AgCenter hires pathologist to focus on diseases plaguing rice crops

(03/03/22) CROWLEY, La. — The LSU AgCenter has added plant pathologist Felipe Dalla Lana to its roster of researchers at the H. Rouse Caffey Rice Research Station.

With nearly a decade of experience studying plant disease in both Brazil and the United States, Dalla Lana brings a wealth of experience from his work in the Midwest applying statistical analysis and modeling to the realm of plant pathology. He said his work as a plant pathologist offers him the freedom to study a variety of crops with ever-evolving challenges.

“You have new diseases. You have diseases that become resistant to fungicides. You have new technologies, new cultivars,” Dalla Lana said. “Everything is always changing. It is very dynamic.”

Kurt Guidry, resident coordinator of the Rice Research Station, said Dalla Lana not only offers the continuity of exemplary research skills that has become an expectation at the AgCenter facility, but he also offers an analytical skill set that can potentially expand the scope of rice research.

“Some of the analytical skills that he has and some of the approaches he has used can be adapted not only to what we are doing here with rice diseases but also have applications in other areas of rice research,” Guidry said.

Dalla Lana received his doctorate in plant pathology from Ohio State University and was most recently a postdoctoral researcher at Penn State University. The bulk of his research at those universities included research in fungicide efficacy for crops such as corn, wheat and soybeans. His academic work focused on several systems of increasing complexity that helped to answer crop pathology questions.

“The diseases are always there,” Dalla Lana said. “I was really into understanding how there are some years when diseases are a problem and some years there is not a problem with disease.”

Dalla Lana grew up with strong family ties to agriculture in south Brazil. His mother’s family includes many farmers who nudged him toward studying plant diseases with their crop production inquiries.

“The questions I would always have were about disease,” he recalled. “When should we make interventions? When should we spray? When should we not spray?”

To begin his work in south Louisiana, Dalla Lana said he wants to meet with local rice growers to find out what they need from an AgCenter pathologist. He has learned fungicidal resistance to sheath blight is a major concern.

“It’s something we need additional research on,” said AgCenter rice specialist Ronnie Levy. “It’s a very elusive type of disease to try to control. Plus, we are losing a lot of the fungicides that we had available because of the strobilurin (fungicide) resistance.”

Blast, another fungal disease in rice, was a major concern for the soggy 2021 growing season as it began showing up in varieties that it was not seen in prior years. Levy said sheath blight and blast can be responsible for about 10% annual yield losses, with some farmers seeing up to 40% losses in extreme cases.

Dalla Lana said he takes a three-pronged approach to reaching his research goals. He said farmers want the highest return of investment while consumers want the highest quality product for the lowest price. As a society, he said, people want all those things with the least impact to the environment.

“These goals are not always met,” he reflected. “One way to do this is to make our decisions using our knowledge of disease development. My problem here is to identify the key components that can maximize those three things.”

Dalla Lana said he looks forward to working at the Rice Research Station because of the decades of research data that have been compiled since the station’s inception in 1909. The facility is the definitive source for rice production data, which Dalla Lana said he plans to pore over in one of the first steps of his research — data mining.

“I want to visit a lot of farms to see what the resistance is,” Dalla Lana said. “The success of my research depends a lot on my collaboration with farmers.”

Dalla Lana is succeeding Donald Groth, who served many roles, including research director, in his 38-year career at the Rice Research Station. Groth, who retired earlier this month, will now serve as professor emeritus.

When not working to eradicate yield-shrinking crop diseases, Dalla Lana said he enjoys traveling the open roads to explore new sights with his wife, Francine, and 2-year-old son, Benjamin. He and his family are settling in Lafayette.

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Plant Pathologist Felipe Dalla Lana joins the staff of researchers at the LSU AgCenter’s H. Rouse Caffey Rice Research Station. Dalla Lana, who hails from Brazil, brings a decade worth of analytical plant disease study from Ohio State University and Penn State University.

3/3/2022 4:30:58 PM
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