Australian Professor Conducting Research In Louisiana

Bruce Schultz  |  4/19/2005 10:29:17 PM

News Release Distributed 09/02/04

Dr. Stuart Helliwell’s sunglasses immediately glazed with fog as he stepped from the air-conditioned vehicle into the thick late morning air.

Helliwell, a chemistry professor at Charles Sturt University in Wagga Wagga, Australia, admits it’s been difficult adjusting to Louisiana’s summer weather since he arrived in July to work on research here during a sabbatical from his job in Australia.

"I didn’t realize it was going to be so hot," he said. "It took me awhile to get acclimatized to the humidity."

He’s been in the heat and mud quite often at the LSU AgCenter’s Rice Research Station near Crowley – where he’s conducting a research project with Jason McDonald, a doctoral candidate in agronomy at LSU.

The study involves four pesticides proposed to combat the rice water weevil. Helliwell is studying how much of the chemicals remains in water and soil.

Helliwell said he applied for a sabbatical, and a friend of his in the Australian agriculture department made contacts in the United States that led to the LSU AgCenter through agronomist Dr. Lewis Gaston and entomologist Dr. Boris Castro.

Castro said the LSU AgCenter’s Entomology and Agronomy departments worked to secure Helliwell a research project.

"I am glad that Dr. Helliwell was able to share some of his knowledge and tremendous expertise with us given the importance of water and water quality in our state," Castro said. "I just wish he could stay longer."

Helliwell said he could have pursued the sabbatical in California in the rice-growing region, but preferred to study in Louisiana.

"I just thought I’d see another part of the country," he said, explaining that he’s been to California several times.

Helliwell said he’s enjoyed working with his new colleagues at the LSU AgCenter, and he’s learned some new techniques and ideas for research.

In return, Helliwell has shown his American counterparts some new ideas for field work, including the use of submerged Petri dishes to collect sediment.

"I’ve been learning from them, and they’ve been learning from me," he said.

But Helliwell said he hopes the exchange doesn’t end when goes home in October.

"We’ve had some good cooperation," Helliwell said. "I would expect in the future some of the researchers I’ve worked with here will come to Australia."

In fact, he pointed out that LSU AgCenter entomologist Dr. Mike Stout recently attended an entomology conference in Australia.

In addition, McDonald said the chance to work Helliwell has furthered his academic career.

"I’ve learned some new techniques and new perspectives," McDonald said. "This was a good broadening experience for me in research."

Helliwell said pesticide use in Australia is heavily regulated, perhaps even more there than in the United States.

Also, rice farming in Australia relies on surface water for irrigation, but Australian environmentalists want rivers returned to their natural flow patterns with the water free of sediment.

Water is so scarce that it’s allocated to Australian farmers and it’s expensive, Helliwell said, so once rice farmers there flood their fields, the water remains until before harvest. The island nation is in the midst of its worst drought in recorded history.

Rice water weevils aren’t a problem in Australia. Instead, Aussie rice farmers have to deal with bloodworms – insect larvae that eat rice seed before germination, Helliwell said. Sometimes fields have as many as 10,000 of them per square meter.

Many Australian farmers soak their seeds in chemicals to combat the pests.

"Unless you’ve got control over these bloodworms, you get no crop," he said.

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Writer: Bruce Schultz at (337) 788-8821 or bschultz@agcenter.lsu.edu

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