AgCenter research station hosts Grambling summer program visitors

Karol Osborne  |  7/11/2018 12:56:51 PM

(07/11/2018) CHASE, La.— High school students participating in the Grambling State University Summer High Ability program got a firsthand look at the science that goes into agriculture production when they recently toured the LSU AgCenter Sweet Potato Research Station at Chase.

Jordyn Wood, a student from Jefferson County International Baccalaureate high school in Birmingham, Alabama, said she had no idea there were so many kinds of sweet potatoes.

“I did not realize there were so many things you can do in agriculture,” Wood said, adding that now she better knows how to explore career options in agriculture.

More than 25 students and staff visited the station July 9 to learn about how a research station operates, from early crop propagation development in the greenhouse to actual planting in the field.

“All of these young people are interested in science and are exploring college and career options in scientific fields, so this is a great opportunity to share information about agriculture and the research we do at the station,” said AgCenter regional director Tara Smith.

“The visit to the AgCenter gives the students an opportunity to learn about ag science and its importance globally,” said Grambling assistant professor Jacqueline Harris, director of the Summer High Ability Program.

The five-week Grambling program draws high-achieving students from across the country, exposing them to college-level science and math while exploring related careers through coursework, research projects and field trips, she said.

“This is a research facility, so seeing how research extends into a career field is something students would be interested in for the future,” said Grambling science instructor Candace Westbrook.

Westbrook first discovered the station three years ago when returning from a teachers conference in New Orleans and felt a field trip would offer students a chance to see ongoing research with real-world relevance. This is the third year students with the Grambling summer program have toured the station.

“I think one of the biggest things is that they see other young people their age working here on this station,” Westbrook said.

Following a brief overview of station research, including the foundation seed and breeding programs, the group toured the greenhouse to learn how tissue cultures are produced.

Smith pointed out many of the commercial varieties prized by industry as well as some heirloom varieties maintained for home gardeners and specialty niche markets.

“We start with small tissue culture plants in October, maintain them through the winter months, then take tip cuttings called transplants, or slips, that are planted in the production field to generate the storage roots that we eat,” Smith said.

In the field, students observed how research trials are planted and watched station staff operate an automated potato transplanter moving from plot to plot and planting the sweet potato slips that were developed in the greenhouse.

AgCenter research associate Theresa Arnold explained how the transplants have been bred for increased herbicide resistance and will be compared with typical plants of the same variety for damage severity and yield at harvest.

“If these plants show resistance but reduced yield, then we aren’t accomplishing anything. But if they are resistant and yield increases, then this variety will have increased value to producers,” Arnold said.

Averyon Chaney, a Jefferson County International Baccalaureate high school student, said she didn’t realize that yams and sweet potatoes differ and looks forward to taking that information back home.

“What they do here is unique and exciting, and it definitely gives me something else to think about,” Chaney said.

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LSU AgCenter Sweet Potato Research Station director Tara Smith demonstrates how plant tissue cultures are developed into transplants, or slips, in the greenhouse for planting in field research trial plots to high school students participating in a Grambling State University Summer High Ability Program during a tour of the station greenhouses. Photo by Karol Osborne/LSU AgCenter

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LSU AgCenter research associate Theresa Arnold, right, explains how sweet potato slips are transplanted into field plots to visiting high school students with the Grambling State University Summer High Ability Program. Photo by Karol Osborne/LSU AgCenter

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