Puerto Rico nursery helps keep variety development on track despite setbacks in Louisiana

A man bends down in a rice field while looking up.

LSU AgCenter research farm specialist Brady Williams works in a field at the University of Puerto Rico. Photo by Adam Famoso

The LSU AgCenter rice research program has, for decades, depended upon a winter nursery at the University of Puerto Rico’s Lajas Experimental Station to create successful new varieties in Louisiana. Because of Puerto Rico’s constant year-round climate for growing rice, AgCenter materials can be grown there all year. This speeds up the process by cutting the time for development of a new variety by at least two to three years, as well as keeps research on track, even when events like hurricanes and tropical storms damage or destroy crops.

The Puerto Rico station has also been used to increase seed production of new varieties prior to their release. Seeds are sent back to Louisiana and immediately planted, saving valuable time in the process.

“Without the nursery in Puerto Rico, AgCenter researchers wouldn’t have enough seed for trials in 2024 for some of the lines,” said Adam Famoso, LSU AgCenter rice breeder.

Damage to experimental breeding crosses in Louisiana in 2023 from record heat might have seemed like a devastating interruption to variety development, but it’s not a big problem because the Puerto Rico nursery, as it has done before, continues to come to the rescue.

“We’ve had some issues with our new crosses in the field — a lot of sterility from heat because we had to put those out late,” said Famoso said in September. “We’ll get some in the greenhouse and send them to Puerto Rico to replant in the next few weeks and everything will be fine.”

The Puerto Rico station uses the same herbicides, insecticides and fertilizers as the H. Rouse Caffey Rice Research Station in Crowley, and because Puerto Rico is an American territory it is much easier to transport seeds between the two locations. The AgCenter varieties are typically planted in Puerto Rico in September and October.

The many decades-long cooperation between the LSU AgCenter and the University of Puerto Rico is a partnership between the two universities, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and other private and public organizations that work together to improve rice production.

“This is truly a cooperative kind of collaborative where everyone contributes to it,” said Famoso.

Different organizations pitching in to help each other means smoother progress for everyone. For example, the company Nutrien Ag Solutions, which does activities on the Puerto Rico experiment station acreage, recently bought a combine for their own work, but they share it with others, too.

“They’re letting the other programs have access to it,” said Famoso “so it really helps us for our larger seed increases to have access to this combine.”

The H. Rouse Caffey Rice Research Station also depends upon the Louisiana Rice Research Board’s checkoff funds to pay for the winter nurseries at the University of Puerto Rico’s experiment station.

“We appreciate the board’s support and guidance on what's important to them and what we need to be working on,” said Famoso. “The nursery in Puerto Rico is critical to the rice breeding program, and we wouldn’t be able to do that without their support.”

Wet rice field with horizon in the background.

Rice fields are pictured at the University of Puerto Rico winter nursery. Photo by Adam Famoso

11/21/2023 9:42:28 PM
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