also actively managing 150 acres of pongamia trees along the Texas Gulf Coast.  While Keith was attaining his B.S. in Biology from Texas A&M University, he worked at both the Texas A&M and USDA pecan orchards learning management techniques that are now being practically applied towards pongamia.

 

Insect Occurrence in Pongamia Fields

There are approximately 90,000 species of described insects in the U.S., and it is an inevitability that some of these will incorporate pongamia into their niche, whether it’s for food, shelter, or reproduction. Some of the insects will be detrimental, some beneficial, and some indifferent.

Once the presence of an insect is determined to fit one of the aforementioned categories, those that are deemed detrimental will have to be monitored and evaluated in a manner that coincides with a successful management plan. This management plan will include an assessment of to what degree any potential insect pest’s presence may harm the successful production of a crop. The specific levels or “thresholds” of numbers of a particular pest are then used to weigh the economies behind treatment or non treatment of a crop in terms of pesticide/application costs, and the effect the insecticide may have on beneficial insects.

Even just incidental surveying of pongamia fields in Texas and Florida has yielded a plethora of different insects that call pongamia home. None of Terviva’s planting sites have been severely decimated or affected by insect feeding on the trees, but it is still an ever-present concern that will need to be closely surveyed at both current and future planting sites in all the varied geographies that Terviva looks to establish pongamia.  Below I have included some of the insects that I have captured with pictures, but this does not come close to representing the true diversity found out in the fields.

Blue Green Weevil and Grasshopper

Blue Green Weevil and Grasshopper

Citrus Root Weevil (diaprepes)

Citrus Root Weevil (diaprepes)

Green Lynx Spider

Green Lynx Spider

Bees Swarming

Bees Swarming

Unknown Caterpillar

Tussock Moth Caterpillar

Leaf Footed Bug

Leaf Footed Bug

Leafcutter Ants

Leafcutter Ants

Grasshopper

Grasshopper

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Keith Kutac is TerViva’s Operations Manager and provides technical support and advice for customer plantings while also actively managing 150 acres of pongamia trees along the Texas Gulf Coast.  While Keith was attaining his B.S. in Biology from Texas A&M University, he worked at both the Texas A&M and USDA pecan orchards learning management techniques that are now being practically applied towards pongamia.

Orchard Floor Management

As much as agriculture is about growing a certain plant, so it is also about not growing other plants. These “other plants” is a reference to undesirable vegetation (weeds) that manifests itself in gardens, fields, and orchards across the world.

IMG_0281

“Weeds” is a term that refers to vegetation that is undesirable for a crop due to a plethora of reasons that may range from aesthetics to their ability to serve as a repository of harmful pests and pathogens.  The top concern for the presence of weeds amongst a crop though is the direct competiton for the crop to obtain water, sunlight, nutrients, and space. This competition can have an immense effect on a crop’s performance, and according to the Texas A&M Agrilife handbook on pest control for crops, “four pigweeds per acre can reduce beet yields by as much as 1 ton per acre.” This innocuous sounding number of only four pigweeds causing so much loss in a crop relays into the frightfully astounding ability of 1 acre of land being capable of producing over 500,000 individual pigweed plants over the course of a growing season.

Through my little over a year experience managing Terviva’s 150 acre pongamia orchard located on the Texas Gulf Coast, I have come across all these issues in the constant battle known as orchard floor management. Texas alone has over 4000 species of plants, with virtually every acre of land having the potential to be a unique management situation due to variability in “climate, geography, topography, soil and human activity (Texas Agrilife Pest Control in Fruits, Nuts and Vegetables).” These factors of variability are then amplified when discussing the introduction of a novel crop, such as what Terviva is doing with the commercialization of pongamia. The absence of tried and proven management techniques for a novel crop lends itself to the utilization of endemic practices of the particular planting areas, finding parallels with various existing crops, and always being open to developing and experimenting with new or modified techniques drawn from necessity.

There are many more examples of weeds and their effects on vegetables, but in a closer comparison to a tree orchard agricultural system such as pongamia, the handbook states that “weed competition is the leading cause of failure in newly planted pecan orchards,” However, weeds and their detrimental effect in an orchard goes beyond the initial planting, and their presence through an orchard also hinders machinery or people performing activities such as field maintenance or harvesting throughout the viable life of the orchard.

The management of weeds is performed via three methods: mechanical, chemical, and cultural. Mechanical practices involve the use of various implements that mow the weeds or till the soil, while chemical methods involve the use of herbicides in a selective manner. Cultural control may employ facets of both mechanical and agricultural practices while also including cover crops or selective irrigation to derive a site specific management plan that is unique to the orchard’s needs.

Shredder #2IMG_0429Since April of 2012, I have employed a cultural method that utilizes timed herbicide spraying that is in conjunction with regular mowing. As weeds emerge in the spring, I apply the broad spectrum systemic herbicide glyphosate in an approximately 80 inch band on each side of a row of trees. This method of spraying is to promote a “bare sod” strip of orchard floor that allows for increased water and nutrient utilization by the trees in the strip. This is then followed up with mowing the remaining unsprayed turf strip in between rows that is conducive for both controlling weeds in this area and improving access for workers and equipment during wet conditions. Selectively spraying and regular mowing has also helped with the succession of the vegetation community in the orchard to transition from broadleaves to grasses, with grasses being much less competitive and detrimental to the health of the orchard floor. This control of the broadleaves via these two methods disrupts the broadleaves life cycle and its production of seeds while stimulating grasses to outgrow them.

So as I continue to manage the pongamia orchard in Texas, new lessons both good and bad will likely happen as the ever moving target of weed management occurs. Orchard floor management is a dynamic situation that may involve very localized and novel management techniques that may then be hopefully used in a synergistic fashion for other geographies.

#2 Sprayed

Keith Kutac is TerViva’s Operations Manager and provides technical support and advice for customer plantings while also actively managing 150 acres of pongamia trees along the Texas Gulf Coast.  While Keith was attaining his B.S. in Biology from Texas A&M University, he worked at both the Texas A&M and USDA pecan orchards learning management techniques that are now being practically applied towards pongamia.

Farm Laborers: “If You Farm It, Will They Come?”

My initial plan when writing for this topic was to simply discuss the current state of farm labor in the U.S. Well, I quickly realized “simply” would not be the case, and that researching this topic quickly delves into the world of conflicting statistics, politics, and anecdotal evidence. So I’ll do my best to avoid any of that for this topic covering a segment of workers that make up less than 1 % of the total U.S. workforce, but whose importance in the economy heeds attention to a much larger share.

The evolution of agriculture in the U.S. has been quite dramatic and profound over the last century. This graph by the USDA demonstrates a broad overview of the steady decline of farms and their workers over this time. This has occurred due to a myriad of factors involving urbanization of the population following World War II driven by the need for workers in factories and manufacturing industries, and the increased efficiency of commercial production of crops via improvement and implementation of machinery, fertilizers, pesticides, and plant genetics. This also led to the consolidation and absorption of small fragmented family farms into larger, corporate entities.

Despite these improvements, there are still segments of agricultural production that have and will continue to rely very heavily on low wage (~$10/hr) farm laborers to produce labor intensive crops such as fruits, nuts, vegetables, and nursery production. Obviously, a large source of these farm laborers is drawn from unauthorized immigrants, which current USDA statistics put at 48% of the work force for agriculture. A recent USDA study found a direct correlation between the levels of these unauthorized workers, and farm output/export. Simply put, a decrease in unauthorized workers decreases the agricultural output/export, and an increase in such workers raises output/export.

This trend is once again magnified specifically with fruit, nut, and vegetable growers, due to their current workforce being comprised of 64% unauthorized workers, and new hires consisting of 94% such workers. Such a high percentage of workers being unauthorized for these sectors could cause strains on the production and economics of these crops in the near future, particularly with the recent decline the last few years in the number of unauthorized immigrants due to the U.S. economy, improving economic opportunities in Mexico, and increased emphasis by state and federal officials on border security. Other contributing factors lie in the nature of farm work, which is highly seasonal for these sectors and does not allow for year round employment, and pays wages that are on avg $1 lower than for those employed in the leisure and hospitality sectors.

Raisin HarvesterThis conversely creates an economic balancing act whereby increased demand in wages for laborers leads to increased mechanization by farmers in lieu of wage increases.  A recent example of this is in the raisin industry, where increased labor costs from 2001-2009 has led to raisin growers now harvesting 45% of the harvest by mechanized means, as opposed to 1% before the transition.   This mechanization, however, still leads to an increase in operating costs that can then potentially lead to fewer, larger producers who control a much more significant share of the market. Another possibility is the complete phasing out of an American producer by a foreign producer all together.

For an industry where 71% of its workers are foreign born, forward thinking will be required to meet future labor needs. Wage levels, farming techniques, immigration reform, worker visas, and a plethora of other variables will factor together in the formation of a solution. One such example of a current attempt at solving this is the H-2A Temporary Agricultural Program, where foreign workers are brought in seasonally to temporarily work. This program currently only accounts for 5% of the total farm laborers, and this may be due to the highly arduous process by which farm based employers attain workers by this method. The program requires potential employers to prove to the U.S. Department of Labor that U.S. workers were first unsuccessfully solicited for the positions, and that any foreign workers that are attained must be provided housing and paid a state or federally determined wage (whichever is higher). Utilizing such a method for finding workers has the right intentions of mitigating exploitation of foreign workers that have been the criticisms of such past worker programs as the Bracero Program, but some amendments will likely need to be done to broaden the impact of the program and its ability to provide farm laborers while also being economically viable to the agricultural producers.

The industry that has most readily used the H-2A program is the citrus industry in Florida, where 71% of its workers are employed by this method. If other industries will follow the Florida citrus industry in this regard remains to be seen.

The future of agricultural production, and the workers who drive it, will be a complicated and difficult one. With farm laborers staying in the workforce for typically less than a decade, a constant supply of new laborers is required to compensate for this turnover. The current status quo for filling these needs suffices for now, but changes must be realized as the looming horizon approaches. Both the U.S. and global political and economical climates will greatly determine what proposed solutions, which may vary from adaptive machinery/cultural practices, trade agreements, immigration policies, and work programs, will need to be implemented to mitigate this issue.

Keith Kutac is TerViva’s Operations Manager and provides technical support and advice for customer plantings while also actively managing 150 acres of pongamia trees along the Texas Gulf Coast.  While Keith was attaining his B.S. in Biology from Texas A&M University, he worked at both the Texas A&M and USDA pecan orchards learning management techniques that are now being practically applied towards pongamia.