Commercial Horticulture Grows Because of Research

Linda Benedict, Bracy, Regina P., Johnson, Charles E., Labonte, Don R., Owings, Allen D.  |  6/19/2012 11:49:48 PM

Allen D. Owings, Charles E. Johnson, Don R. LaBonte and Regina P. Bracy

Commercial horticulture is big business in Louisiana. One big reason is the research conducted by horticultural scientists at the Louisiana Agricultural Experiment Station. Because of this research, Louisianians can grow beautiful landscapes, maintain vegetable gardens and snack on home-produced fruits and nuts. The dollar contribution to the state from horticulture is well over $2 billion annually.

The most consistent, enduring horticultural contribution of the Louisiana Agricultural Experiment Station has been crop variety development. Scientists have developed many varieties of fruit, nut, vegetable and ornamental plants that grow successfully in Louisiana, the South, nationally and even internationally. The new varieties continue to have better production, disease resistance, insect tolerance, food quality and ornamental flowering than old varieties.

Horticulture History

Horticulturists have developed more than 135 varieties of plants, starting with the Unit 1 Porto Rico sweet potato in 1933. The most recent were three figs – Tiger, O’Rourke and Champagne – in 2007. The varieties include 15 sweet potatoes, six strawberries, six citrus, 24 peaches, five watermelons, tropical hibiscus, three tomatoes, six southern peas, three hot peppers, an English sweetpea, a lima bean, three okra, 12 potatoes, five shallots, two cabbages, eight figs, camellias and 23 azaleas. Many of the new varieties have been industry leaders and made significant long-term, lasting impressions in the horticultural industry.

Sweet potato varieties developed at the Louisiana Agricultural Experiment Station were responsible for more than 90 percent of U.S. sweet potato production acreage for a 20-year period from 1988 until the mid to late 2000s. This is due to the Beauregard sweet potato released in 1987. Read more about the history of the sweet potato in Louisiana.

Peach breeding has been ongoing in Louisiana since the 1950s and has contributed many varieties that have been widely grown across the South. Peach variety development has expanded the harvest season with earlier and later fruit maturity dates, increased fruit size, introductions of new flesh colors, increased number of freestone types, and increased geographical growing areas with low chilling hour introductions. The first peach variety released was LaPremiere in1965. The Harvester peach, released in 1973, is one of the most widely planted peach varieties in the Southeastern United States.

Strawberry work began in the 1930s. In 1940, the Louisiana Agricultural Experiment Station released its first strawberry, Klonmore. This strawberry was responsible for an 80 percent increase in production acreage for strawberries in Louisiana. Ten years after the release of Klonmore, it was being planted on more than 23,000 acres in the Florida parishes.

Potato breeding was conducted at the Louisiana Agricultural Experiment Station for many years. One of the most nationally popular varieties, Red LaSoda, released in 1953, originated from this program. Red LaSoda was a red-skinned version of LaSoda, also developed by Louisiana scientists. It is still one of the top 10 sold potato varieties nationally almost 60 years later.

Other popular Louisiana-developed varieties include Melrose pecan, LSU purple fig, Empire tropical hibiscus, Sunglow and Carror azaleas, Brown’s Select satsuma, Louisiana Evergreen shallot, Louisiana Green Velvet okra, La Sweet orange and Louisiana Sweet watermelon. Watermelon varieties developed at the Calhoun Research Station, such as Calhoun Grey, are used extensively in developing hybrids with high levels of Fusarium wilt resistance.

Ornamental Horticulture and Turfgrass

Research in the area of ornamental horticulture and turfgrass has less history. Even though the first ornamental work actually started in response to Louisiana legislative funding in 1949, there had been some research on Easter lilies and several other crops including gladiolus, daylilies, daffodils, Louisiana iris, camellias, roses and hibiscus. Container-grown nursery crop research started at Burden Center in Baton Rouge in the late 1970s and had been ongoing at Hammond Research Station for a few years prior to that.

Turfgrass research started in Louisiana in the late 1970s and continues today with work on levee restoration, accelerated establishment of turfgrass from seed, and variety evaluation programs with the USDA National Turfgrass Evaluation Program. The landscape industry in Louisiana grew strong nationally in the 1980s and 1990s, and the LAES efforts to support this industry have coincided with development of the Ornamental and Turfgrass Research and Extension Facility at Burden Center and a changing of the research mission at the Hammond Research Station from fruits and vegetables to landscape horticulture. Variety trials of many ornamental plants ranging from annual bedding plants, herbaceous perennials, roses and poinsettias are currently conducted by research faculty.

Other Research

Horticulture research also includes:

Development of best management practices for specific crops.

Improvements in greenhouse tomato production.

Publication of production budgets for vegetables, fruits, sod and ornamentals.

Alternative media sources for nursery producers.

Alternative crop development.

Sustainable production.

Fruit and vegetable crop processing.

Post harvesting and mechanization of vegetable crop planting, production and harvesting.

The Louisiana Agricultural Experiment Station helps the horticulture industry through research at the Hammond Research Station, Burden Center, Sweet Potato Research Station, Pecan Research Station and Red River Research Station. In addition, campus units, such as the School of Plant, Environmental and Soil Sciences, Plant Department of Pathology and Crop Physiology, Department of Agricultural Economics and Agribusiness, School of Renewable and Natural Resources, and Department of Entomology provide horticulture program leadership and support. Demonstration research is also conducted at the Louisiana House Home and Landscape Resource Center.

Horticulture Timeline

1888 – Calhoun Research Station founded.

1922 – Fruit and Truck Experiment Station (now Hammond Research Station) founded.

1927 – Department of Horticulture established.

1927 – Hill Farm Facility on LSU campus created for horticulture research.

1940 – Klonmore strawberry released.

1948 – Sweet Potato Research Station founded.

1949 – Louisiana Legislature appropriates funds for ornamental research.

1953 – Red LaSoda potato released.

1966 – Initial Land Donation for Burden Research Plantation (now Burden Center).

1973 – Pecan Research Station received from U.S. Department of Agriculture.

1978 – Turfgrass research begins.

1979 – Melrose pecan released.

1982 – All-America Rose Selections Garden moved from LSU campus to Burden Center.

1987 – Beauregard sweet potato released.

1991 – LSU Purple Fig released.

2005 – Landscape horticulture research initiated at Hammond Research Station.

Allen D. Owings, Professor, Hammond Research Station, Hammond, La.; Charles E. Johnson, Professor, School of Plant, Environmental & Soil Sciences, Baton Rouge, La.; Don R. La Bonte, Professor and Director, School of Plant, Environmental & Soil Sciences, Baton Rouge, La.; Regina P. Bracy, Professor, and Resident Coordinator, Hammond Research Station, Hammond, La.

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