To celebrate National Louisiana Day on November 9, USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) is highlighting the innovative NIFA-funded research conducted by the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center (LSU AgCenter).
Please provide some historical background on the founding of your agricultural experiment station.
Agricultural research in Louisiana officially began with the establishment of the Louisiana Sugar Experiment Station in 1885. This station evolved into the Louisiana Agricultural Experiment Station with the passage of the Hatch Act in 1887. The first rice experimental station in the United States was established in 1909 in Acadia Parish, Louisiana. Louisiana also has the only research station in the U.S solely devoted to sweet potatoes.
What are some of your agricultural experiment station’s most notable successes and innovations?
In the late 1940s, a 50-year forestry project was established at the Hill Farm Research Station in Homer. It would have major implications on how pine forests would be managed. Management techniques such as the number of trees planted per acre, fertilization timing, pruning techniques, thinning practices, spacing recommendations between trees and the herbicides used to manage competing vegetation would be altered because of this longitudinal study.
In 1949, the first foundation seed was planted at the Sweet Potato Research Station. Sprouts from these roots formed the nucleus of the foundation seed program, which to this day supplies producers with healthy seed.
Discovery by Leo Dale Newsom and graduate student James R. Brazzel of a winter hibernation state of the boll weevil, known as diapause, helped lead to eradication of the boll weevil.
The practice of land leveling was perfected at the Rice Research Station in the 1960s. This increased rice production efficiency.
Animal scientists conducted the first testing of the successful vaccine for brucellosis, a disease that causes a pregnant cow to abort her fetus, during the 1990s. Louisiana was declared brucellosis-free in 2000 and continues with that status.
The Beauregard sweet potato, released in 1987, had a beautiful shape and color and sweet taste unlike any other sweet potato before. Developed by Larry Rolston, an entomologist, for its insect resistance, the Beauregard went on to reinvigorate Louisiana’s sweet potato industry. It was widely adopted throughout the U.S. industry. Because of the potato’s resistance to Streptomyces soil rot, this disease has diminished to a minor problem.
The development of wood composites has led to the use of wood in nontraditional applications. One such application, commercialized in 2010, is called TigerBullets. The "bullets" are primarily made of recycled plastic material and wood fibers and are used in oil drilling to plug cracks and fissures to reduce the loss of drilling fluids.
How does the NIFA-funded research conducted by your institution serve the citizens of your state?
NIFA helps fund LSU AgCenter research that is solving problems farmers face in their fields and ranchers encounter in their pastures. This work is ensuring a sustainable and affordable food supply for Louisiana citizens. The NIFA-funded ASPIRE program is also helping to train the next generation of researchers and scientists by providing impactful internships that prepare college students for careers in agriculture.
What are some of the unique agricultural challenges of your state that you are working to address?
Louisiana has a hot, humid climate. Insects, disease and weeds often thrive in these conditions. The LSU AgCenter works to address pest problems present in crop fields. Plant pathologist Jonathan Richards received a NIFA grant to study narrow brown leaf spot in rice. Richards is using some high-tech tools to look for genetic markers that indicate resistance to narrow brown leaf spot, which could influence future rice variety development. Entomologist Blake Wilson is also working to protect rice from pests. He is using NIFA funding to study insect management in furrow-irrigated rice.
Scientists also are helping cattle producers raise their herds in what can be a harsh environment. A NIFA-funded wide-ranging study is looking at how different management practices affect cattle herds.
The LSU AgCenter also works diligently to protect Louisiana citizens from natural disasters, mainly in the form of hurricanes, floods and other storms. From protecting property, rebuilding smarter and stronger, and providing disaster relief, the LSU AgCenter has expertise in storm preparedness and recovery.
Going forward, how do you see your NIFA-funded research addressing your state’s most pressing issues?
NIFA-funded research allows the LSU AgCenter to ask questions and seek solutions. The partnership will allow scientists to continue to conduct research that helps battle pests, improves plant varieties, and helps sustain Louisiana’s food and fiber industry.
Top photo: United States of America lights during night as it looks like from space. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.