Linda Foster Benedict
The prototype of the off-campus research station started in Louisiana even before federal legislation made money available for such facilities. In 1885, sugar planters set up a research facility in New Orleans, which was two years before passage of the Hatch Act in 1887. The sugar station soon moved to Baton Rouge and much later to St. Gabriel and is now the Sugar Research Station.
In 1888, a group of north Louisiana farmers pooled money to establish a station at Calhoun to study how to grow cotton, corn and vegetable crops and improve dairy production. The North Louisiana Experiment Station, later renamed the Calhoun Research Station, is one of three stations closed in 2011 because of severe cuts in the state budget. The other two were the Rosepine Research Station in Vernon Parish and the Coastal Area Research Station in Plaquemines Parish.
The third station to come into existence was the Rice Research Station in 1909. The rice farmers of southwest Louisiana recognized the need for research to sustain their industry. The fruit and vegetables industry did the same, and in 1922, the Fruit and Truck Experiment Station was established in Hammond. It is now the Hammond Research Station and serves the nursery and landscape industry in southeast Louisiana.
In 1929, the Northeast Research Station in Tensas Parish was established to serve the farming needs in the Mississippi Delta region in northeast Louisiana.
During the 1940s, six more research stations were added to the system to keep up with the rapidly expanding agricultural industry in Louisiana with the end of World War II. The Southeast Research Station was established as the Louisiana Pasture and Dairy Experiment Station in Washington Parish in 1944. The Hill Farm, Red River and Rosepine research stations were added in 1947. In 1948, the Sweet Potato Research Station was started in Franklin Parish, well north of the zone in south Louisiana where the sweetpotato weevil, the nemesis for sweet potato growers, is active. The Citrus Research Station came on board in Plaquemines Parish in 1949. That station was changed into the Coastal Area Research Station in 2005. Because the soils on a geological ridge in northeast Louisiana are different from the soils in the rest of the Delta region, a separate research station was established at Franklin Parish in 1955. Aptly named the Macon Ridge Research Station scientists there provide sitespecific research on crop production on lighter, poorer upland soils.
In 1958, the Bob R. Jones-Idlewild Research Station was established in East Feliciana Parish. In that same year, a research farm was established at the LSU-Alexandria campus, which in 1968 was turned over to the Louisiana Agricultural Experiment Station and became the Dean Lee Research and Extension Center.
Land in Baton Rouge to conduct horticultural research was made available to the Louisiana Agricultural Experiment Station in 1966. The facility was later named the Burden Center.
Both the Pecan Research and Extension Station and the Iberia Research Station started out as U.S. Department of Agriculture facilities and were transferred to the Louisiana Agricultural Experiment Station in 1973.
The Central Research Station became the administrative unit for the research farm near Baton Rouge in 1990. The facilities for the Aquaculture Research Station were set up nearby, and this unit became a separate entity in 1998.
Louisianians love pecans
Research on the pecan began in the early 1900s and was conducted through the LSU Horticulture Department. In 1930, the U.S. Department of Agriculture established the Pecan Field Laboratory near Shreveport, which was transferred to the LSU AgCenter in 1973, and became the Pecan Research and Extension Station. The research conducted at this station has helped the pecan industry thrive not only in Louisiana but the entire southeastern United States. Scientists introduced Louisiana producers to leaf sampling for monitoring tree nutritional status. They identified management practices that help trees grow at a faster pace with greater early nut production. Other studies confirmed the usefulness of nut crop thinning and that it was possible to quickly bring old, abandoned Louisiana pecan orchards back into production with intensive management.
Entomologists have helped growers manage pecan weevils, the scorch mite and the pecan casebearer, a major nut pest. This research alone has saved tens of thousands of dollars annually by eliminating needless spraying for an insect in production areas where it is not typically a problem. A simple monitoring method for the pecan phylloxera insect pest using sticky cloth tape as a trap was developed at the station. Scientists have helped growers manage pecan scab disease and pecan bacterial leaf scorch disease. Read more about the history of the Pecan Station.
The future of this station is unknown because of the impending construction of Interstate 69, which will go through the station destroying the research pecan orchard. Because it takes 30 years to develop a new orchard, it is unlikely this research station can be saved.
Post-war housing boom creates demand for timber
Cotton and corn farms had dominated the north central Louisiana landscape. But by World War II, this type of farming was being phased out because of the hilly topography and less fertile soils. The Soil Bank Program, predecessor to the modern Conservation Reserve Program, was created around this time to pay farmers to retire their land from farming. The program proved popular, and as farmers retired their lands from row-crop agriculture, their lands became forested through tree planting and natural seedling processes. Farmers were drawn to growing forests for timber on their retired lands because the housing market was rapidly expanding as suburbs were built across the post-World War II United States. It was this conversion of old fields into southern pine forests that would drive the research program of the Hill Farm Research Station, which was established in 1947. Read more about the history of the forestry research at the Hill Farm Station.
Station devoted to dairy
In the mid-1940s, several events occurred highlighting the need for an experiment station in southeastern Louisiana. Farm boys were coming home from World War II, virgin longleaf pine forests were gone, and cotton and other row crops in the area were on the decline. At that time, open range laws still existed, and dairy cows were turned out into the woods for much of their forage needs. But the advent of the modern Holstein cow soon suggested a need for better pastures and feeds. In 1944, a research station was established on 844 acres of land formerly in timber and cotton that was renovated for pasture research. The station was charged with conducting applied pasture and management research in support of the growing dairy industry and was named the Louisiana Pasture and Dairy Experiment Station.
Read a longer story about the growth and development of the Southeast Research Station in Washington Parish.
Linda Foster Benedict, Associate Director & Professor, LSU AgCenter Communications, Baton Rouge, La.
(This article was published in the spring 2012 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)