Knox City Plant Materials Center expands its role

Some 45 years since its opening, the James E. “Bud” Smith Plant Materials Center at Knox City, Texas, continues to do vital work.

In fact, at the PMC’s open house this year, staff at the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service facility reported the center not only continues to excel in its four basic goals, but is trending toward a fifth mission, as well.

Key Points

• Knox City NRCS Plant Materials Center does plant research and development.

• Beyond its four basic goals, PMC studies plants that produce biomass for energy.

• Knox City facility is one of only three PMCs in Texas and 27 centers in the U.S.


Since its launch in 1965, the PMC has used the latest state-of-the-art plant science and technology to meet needs of people and natural resources.

It has four basic goals:

• erosion control against wind and water

• plants for range and pasture improvement

• wildlife habitat enhancement

• water quality

Gary Rea, program manager for the Knox City PMC, says plant materials research and development will be challenged with a fifth objective to determine the best plants for biomass suitable for bioenergy production.

Plants for energy production

The PMC already is growing plants that are touted for biomass and energy production to determine which ones will perform best in the Southwest.

Jerry Lemunyon, a retired NRCS agronomist, Fort Worth, is an Earth Team volunteer that agrees with the need for the vital biomass work.

“You are going to see a shift to plants that will produce energy,” he says.

But, he cautions, it’s extremely important to determine what will work with a specific part of the U.S.

For example, in the Midwest, there’s a great deal of attention being focused on Giant miscanthus as a plant that excels in biomass for energy production.

But just because Giant miscanthus thrives in Midwestern states doesn’t mean it will work in Texas or Oklahoma.

Indeed, early research plots at the Knox City PMC already are showing Alamo switchgrass to be the prolific biomass plant for the Southwest.

The Alamo switchgrass can handle the hot, arid environment. The Giant miscanthus hasn’t shown it can take the heat.

Joel Douglas, NRCS regional plant materials specialist, Fort Worth, says his office has worked on a map with a North-South demarcation line to show the boundary limits for Alamo switchgrass and Giant miscanthus.

3 PMCs in Texas

Don Gohmert, NRCS state conservationist, Temple, Texas, says the state only has three PMC facilities at Knox City, Kingsville and Nacogdoches.

Gohmert notes the entire U.S. only has 27 PMCs.

The Knox City PMC serves parts of five states — Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado.

Alan Shadow, program manager for the Nacogdoches PMC, says the centers develop plant production to address needs.

He says some plants might have multiple benefits. For example, Shadow notes Indian mallow and Maximilian sunflower, both are great for wildlife, but also have real potential to produce biomass for fuel production.

Acacia shows promise

Charlie Schur, NRCS conservationist, Knox City, says prairie acacia is another promising plant.

“It is easy to establish like Illinois bundle flower,” Schur observes. “But it doesn’t have the root rot problems here.”

James Abbott, NRCS retiree and historian, notes blue panicum and weeping lovegrass were the two early grasses propagated to fight erosion.

Abbott says beyond Texas and the U.S., some plant materials from the Knox City PMC were sent to Australia for establishment, noting the center’s international impact.

Longtime conservation leader H.L. Ayers of Margaret, Texas, says most folks aren’t even aware of the accomplishments at the Knox City PMC, “But it is vital work.”

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plants offer multiple Perks: Alan Shadow, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service program manager at the Plant Materials Center at Nacogdoches, Texas, says plants such as Indian mallow and Maximilian sunflower at the Knox City PMC not only are good for wildlife, but also show potential as biomass for fuel production.

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IT’S THE LATEST: Brandon Carr, NRCS soil conservationist, shows how the PMC computer at Knox City, Texas, can pinpoint split chromosomes. The state-of-the-art lab is an expansion of the 45-year-old PMC and is housed within the new USDA Farm Service Center, which opened in December.

This article published in the August, 2010 edition of THE FARMER-STOCKMAN.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.