Kyle Peveto, McClure, Olivia J.
From a young age when Connor Webster spent weekends visiting farms in northern Alabama with his father, a crop consultant, he knew where his path would lead.
“It’s always been agriculture for me,” he said. “Even when I was a little kid, I would ride around in the truck with my dad.”
Now the rice extension weed specialist for the LSU AgCenter, Webster began scouting cotton, corn, soybean and wheat fields as a 14-year-old, identifying weeds and collecting soil samples on weekends and working around football and baseball practices in the summers.
Talking to producers about their concerns, Webster quickly understood the need for agricultural extension and the research that supports it. Paired with the influence of his grandfather, who directed an agricultural experiment station in Alabama, Webster decided early on that he wanted to be a part of the land-grant university system that serves farmers across the country.
“Being able to provide research-based solutions to growers and being with the university system versus, say, an industry position, I have the ability to be nonbiased and provide the best answer to growers and not necessarily lean to one side or the other,” he said.
Webster earned his bachelor’s in agronomy at Auburn University and served as president of the agronomy and soils club. Knowing that he would spend his life in agriculture, he also found a way to sustain his love of sports by joining the baseball team as a student manager. He worked long hours, setting up practices, participating in drills and traveling with the team on road trips.
“I kind of spread myself too thin,” he said. “But I learned a lot about time management.”
After graduating from Auburn in 2017, Webster attended graduate school at LSU and concentrated on weed science. Webster enjoyed the task of identifying weeds when working with his father, and his interest only increased while in college.
He finished his master’s degree in two years and his doctorate three years later, serving for one year as a research associate. The day before he was scheduled to defend his dissertation, Webster and his wife welcomed their daughter, Annie. Last year Webster joined the AgCenter faculty full time.
His three-way appointment involves teaching in the LSU College of Agriculture, research and extension work with rice producers. In his research and extension work, Webster deals with the two primary weed threats that rice farmers face with red rice and barnyardgrass.
Now at the beginning of his career, Webster wants to build the trust of Louisiana rice farmers.
“I feel like I can build a lot more relationships going forward,” he said. “Sometimes they’ll call me just to talk, not necessarily about rice, but just building a friendship with some of those growers and industry personnel.”
Webster wants to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather, William “Dub” Webster, former director of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System Tennessee Valley Regional Research and Extension Center.
His grandfather, who died two years ago, “was very dedicated to teaching the public — not just the growers, but the consumers as well,” Webster said. “I feel like that’s something I’ve tried to model myself after — my grandad being a public servant.”
Kyle Peveto is the editor of Louisiana Agriculture.
This article appears in the winter 2023 edition of Louisiana Agriculture.
Connor Webster speaks to a crowd of rice farmers about weeds at a field day. Photo by Olivia McClure