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Iberia Station vital to sugarcane, beef production in Louisiana

The primary areas of research at the Iberia Research Station are efficient production of sugarcane, beef cattle and sweet sorghum as a biofuel. The station is in Iberia Parish, just a few miles north of the Gulf of Mexico. It covers an area of older sediments of the Mississippi River – soil that typically is used for sugarcane production and pasture. The facility has 500 acres, most of which are in pasture and hay meadows, a herd of 70 Brangus females , laboratory facilities, a barn where 42 heads of cattle can be individually fed for nutrition studies, and 40 acres devoted to research with agronomic crops.

The Iberia Research Station has helped sugarcane farmers with research on variety development and farming practices related to the soil types and growing conditions of the region, said John Russin, LSU AgCenter vice chancellor for research.

Howard “Sonny” Viator, station coordinator and sugarcane researcher, tests new sugarcane lines that could become varieties.

Viator said the station, working with LSU AgCenter sugarcane breeder Collins Kimbeng, the American Sugar Cane League and the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service in Houma helps evaluate several hundred genotypes of sugarcane annually. The American Sugar Cane League helps fund the station’s work.

Sugarcane lines are evaluated for their agronomic merit and sugar content. From initial crossing to a final, released variety can take up to 15 years. The lines are tested in plots at the station, but farmers’ fields also are used for testing to get a better picture of how a potential variety performs.

“Two-thirds of our cane work is off-station,” Viator said. “The more environments that sugarcane is exposed to, the better off breeders are in making decisions.”

Viator and Rich Johnson of the USDA are working on precision agriculture approaches to applying nutrients and lime to sugarcane fields only where necessary.

Jesse Breaux, a St. Mary Parish sugarcane producer, said the station’s proximity is essential for area farmers.

“That station is right in the heart of the sugarcane industry,” he said.

Breaux said having a station in the area helps with the development of sugarcane varieties because testing is conducted in the same soil and climate farmers have. Varieties that perform better near the Mississippi River don’t always produce as well in the parishes of Iberia, St. Mary and St. Martin, he said.

Biofuel evaluation

The LSU AgCenter is conducting a statewide evaluation of sweet sorghum for use as a biofuel crop. Emphasis is being placed on identifying the best varieties, developing appropriate fertilizer protocols, learning the best times to plant and harvest and determining the feasibility of growing two crops from one planting (ratooning). The Audubon Sugar Institute has partnered with the sweet sorghum researchers to conduct processing research on this promising biofuel crop.

Viator is the lead scientist, and sweet sorghum plots are being grown and evaluated at several AgCenter research stations – including the Iberia Research Station – and other locations across Louisiana

Beef cattle research

Guillermo Scaglia, LSU AgCenter ruminant nutritionist, is evaluating different forage systems to produce forage-fed beef. Fifty-four steers divided in nine groups grazed different combinations of forages during the year. The average return so far is $1,047 to $1,028 per steer, with a return of $269 to $486 after costs not including land and labor.

Scaglia said the average daily gain during the past winter was 2.8-3.3 pounds, and the average weights taken of the nine groups on April 27, 2012, ranged from 980 to 1,114 pounds per head.

“If they gain that much, you can expect to have good beef,” Scaglia said. “The range in weights of individual steers goes from 930 to 1,350 pounds.”

Scaglia said beef from the study groups has been low in fat and marbling, with an acceptable ribeye size.

“Forage-fed beef is high in beneficial fatty acids and omega 6 to omega 3 ratio,” Scaglia said, adding that this project will also study if consumers find differences between frozen and fresh forage-fed beef.

Scaglia is also studying the use of hay on cattle grazing ryegrass to improve the use of protein and energy of the high nutritive value of the ryegrass.

Finally, the study of grazing behavior of heifers grazing high quality pastures has shown that cattle prefer a mixed diet of grass and legumes, although they have a partial preference for clover. Heifers can spend a lot of time looking for clovers on mixed pastures, so the use of adjacent pastures of grass and clovers can be an alternative to reduce the walking involved in searching for that preferred food. Scaglia noted also that cattle prefer ryegrass in the afternoon and clovers in the morning. The reason is grasses are sweeter (have more sugar because of the photosynthetic process) at this time of the day compared to legumes (clovers).

Jerome Fitch, a Charolais cattle producer near Jeanerette, said the station helped him establish the Tifton 85 variety of bermudagrass.

“It’s very hard to get established, and their recommendations really helped us,” Fitch said.

He said the station personnel also give him advice on helping his stock get through the winter.

“I’m fortunate to be this close to the station, and the scientists are accessible,” he said.

Russin said today’s cattle research is building on a rich history.

“The station’s history includes some of the earliest work involving crossbreeding studies with Brahman cattle and the initial research that led to the development of the Brangus breed,” Russin said. “Beef cattle research over the past 25 years has focused on challenges associated with managing cattle herds in the humid, subtropical environment of coastal Louisiana.”

Wayne Wyatt, beef cattle breeder, has recently completed a multi-year project evaluating the cross-breeding merits of the tropically adapted Bonsmara breed.

Bruce Schultz

The LSU AgCenter is one of 11 institutions of higher education in the Louisiana State University System. Headquartered in Baton Rouge, it provides educational services in every parish and conducts research that contributes to the economic development of the state. The LSU AgCenter does not grant degrees nor benefit from tuition increases. The LSU AgCenter plays an integral role in supporting agricultural industries, enhancing the environment, and improving the quality of life through its 4-H youth, family and community programs.

Last Updated: 10/2/2012 10:46:02 AM

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