1999 Recipient of the Arthur T. Potts Award
Tom Longhrake was born and reared on a commercial vegetable farm in South Texas where he learned from his father the hard lessons of basic vegetable production. Tom’s distinguished career in horticulture began as a young man when he mastered the extremely demanding challenge of managing vegetable research in the Southwest for Del Monte Foods, the largest vegetable processor in the world. As a result of this intensive experience, Tom gained a unique understanding of vegetable crops and their needs which enabled him to effect rapid improvement in quality and yields of Texas grown vegetables.
Tom Longhrake joined the Texas Agricultural Extension Service in 1962 as a Vegetable Specialist with headquarters at the Rio Grande Valley Research and Extension Center in Weslaco. As a result of his degree in Agricultural Economics at Texas A&M University and his time working with Del Monte, Tom possessed excellent training in horticultural sciences and economics as well as substantial expertise in practical vegetable production.
Tom utilized his training and expertise to organize and direct what is universally recognized in the vegetable industry as one of the must effective vegetable production educational programs in the country. He was, and still is, widely recognized as the leading authority on onion production in the United States, and industry leaders throughout the state, nation, and world still seek his counsel. In addition to his work with onions, Tom used variety trials and result demonstrations to improve yields and quality of at least 16 different vegetable crops produced in Texas. Because he was stationed at the Weslaco Research and Extension Center and was highly respected by both Experiment Station and USDA scientists, and by his Extension colleagues, his perceptive advice for the direction and emphasis of agricultural research was often sought and accepted. His creative and well planned vegetable trials and demonstrations showed the feasibility of production innovations and revealed research opportunities as well.
Such was the case with Tom’s introduction of the concept of using intermediate day-length onion varieties to expand the harvest period in South Texas from the normal three weeks to several months in duration. Tom’s variety trials not only demonstrated the potential of using such varieties but caused his research counterparts to begin a massive breeding program to develop intermediate day-length onion varieties for Texas. Unwilling to relax his resolve at that point, Tom went on to organize and mobilize growers to form an organization that would ultimately raise hundreds of thousands of dollars in support for Texas A&M Universitv. The impact of this effort has been worldwide and has resulted in the generation of tens of millions of dollars of income to Texas vegetable producers.
The identification of superior vegetable varieties to increase grower profits is surpassed in importance only by the necessity for constantly improving cultural practices to maintain production efficiency. Texas vegetable producers were desperate to find less-labor-intensive methods for controlling insects and weeds in the early 60’s. Tom Longhrake’s diligent field work with using newly developed herbicides for vegetables determined the best, most efficient, rates and time of application. This work saved producers precious time and money that they would have otherwise wasted in trial-and-error applications. Practical control methods for prevention of Boron deficiency in beets and the efficient use of phosphorus fertilizer in vine crops are achievements born of his persistence and wisdom. The introduction of such techniques/products meant the difference between profit and loss for producers engaged in the highly competitive vegetable business. Daily cooperation with people in other agencies such as the USDA facilitated these efforts and enabled a rapid adoption of Tom’s recommendations.
Tom is a master at technology transfer – getting information to the people. He is well aware that facts born from research are useless unless learned and put into practice. His used his mastery of techniques such as agent training, news writing and magazine articles to multiply his efforts to educate vegetable growers in advanced production practices. Tom became personally involved in grower education by providing intensive educational opportunities at commodity meetings and teaching grower consultants. To insure that as many vegetable growers as possible received this vital production information, Tom instigated the idea of providing educational information at breakfast meetings in locales where farmers customarily gather. These “Day Break with Longhrake” meetings proved very popular and accomplished the Extension goal of educating producers.
Tom has always been a firm believer in professional organizations as a vehicle for self-improvement as well as an opportunity for grower education. During his distinguished career, Tom was an active member in the American Society for Horticultural Science, the Texas Horticultural Society, the Rio Grande Valley Horticultural Society and the Texas Agricultural Extension Specialists Association. Tom has been instrumental in providing leadership for State organizations as Executive Secretary for the Texas Vegetable Association and Director of the Texas Pepper Foundation. These organizations provided an educational vehicle for Texas vegetable growers to provide strong support of Extension and University programs.
Years of successful Extension educational programs coupled with effective information dissemination while serving as an Extension Vegetable Specialist with statewide responsibilities has made Tom Longbrake one of the nation’s best known horticulturist. He is a much sought after consultant and has served in that capacity in Panama, Chile, Costa Rica, Russia. several countries in Africa and numerous states across the country. Professionals and vegetable producers from other states and countries treasure Tom’s abilities at identifying problems and finding solutions. Periodicals such as the American Vegetable Grower, The Packer, and Produce News regularly solicit his opinions and guidance. The Texas Agricultural Extension Service has recogizned his efforts by awarding him their highest honor, the Superior Service Award. The Texas Vegetable Association recognized him as the founder of their association and awarded him their highest honor. Numerous associations, grower organizations and garden clubs have recognized Tom for his efforts on their behalf.
Tom Longbrake has devoted his entire career, as well as his life, to enhancing the Texas Vegetable Industry. No other single person has had more of an impact on the Texas Vegetable industry than Tom Longbrake.