Field day highlights climate-smart rice production strategies

(06/12/24) KAPLAN, La. — At first glance, it would be difficult to tell much of a difference between the rice fields sitting on either side of a dirt road running through Wyatt Hardee’s farm near Kaplan.

But as attendees of a recent field day heard while touring the farm with Hardee and a team of LSU AgCenter researchers, the two rice fields have been subjected to vastly different production methods.

One on side of the road, farmer-standard practices have been used. On the other, the scientists and Hardee have worked together to test a variety of conservation methods aimed at reducing costs and environmental impacts while still producing a successful crop.

They discussed their work June 11 at the field day, which featured presentations on strategies for decreasing greenhouse gas emissions, enhancing soil health, improving fertilizer and irrigation efficiency. The project is funded by a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service for climate-smart practices in rice and sugarcane.

The Louisiana Master Farmer Program serves as the outreach component of the project and collaborates with six farms participating in the initiative. Rice practices are being studied at the Hardee farm along with sites in Abbeville and Hathaway, and sugarcane work is underway on farms in Abbeville, Erath and St. James. Additional field days will be scheduled for next year.

Donna Gentry, Master Farmer Program coordinator with the AgCenter, said the farmers’ involvement is crucial, offering scientists the chance to try the conservation methods in real-world settings as opposed to the confines of small research station plots.

The venture offers valuable opportunities for the farmers, too.

“It’s one thing to see what somebody else has done,” Gentry said. “It’s another thing to put these practices in on your own farm, your own soil type and your own conditions to see what happens. So we appreciate Wyatt and the others who are participating in the project.”

Hardee, a fifth-generation rice and crawfish farmer, said he joined the project out of a desire to help improve his industry and to become a better steward of the land. He has enjoyed working with the AgCenter researchers.

“Even whenever you do things that don’t work, you still learn something,” he said. “You’re still able to learn about things that affect your soil in different ways or have different outcomes.”

One of the strategies that scientists have employed on the Hardee farm is planting off-season cover crops, which offer benefits like adding nutrients to the soil and preventing erosion. Others include using sensors to monitor field conditions and a technique called alternate wetting and drying, or AWD, which aims to save water and reduce methane emissions.

Gentry acknowledged that some of the practices on display at the field day are already commonplace on many farms. Others are newer ideas. Additional research is needed, she said, to determine how cost-effective they are and to get a fuller picture of their impact on farming systems.

“No matter how good these practices are at reducing your environmental impact, if they don’t at least maintain your production or improve it, you’re not going to do it,” she told farmers at the event.

The climate-smart aspect of the project is important in Louisiana, she said.

“We have hurricanes and storms. We have a lot of extreme weather,” she said. “Obviously, anything we can do to help mitigate that, we need to try.”

Others on the field day program included:

— Jim Wang, AgCenter soil chemist and principal investigator for the grant, who described the project’s goals and potential benefits of several climate-smart methods.
— Changyoon Jeong, AgCenter water quality specialist, who talked about the many ways that soil can benefit from conservation strategies.

— Brenda Tubaña, AgCenter soil scientist, who told attendees about her research on cover crops and nitrogen management.

— Manoch Kongchum, AgCenter agronomist, who discussed managing water and how it affects greenhouse gas emissions.

— Naveen Adusumilli, AgCenter economist, who covered economic considerations for implementing climate-smart techniques.

— Kody Meaux, of the NRCS, who spoke on cost-share programs for farmers interested in trying conservation practices.v

Man standing in rice field.

LSU AgCenter agronomist Manoch Kongchum shows attendees of a June 12 climate-smart rice field day some of the tools he uses in his research on managing water and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Photo by Olivia McClure/LSU AgCenter

People standing outside at a farm.

Brenda Tubaña, left, LSU AgCenter soil scientist, speaks about her research on cover crops and nitrogen management during a field day at Wyatt Hardee’s rice farm June 12. Photo by Olivia McClure/LSU AgCenter

Man speaking to people sitting at tables.

Wyatt Hardee, right, speaks to attendees of a June 12 climate-smart rice field day about using conservation strategies on his farm. Photo by Olivia McClure/LSU AgCenter

Man speaking while standing next to a large screen.

Jim Wang, LSU AgCenter soil chemist, talks about goals of climate-smart agriculture during a field day at Wyatt Hardee’s rice farm June 12. Photo by Olivia McClure/LSU AgCenter

6/12/2024 1:27:13 PM
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