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Tropical Agriculture Research Station Celebrates 100 Years of Scientific Research

By Jim Core
December 11, 2001

Distributing valuable cacao and tropical fruit germplasm and developing efficient agricultural crop production systems are two of the most important ongoing missions of the Tropical Agriculture Research Station (TARS) as it celebrates its 100th anniversary today in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico. The station is operated by the Agricultural Research Service, the chief scientific research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In 1901, the U.S. Congress authorized the establishment of the research station to study agricultural problems of interest to the island. One hundred years after its inception, the station is making important contributions to agriculture on a regional and national scale.

According to Ricardo J. Goenaga, research leader of TARS, a main goal of scientists at the station is to develop fruit production systems that aid growers in expanding the markets and marketability of their crops. For example, in one project scientists are determining how much water banana and papaya cultivars need to grow on various soil types. They are also evaluating new plantain, papaya, longan, rambutan, mamey sapote and lychee fruit cultivars.

Today, TARS grounds contain one of the finest and best-documented tropical plant collections in the Western Hemisphere, consisting of more than 2,000 permanently established species. TARS research also focuses on improving genetic diversity in dry beans and sorghum.

The Germplasm Introduction and Research Unit in St. Croix, Virgin Islands, is a satellite site of the Mayagüez station. This facility is also part of ARS' U.S. National Plant Germplasm System (NPGS).New germplasm is grown there in isolation and certified to be free of potentially harmful plant pathogens before it is released for domestic use.

Participants at today’s celebration will hear numerous guest speakers, see presentations about scientists’ research at the station and be given the opportunity to tour the grounds.

Other recent research projects at TARS include developing a simple and rapid method to screen for sorghum’s susceptibility and resistance to ergot, a devastating plant fungus; selection of bean germplasm with heat tolerance and resistance to common bacterial blight, a serious bean disease; and selection of early, high-yielding clones of cocoa.