Seed World

Texas A&M AgriLife Rebuilds Following Tornado Devastation

An F3 tornado recently blew through Texas, leaving devastation, debris and chaos in its wake. From homes to businesses to agricultural fields, no one is immune to Mother nature.

The Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Vernon and Texas A&M AgriLife Foundation Seed are left to pick up the pieces following a May 4 tornado that directly hit the properties. Severe damage was inflicted upon many buildings, impacting ongoing research, shared a news release.

No employees were harmed during the disaster, according to Rick Vierling, center director. In fact, many returned to the properties the night of May 4 to help secure the premises.

“You have people who are proud of their community of Vernon and proud that our center is here. We have been working together to help solve their problems through our research and extension outreach, and this is a chance for them to come help us, and they are doing it readily and without being asked,” said Vierling.

Support from the Texas A&M AgriLife statewide network has not been lost on Vierling and employees.

“Restaurants have sent food, and others have brought cold water and snacks, everything is coming in,” he continued. “As we’re picking up debris, it is the children’s toys and books that came from the homes in Lockett that make us realize this really is more than just a Texas A&M AgriLife story; it is a whole community story.”

The Destruction

The F3 tornado tore through the facilities, leaving behind a debris field a mile long and a third of a mile wide. Fortunately, the Chillicothe Research Station, Smith-Walker Research Unit and Organic Research Station did not undergo major damage.

Preliminary assessments from the AgriLife center recorded damage to infrastructure and buildings, including greenhouses, vehicles and metal buildings, stated the release. Most of the equipment appears to be intact.

While three greenhouses that were home to Dariusz Malinowski’s, plant physiologist and breeder, hibiscus and tropical hibiscus work were completely destroyed, the community showed up once again. Friends of Malinowski and volunteers rescued salvageable plants. The hibiscus plants will be cared for in the Vernon Lions Club high school greenhouse until further notice.

“It has been amazing to see — since the program is so important to the community, they have showed up to help in so many ways. They are helping him save and maintain his breeding program,” said Vierling.

The research material kept in the Foundation Seed cold storage facility was another immediate concern. The storage room held, “2,000 breeder samples and early generation material of nearly 20 species of different crops, including small grains including wheat, oats, rye and barley, as well as peanuts, cotton, native flowering forbs, grasses, millet, guar and sorghum,” stated the release. Other cold storage facilities are available across the state, yet Foundation Seed’s location was the largest.

With wheat harvest only weeks away, officials were concerned with damage to grain elevators, and a complete assessment of the wheat cleaner is required.

Road to Recovery

It could be a while before the center can house personnel full time due to water damage and building and wiring repairs, yet Texas A&M AgriLife employee’s will be returning to work at the center and remotely beginning Monday.

Texas A&M AgriLife centers in Amarillo, Lubbock and Stephenville have offered members of their staff if needed to help get research back on track, as well as to plant and harvest crops.

While the tornado derailed the June 21 celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Texas A&M AgriLife center in Vernon, the commemoration will still be honored.

“We are postponing it for now, but we will celebrate our anniversary sometime this year,” concluded Vierling.

Read More About Texas A&M AgriLife:

Texas A&M AgriLife Researchers Make Breakthrough in Fighting Agricultural Plant Diseases

Texas A&M AgriLife Sorghum Breeding Program Introduces New Approach to Induce Male Sterility

Texas A&M Ready to Begin Hemp Variety Trials

Texas A&M AgriLife Research Plans Higher Profile for Its Seed Production Unit