Originally an agricultural education major, doctoral candidate Brooke Shumate was drawn into the West Texas cotton fields by the people.
Shumate started her college experience on “ag row”, but that quickly changed after taking a course taught by Brendan Kelly, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Science. With a newfound passion for agronomy, Shumate wasted no time in becoming a teaching assistant under Kelly across town at the Fiber and Biopolymer Research Institute.
“I knew nothing about cotton other than it made t-shirts,” Shumate said with a laugh.
Only two days before an undergraduate research funding application was due, Shumate and Kelly submitted a proposal. To their surprise, they received the grant and began cotton research that has continued through her graduate research.
Shumate explained that her research provides local producers with accurate information about cotton varieties developed specifically for the southern High Plains region. She collects data on the germination percent of planted seeds and yield and fiber quality of the different varieties.
Over the last three years, Shumate has built such a rapport with producers that they request to be a part of her variety trials.
“For the most part, we conduct our variety trials at the same farms, but some years we aren’t able to because of funding,” Shumate said. “You would be surprised, but some producers get upset about not having variety trials ran on their farm.”
The variety trials are conducted on real farms to implement true farming practices in the research process. A few weeks after the cotton is initially planted, Shumate returns to take stand counts. This measures the percentage of seeds still growing. Once they have emerged, plots are checked at least three times to measure the growth of each variety trial. When the cotton has reached full maturity, the farmer and Texas AgriLife Extension Services join forces to harvest the plots. The United States Department of Agriculture gins the trial cotton to keep the research as realistic as possible.
Shumate’s specialty, fiber quality, comes next. Every variety trial is directed through two testing systems at FBRI: the High Volume Instrument and the Advanced Fiber Information System. After three years of research, Shumate has perfected the spinning of these varieties into viable yarn for testing strength and usability.
“This place is like very unique,” Shumate said. “You’re not going to find somewhere that has all of the fiber testing equipment, yarn testing equipment, spinning equipment. People come from all over the world to see this place.”
Through Shumate’s research and extension to local farmers, producers can make educated decisions on the varieties they choose to plant to produce the best yields for their operation.