(03/13/23) WINNSBORO, La. — Seeds are taking root in fields across Louisiana following a relatively warm winter, and spring calving season is almost complete.
While spring signals a new year for commodities, agriculture is a year-long effort in Louisiana. Before the first seeds are planted, LSU AgCenter researchers and extension agents are working to ensure that those seeds meet success.
On March 7, LSU AgCenter extension agent Myrl Sistrunk walked a sweet potato field with farmer Kenneth Stephenson. Stephenson was planting sweet potato seed beds on his farm in Mer Rouge. The potato slips will sprout, producing slips or transplants that will be cut and used to plant Stephenson’s sweet potato crop later this year.
Stephenson was planting the Bayou Belle variety of sweet potatoes. This variety was developed 50 miles south of Mer Rouge at the LSU AgCenter Sweet Potato Research Station near Winnsboro.
“One of the overarching goals of the Sweet Potato Research Station, like some of our other research stations, is variety development,” said Tara Smith, Coordinator of the station and interim executive associate vice president and director of the Louisiana Cooperative Extension Service. “Variety development and evaluation is core to our mission of enhancing and sustaining farming operations across the state and having the infrastructure in place to conduct this research allows the AgCenter to develop and evaluate crop varieties Louisiana producers rely on.”
The AgCenter has 15 research stations in strategic locations across the state. Greenhouses, nurseries and fields on those stations provide the backdrop for work that sustains Louisiana’s agricultural industry.
As the planting season continues, AgCenter scientists will conduct official variety trials on many research stations, which allow the scientists to evaluate varieties in field conditions.
“Official variety trials are conducted at several research stations across the state and provide an opportunity to generate data for our producers that demonstrate how these varieties perform in different environments and soil types,” said Mike Salassi, interim executive associate vice president and director of the Louisiana Agricultural Experiment Station.
Research stations have a long history in Louisiana, with several dating back to the early part of the 1900s. These facilities may benefit from a proposal in the 2023 Farm Bill that would allocate funding to make upgrades to research facilities at land-grant universities.
“Our researchers are conducting cutting-edge research in facilities built, in some cases, 50 or more years ago,” Salassi said. “Infrastructure upgrades could improve our capabilities and enhance our research programs.”
The LSU AgCenter is one of many land-grant institutions that could rejuvenate labs on campuses and research stations with the passage of the Research Facilities Act in the 2023 Farm Bill.
“Investment by the federal government in agricultural research infrastructure is vital for the U.S. to be able to feed and clothe the world through advancements in agricultural research.” Salassi said. “State agricultural experiment stations across the country must be able to continue to advance research that meets our food, clothing and shelter needs.”
Salassi said early estimates of the 2023 crop season indicate a continuation of 2022 market price and input cost conditions. Ending stocks for many commodities remain tight, holding market prices at above average levels, although somewhat less than the past year.
“Input prices, particularly for fuel and fertilizer, remain at elevated levels, although down slightly from peak 2022 levels,” he said. “As always, weather conditions through the growing season have a major influence on crop production success.”
LSU AgCenter extension agent Myrl Sistrunk, left, and farmer Kenneth Stephenson, right, pause in a field as sweet potato seed beds are planted on Stephenson’s farm in Mer Rouge on March 7. Photo by Randy LaBauve/LSU AgCenter
A days-old calf reclines close to its mom at the Dean Lee Research and Extension Center near Alexandria. Photo by Tara Smith.