Texas Extension specialist receives Texas A&M AgriLife Superior Service award

by Steve Byrnes, Texas A&M AgriLife

Dr. Russ Wallace, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service horticulturist at Lubbock, has been awarded the Superior Service Award in the specialist category.

Superior Service Awards recognize AgriLife Extension faculty and staff members who provide outstanding performance in AgriLife Extension education or other outstanding service to the organization and to Texas.

The award was presented Jan. 12 during the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Conference awards dinner at the Brazos Expo Center in Bryan.

Wallace’s nomination describes him as an innovator. Hired as a vegetable specialist to provide leadership to the High Plains vegetable industry, he soon witnessed a major downturn in large scale commercial vegetable operations due to drought and economics. Wallace then reached out to the small- acreage growers interested in locally grown and marketed produce. His initiative led to a three-year multi-state National Institute of Food and Agriculture-Speciality Crop Research Initiative high tunnel project and a two-year National Strawberry Sustainability Initiative.

Wallace headed The Texas High Plains High Tunnel Program, a collaborative effort among several states initiated in 2008. High tunnels, similar to greenhouses in appearance but lacking artificial heat, are meant to extend season production by protecting high-value specialty crops against adverse weather, thus improving yield and quality, especially in non-traditional areas like the High Plains.

Wallace’s efforts led to the technology being accepted for cost share-funding in Texas through the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The nomination noted that the EQIP High Tunnel Seasonal Initiative Program has provided funds to over 80 qualifying small-acreage growers. A significant part of Wallace’s program has included educational training on high tunnel construction, especially for high wind regions. Significant impacts of the program are the publications High Tunnels for Crop Production in Texas and Specialty Crops for High Tunnel Production in Texas.

Wallace’s high tunnel work with strawberries led to a large collaborative statewide effort with over 50 participants including growers, specialists, research scientists, economists and county horticulture agents with both Texas A&M AgriLife and Prairie View A&M University. The program has increased the awareness of sustainable strawberry production in Texas and has been significant to the revitalization of the industry in the state, the nomination said.

Other work Wallace has been involved with includes the Texas High Plains variety heat tolerance program, weed control education in vegetables, alternative crops, pest management in vegetables, urban vegetable gardening, Master Gardener training and international outreach.

But Wallace’s work can also affect others indirectly as indicated by Lynn Weir, with the South Plains Food Bank at Lubbock, who wrote: “Russ Wallace has worked/volunteered with the South Plains Food Bank farm for well over 10 years. Russ gives his time and knowledge over and over, which is absolutely invaluable to us.

“The produce Russ grows, when he harvests it, he donates it to us. We then either put them in our community supported agriculture shares or take the produce to the food bank. This helps feed the hungry on the South Plains as well as support our GRUB program, which is where we work with at-risk youth year round.

“One of the definitions of a hero in the Webster’s Dictionary is, ‘a person noted for special achievements in a particular field.’ Russ is definitely a hero in the produce and growers’  field.”

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