Modern research, historic perspectives featured at Rice Research Station field day

Schultz Bruce, Webster, Eric P., Blanche, Sterling, Sha, Xueyan, Li, Weike, Harrell, Dustin L., Groth, Donald E., Linscombe, Steven D.

News Release Distributed 07/02/09

CROWLEY, La. – Farmers and scientists celebrated 100 years of work Wednesday (July 1) at the LSU AgCenter Rice Research Station’s 2009 Field Day that marked the facility’s centennial.

On the field tour, scientists in variety development, plant pathology, entomology, weed science and agronomy outlined the advances made since 1909 and what research the station has planned for the future.

The station has been involved in agricultural improvements during the past century, said Dr. Dustin Harrell, LSU AgCenter agronomist.

“Resident scientists here at the station have been there at every step of the way,” he said.

Harrell said both world wars brought progress to farming, including the development and production of fertilizers. He said material used during war was abundant in peacetime, and it was directed to improvements in plant nutrients.

Many former military pilots used their abilities to fly agricultural products onto fields, although he said a hot air balloon was used for the first recorded attempt at water-seeding a rice field in 1906 in New Zealand. A hot-air balloon at the field day emphasized that development.

Harrell said more advances are being made, including variable rates of nitrogen, polymer-coated urea and fertilizers that also contain micronutrients.

Dr. Richard Norman, a University of Arkansas agronomist, said new technology could make it possible for a sensor mounted on aircraft to determine how much fertilizer is needed on a crop and where it should be applied.

Dr. Eric Webster, LSU AgCenter weed scientist, traced the development of herbicides for rice, starting with 2,4-D in 1944 to control broadleaf weeds. That was followed by propanil, aimed at grasses, in 1961.

“It revolutionized how we grew rice because it allowed breeders the chance to get away from taller varieties,” Webster said.

Propanil was followed by molinate, which can no longer be used after Aug. 1 this year. Webster said molinate is his favorite herbicide.

“In the next few years, we’ll figure out how valuable that herbicide was to us,” he said.

Webster said alternatives to molinate will be RiceBeaux and Command, adding that many of the later herbicides have been aimed at more specific problems.

He said the development of Clearfield rice varieties by LSU AgCenter scientists has allowed farmers a true control of red rice. Clearfield is resistant to the herbicide Newpath, and red rice isn’t. This also has led to increased drill seeding directly into the soil rather than seeding by air into standing water.

Dr. Steve Linscombe, LSU AgCenter rice breeder and regional director, said farmers encouraged the founding of the station after realizing that Louisiana’s heavy disease and insect pressures required rice varieties adapted for the area. Genetic material from throughout the world was obtained, he said, to breed varieties suited for the area.

The field tour included a demonstration plot of the 42 varieties developed at the station, starting with Colusa, a short-grain variety, released in 1917.

“What we have planted here is the past, present and future varieties released by the station,” Linscombe said.

He said the variety Saturn, developed by Dr. Nelson Jodon, was the most significant variety released when it was made available in 1964.

“When Saturn was released, it increased the yield by 5 to 6 barrels” per acre, Linscombe said. A barrel of rice measures 162 pounds.

He said over the years, breeders have been able to develop shorter varieties that are ready for harvest sooner.

Linscombe said a new Clearfield long-grain variety that could be released this year would mature more rapidly than any other Clearfield choice. He also said work on a Clearfield medium-grain variety also is under way.

Variety development has changed according to farmers’ needs and changes in farming practices, said Dr. Brooks Blanche, LSU AgCenter rice breeder.

“The breeding program will continue to evolve,” he said.

Blanche said new varieties have been released with improvements over existing varieties. Medium-grain lines under evaluations currently are being monitored for earlier maturation, he said.

Dr. Don Groth, LSU AgCenter plant pathologist, recounted the history of fungicides that started in 1978 with benlate. Even though fungicides are important, breeding work also is helping farmers with varieties that have increased disease resistance.

The Bengal medium-grain variety, released by the LSU AgCenter in 1992, reduced yield losses from disease by 50 percent, Groth said.

“Neptune (also a medium grain released in 2008) is even better,” he added.

Farming practices also help with disease management, Groth said.

For example, Groth said, blast disease has become less of a problem because farmers are more aware of growing conditions that reduce the likelihood of it becoming a problem.

“Maintaining a flood for that disease is paramount,” Groth said.

Mo Way, a Texas A&M entomology specialist, traced the evolution of insect control, including the work of entomologists at the LSU AgCenter’s Rice Research Station.

When the station began, a significant pest was the rice water weevil, which remains the biggest insect problem faced by farmers today, Way said.

Dr. Xueyan Sha, LSU AgCenter rice breeder, said two long-grain rice lines being evaluated show promise with excellent yields, good milling qualities and resistance to lodging – being blown down by strong winds. Sha also said a line with good resistance and a strong aroma is nearing possible release.

Sha said the station has obtained Chinese rice lines needed to begin work on developing a rice hybrid, but he said it would be years in the making.

Chinese rice breeder Weike Li is a visiting scientist leading the hybrid project. He said hybrid rice was first developed in China in the early 1970s.

“Now it is planted on 45 million acres in 10 countries,” Li said.

After the field tour, State Sen. Dan Morrish of Jennings said the Rice Research Station’s longevity is testament to the rice industry’s hard work and perseverance.

“This industry has yet to take a bailout. We’ve yet to go bankrupt, and we continue to put in a crop every year,” Morrish said. “Our tenacity and our hard-work ethic continue to fund facilities like this, and for that the citizens of the world owe you a debt of gratitude.”

The senator said his grandfather came to Louisiana from North Dakota in 1896 because of the rice industry, accepting a job with an irrigation company in Acadia Parish. His maternal grandfather came to southwest Louisiana with a brother, and each homesteaded 640 acres near Kinder.

Dr. Mike Strain, secretary of the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, said Morrish has been working to obtain funding for a bulk-loading facility for agricultural products, including rice, at the Port of Lake Charles.

Strain said Morrish has been able to get $2.6 million for the $21 million project.

“We need to make sure that money flows, and we get the rest of the money,” Strain said.

Strain said Louisiana residents need to spread the word about the importance of research and extension efforts by the LSU AgCenter.

Strain said the agriculture department will be conducting a trade mission to Cuba that could lead to more rice imports to that country.

Congressman Charles Boustany said he expects travel and trade restrictions to Cuba will be lifted this year. Boustany also asked farmers to let him know if provisions of the new farm bill are being implemented fairly.

LSU AgCenter Chancellor Bill Richardson said despite budget cuts, the Rice Research Station will serve its farming clientele, thanks to their contributions from the checkoff program that funds research.

“As long as you’re planting a crop, we’re going to be here,” Richardson said.

The turnout for the research station’s field day is the best in the state, said Dr. David Boethel, LSU AgCenter vice chancellor for research.

Boethel said the importance of agriculture to the state’s economy should be recognized as an economic development avenue.

But Dr. Paul Coreil, LSU AgCenter vice chancellor for extension, said agriculture’s role in the economy is not fully appreciated.

“We don’t recognize the sustainability of agriculture for our communities,” Coreil said.

Coreil said the advances in technology since the station opened were evident in an e-mail from Duke Faulkner, a former Rice Research Station director, who was unable to attend the event but watched it on streaming video on the Internet.

In all, viewers from 21 states, Egypt and Colombia watched the online presentation. The field day presentations from this year can be viewed online at

Jackie Loewer, a rice farmer from Branch and president of the Louisiana Rice Research Board, said the research station’s scientists always have recognized farmers’ problems and worked to solve them.

“I’m privileged to work with such talented people,” Loewer said. “I’m pleased to have a resource for our industry, and I’m positive that the future, with your cooperation, will be as bright as the past.”

The Louisiana Rice Research Board later met at the station and re-elected Loewer as president, Clarence Berken of Thornwell as vice president and Richard Fontenot of Ville Platte as secretary-treasurer.

Bruce Schultz

7/3/2009 12:46:48 AM
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