During 2012, the LSU AgCenter is celebrating 125 years of research through the Louisiana Agricultural Experiment Station. Because of this research, the agricultural industry in Louisiana has continued to prosper and today contributes at least $26 billion to the state’s economy each year. This AgCenter Lead features the history of rice.The LSU AgCenter Rice Research Station will hold its annual field day June 28 with a variety of speakers and presentations. Read more.
Rice farming on a widespread commercial basis in Louisiana began in the late 19th century and rice research soon followed.
Farmers who came to Louisiana from the Midwest were attracted to the warm climate, cheap land and the realization that rice could be grown with the same equipment and agricultural practices used for other grains. Besides the ample supply of flat ground, Louisiana also had something else needed for growing rice – water.
But it became obvious that new rice varieties had to be developed for the Gulf Coast, and the research effort began.
One of the first improved varieties was Blue Rose developed by Salmon “Sol” Wright, a Crowley area rice grower and entrepreneur
“Blue Rose was a dramatically improved variety over the then current varieties such as Japan and the old Carolina Gold that had been used for almost 200 years,” said Steve Linscombe, director of the Rice Research Station.
In addition to the migration of farmers to Louisiana, many farmers already in Louisiana had turned to rice after sugar prices crashed in the 1800s. By the late 1800s, developers were advertising land for sale in southwest Louisiana, boasting of the area’s abundant water and mild climate. Acadia Parish, where the Rice Experiment Station would be located, became the leader in the rice industry with some of the best yields.
The 1890 crop was a record breaker at 80 million pounds, making Louisiana the No. 1 rice producing state, surpassing the former leader, South Carolina.
In the early 1900s, more Louisiana farmers switched to rice because of the damage caused by the boll weevil to their cotton crops. The U.S. Department of Agriculture established a substation for rice culture at Crowley in 1909.
The Louisiana Legislature appropriated $15,000 for maintenance during the next two years. A 60-horsepower gasoline engine to pump water was installed for $2,500 in 1910. Research included testing of 300 rice varieties and studies of insects, irrigation and evaporation.
In 1949, the station bought 720 acres of land northeast of Crowley, the site of the current station. One of the important functions at the new location was to establish the Rice Research Station’s Foundation Seed Program to ensure a pure source of seed for rice farmers. Since then, the program has sold almost 200,000 pounds of seed.
In 1963, the station expanded by 320 acres with the South Farm, located two miles south of Crowley. Crawfish research, which takes place on the South Farm, began at the station in the 1970s and is the largest facility of its kind in the world. Eventually, the U.S. Department of Agriculture phased out its role at the station, now run entirely by the LSU AgCenter.
In 1972, Louisiana rice producers took the initiative to have more research done, forming the Louisiana Rice Research Board. Growers agreed to pay 3 cents of every 100 pounds of their rice crop sold at the mill to fund research projects. Louisiana rice growers approved increasing the assessment to 5 cents per cwt. in 1992. That program has generated more than $30 million in research projects.
Any major insecticide or fungicide labeled for use in the southern United States was tested thoroughly at the station, including the herbicide propanil that allowed rice breeders to develop shorter rice less susceptible to lodging.
The varieties developed at the station during the past 15 years dominate the southern U.S. rice growing regions. Clearfield acreage could exceed 70 percent of rice grown in the South in 2012, Linscombe said.
In total, a century of rice breeding at the station has resulted in 49 varieties.
“We have close working relationships with rice stations all over the world,” Linscombe said. The Rice Research Station obtains new breeding lines and germplasm from all over the world. In recent years, lines acquired from Chinese breeding programs have given a boost to the hybrid rice project at the station.
Rice is unique among commercial crops, Linscombe said, because many rice varieties are still developed through publicly funded research while other commodities, such as corn and soybeans, rely mostly on commercially produced varieties.
Research at the station has changed drastically, thanks to improvements in technology and knowledge. Linscombe said rice breeders 40 years ago would have chosen experimental lines from 4,000 rows a year. Now, breeders make selections from more than 100,000 rows.
The use of DNA markers to determine if a line has desired characteristics has decreased the time required to develop a new variety. The use of a winter nursery in Puerto Rico also enables varieties to be available sooner, decreasing the time by several years.
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