50 Years Serving Louisiana: Magazine Has Birthday

Linda Benedict  |  8/22/2007 9:23:14 PM

The year was 1957. The New York Yankees beat the Brooklyn Dodgers in the World Series. Actress Grace Kelly married Monaco’s Prince Rainier. And a wildly popular singer named Elvis Presley was causing a sensation with his gyrating hips.

Not quite as exciting but certainly significant for Louisiana agriculture that same year was the establishment of a quarterly magazine from the LSU Agricultural Experiment Station. Charles W. Upp was the director, and J.N. Efferson, whom the LSU AgCenter’s administration building is named after, was dean of the College of Agriculture.

Other land-grant university experiment stations also began publishing magazines about this same time. Most of them, however, have long since faded away, although many have re-emerged with different names and broader content.

But 50 years later, which is old for a magazine, Louisiana Agriculture still has the same name, still is produced quarterly and still showcases research accomplishments and impact.

Volume 1, No. 1
Other than the citation numbers – Volume 1, No. 1 – a reader cannot tell by the content of the magazine – declared “FREE” on the back cover – that this was the premier issue. There is no introductory article, or even paragraph, ballyhooing this new venture.

Yet the articles provide a thoughtful look at topics relevant today:
  • Chemical defoliation of cotton was new. The authors give pros and cons and provide guidelines on how to do it right. An advantage, they say, is less dew so the length of day for picking – both mechanically and by hand – is extended.
  • Ratoon stunting disease was being controlled with an oven developed at the Experiment Station in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Sugar Station at Houma and the American Sugar Cane League at Thibodaux. This strong partnership among these three entities continues.
  • Rice researchers were looking to improve the protein content of rice, which they are still doing today. The “motivating force” behind their research was better health for rice consumers and more money for Louisiana’s rice growers – words that have stood the test of time.
  • The nursery industry was big – $3.5 million in the 1955-56 season – and expanding. Commercial production took place in 22 parishes with St. Tammany in the lead. Most sales were to out-of-state buyers (54 percent).This expansion continues with a farm-gate value in 2006 of $108 million.

Agriculture awareness, value
In the second issue of Volume 1, Fred H. Wiegmann, who would become head of the agricultural economics department, wrote an insightful piece about the value of agriculture to Louisiana and lack of awareness of that value. With numbers and facts updated, the article could run today.

Wiegmann explained that the decreasing numbers of people engaged in farming per se belies the increasing contribution agriculture makes as a whole to the economy. He pointed out that agriculture is so much broader than farming. Other industries depend on agriculture as major customers, including the chemical industry, which produces the fertilizer and pesticides essential to production. Then there’s farm equipment from the manufacturing plant to the retail outlet. Cotton gins, food processing plants, the feed and seed trade and the complex marketing system are all part of agriculture. The oil industry, the railroad, trucking, communications and power systems also are integrally aligned with agriculture.

“While fewer people work directly on farms, more are employed in industries that are allied with or service the needs of agriculture,” he wrote.

Wiegmann said the sale of agricultural products in Louisiana had reached nearly $372 million in 1956. The backyard flocks of chicken of yore, for example, had given way to a $20 million poultry industry.

Compare those numbers to a nearly $5 billion farm-gate value in 2006. With value-added, that number jumps to more than $10 billion. The poultry industry alone contributed $1.15 billion with value-added.

Technology fuels progress
Early issues of Louisiana Agriculture highlighted problems then that have found solutions today because of an effective research program. For example, in an article about anaplasmosis in Issue 3, the author describes this deadly cattle disease and the devastation it wreaks in the Louisiana cattle industry. At that time, according to Lon E. Foote from the Department of Veterinary Science, researchers were working to find the exact cause of the disease and hoped to develop a vaccine to prevent it.

Louisiana Agricultural Experiment Station researchers through a concerted, team effort were able to pinpoint the cause and develop a vaccine in the early 1990s. This technology was later patented and licensed to a start-up company, University Products LLC of Baton Rouge.

The patenting and licensing of technologies to businesses was something not done by agricultural researchers in the late 1950s. But the LSU AgCenter was among the first to do this in the decades following. Intellectual property endeavors have greatly expanded the reach and effectiveness of agricultural science.

In Issue 4 of Volume 1, the boll weevil reared its ugly head in the cover photo. The accompanying article explains that this cotton pest developed resistance to insecticides with chlorinated hydrocarbons, which was documented in 1955. Louisiana scientists were in the midst of testing the efficacy of other insecticides and studying the biology of the boll weevil to help develop control measures.

Since then, the boll weevil has been eradicated in Louisiana through a consistent, concerted effort by many agencies in agriculture – including the LSU AgCenter.

New product development was a research focus then as it is now. For example, an article in Issue 3 describes the research to develop a package-able, palatable sweet potato chip. One of the authors was Julian C. Miller, whom the LSU horticulture building is named after. Sweet potato chips are today available in most grocery stores and on restaurant menus.

Social sciences included  
The research program in the late 1950s did not neglect home and family. The first issue included an article about studies on successfully freezing cake batter and baked cakes.

An article entitled “Vitamin A studies with Louisiana children” began with this statement: “At L.S.U. not only the requirements for good crops and sturdy farm animals are investigated, but also the nutrients needed to make boys and girls grow normally.”

A sample of 1,500 elementary school children from 12 parishes was included in the study. The average serum levels of vitamin A and carotene were “highly satisfactory,” and the children were encouraged to eat more sweet potatoes, the article said.

In Issue 4, an article on the effects of more industry in rural Louisiana is more intriguing because of what’s asked than what’s found. With what appears to be federal funding in addition to experiment station backing, the author asks rural residents employed by a “plant” about their standard of living. The measures are: electric lights, hot and cold running water, mechanical refrigerator, power washing machine, radio, television and telephone.

What Paul H. Price in the Department of Rural Sociology finds is that by 1957, the percentage of households with all seven items had risen from 2 percent in 1950 to nearly 20 percent.

Readability, visuals  
The articles in the first volumes were written in a reader-friendly style, including what the research meant to Louisiana citizens. This changed over the years with articles becoming more technical in nature with details about methodology and statistical analysis.

Under leadership from Kenneth Koonce, dean of the College of Agriculture and editorial board chairman from 1989-1997, while he was the assistant director of the experiment station, the magazine went back to its original emphasis on readability and results.

The look of the magazine also changed during those years with the introduction of more color photos.

“A big improvement was the addition of color,” Koonce said. “There’s no doubt it’s more appealing to flip through the magazine and see colorful photos.”

The magazine went full color on every page – like a commercial magazine – in 2000. This was one of the changes initiated by David Boethel, who has been chairman of the editorial board since 1998, when he was named LAES assistant director. Boethel continues as board chairman in his role as the LSU AgCenter vice chancellor for research and LAES director, the title he has held since 2004.

“Why be penny-wise and pound-foolish” is how R. Larry Rogers, LAES director from 1996-2001, described the reason he approved increasing the cost of the magazine to add color throughout. Though budgets are always tight, his philosophy was that the magazine shows accountability for taxpayer support of the LSU AgCenter and needs to be attractive to help people read it.

Focus on issues  
While Koonce was editorial board chair, focus issues were introduced.

“This added a lot to the sense of community,” Koonce said. “Scientists who didn’t normally publish together came together to address a current issue.”

The production schedule calls for two focus issues per year – fall and spring – to emphasize one topic with input from many different units.

The focus issue in the fall of 1994, for example, was on biotechnology, which was a new concept in agricultural research circles and a topic few among the general public understood.

That topic was re-addressed, showing the vast amount of progress, as the focus for the fall 2003 issue, which has been among the most popular issues.

Inclusive of outreach  
Under Boethel’s leadership the magazine has gone back to including more about the extension programs that carry the research knowledge to the people of the state. The first volumes of the magazine frequently included articles featuring outreach programs. For example, in the fall of 1958, Wiegmann wrote about the importance of farm business management and how people could get help through the extension service.

The editorial board includes scientists representing both research and extension.

“We owe much of the magazine’s success to the editorial board,” Boethel said. “They are a dedicated group.”

Board members serve three-year terms and play a significant role in directing the magazine’s content.

Published since 1957  
Reading through back issues of Louisiana Agriculture provides a fascinating look at not only the history of the magazine but of the LSU AgCenter’s research and extension programs and the history of agriculture in the state.

Much of the agricultural research conducted today had its beginnings 50 years ago. This sustained examination of problems is how they get solved. Research breakthroughs don’t happen overnight. Progress comes only through persistence and commitment.

The biggest change for the magazine has come about in the past few years with its publication on the Internet. Although its print circulation is about 4,000 – including all the libraries, high schools and public officials in the state and a voluntary list of more than 3,000 – its electronic circulation reaches the world. Foreign subscribers were eliminated from the list a few years ago because of cost. But now anyone anywhere can easily go to the magazine’s Web site and read what they want. A subscriber – the magazine is still free – has a choice of print or electronic versions or both. We’re in the process of uploading back issues and hope to eventually get to Volume 1, No. 1.

This is the 50th year of the magazine and my 10th year as editor. I consider it a privilege and an honor to be associated with this venerable publication. Although I probably won’t be around for another 10 years, I hope the magazine continues to survive for another 50. I suspect it will.

Linda Foster Benedict

(This article was published in the summer 2007 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)

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