​History of the H. Rouse Caffey Rice Research Station

Station in 1911

Station House

Field Day

Field Day Exhibit


Plowing and Leveling




Aerially Spraying Field

Group Harvesting

Threshing Seed

The Louisiana Rice Experiment Station was established in the spring of 1909 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, after farmers saw the need for improved varieties adapted for southwest Louisiana and needed help with growing the crop in the Gulf Coast conditions.

Eventually, the USDA phased out its role at the station, now run entirely by the LSU AgCenter, and the station would be renamed the H. Rouse Caffey Rice Research Station. Rice farming on a widespread commercial basis in Louisiana began in the late 19th Century. The need for a research facility was realized to develop new varieties adapted for the Gulf Coast. “They were using some of the same varieties such as Carolina Gold for example that had been used for almost 200 years,” said Dr. Steve Linscombe, director of the H. Rouse Caffey Rice Research Station. Linscombe pointed out that the wheat practices and equipment from the Midwestern grain states were adopted in Louisiana. Also, farmers from northern grain states relocated to Louisiana upon learning that their agricultural practices and experience could be used to grow rice. Many farmers in Louisiana had turned to rice after sugar prices crashed in the 1800s. Louisiana rice production went from 1.5 million pounds in 1864 to more than 40 million pounds by 1877, according to the March 1932 issue of “Rice Journal.”

By the late 1800s, developers were advertising land for sale in southwest Louisiana, boasting of the area’s abundant water and mild climate. Acadia Parish, where the Rice Experiment Station would be located, became the leader in the rice industry with some of the best yields, a whopping 15 to 25 barrels an acre. The 1890 Louisiana crop was a record breaker at 80 million pounds, making Louisiana the No. 1 rice producing state, surpassing the former leader, South Carolina.

In the early 1900s, more Louisiana farmers switched to rice, according to the 1910 Annual Report of the USDA Office of Experiment Stations. “The ravages of the boll weevil have made the growing of cotton less profitable than formerly, and the farmers are turning to rice growing. This necessitates the installation of pumping plants, the building of levees, etc., and the cotton growers are usually entirely unfamiliar with such things.”

The USDA report detailed the origins of the new station at its original site west of Crowley: “A substation for rice culture was established at Crowley, and work was begun during the spring of 1909. The station is conducted in cooperation with this department. Local parties gave 60 acres of land for the use of the station and subscribed $3,500 for buildings. The legislature authorized its establishment by an act passed July 1, 1908, but no appropriation for the purpose was made at the time. F.C. Quereau was called from the University of Tennessee to the position of assistant director in charge of this station.” The next year’s report indicates the legislature appropriated $15,000 for maintenance during the next 2 years. A 60-horsepower gasoline engine to pump water was installed for $2,500 in 1910. Research included testing of 300 rice varieties and studies of insects, irrigation, and evaporation. In 1949, the station bought 720 acres of land northeast of Crowley, the site of the current station, establishing the Rice Research Station’s Foundation Seed Program to ensure a pure source of seed for rice farmers. The program has sold more than 170,000 cwt. of seed. In 1963, the station expanded by 320 acres with the South Farm, located 2 miles south of Crowley. Crawfish research began at the station in the 1970s, and it now has the largest facility of its kind in the world.

Dr. H. Rouse Caffey, former LSU AgCenter chancellor worked at the research facility from 1962 until 1970. Before Caffey’s death in 2012, he recalled the early days of his career at the station. “When I came to the rice station, they had just moved the rice station from West of Crowley to the east of Crowley on 719 acres of land. The old station west of town just had been relegated to rice pastures and beef cattle work.”

He said he started doing research work in northeast Louisiana after some efforts were initiated to get a rice research facility in that part of the state. “So, I started out field testing in East Carroll Parish, testing varieties, dates of planting, fertilizer, weed control, and insect studies, and that went on throughout my time; and it has served the people of northeast Louisiana very well.” Caffey suggests that the H. Rouse Caffey Rice Research Station became the best facility worldwide. “And I’ve visited the international stations,” Caffey said. “I’ve visited IRRI (International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines); I’ve visited Chinese rice research centers; I’ve visited Arkansas, Texas, and Mississippi; and I’m convinced that the work in Louisiana stands above all the rest; and that’s because of the continued improvement of technologies by good researchers who are dedicated towards serving their Louisiana rice industry.” As an example, Caffey points out the first disease-resistant rice variety, Saturn, was developed by Dr. Nelson Jodon at the station. Jodon is considered a pioneer in the use of genetic markers for rice breeding.

In 1972, Louisiana rice producers took the initiative to have more research done, forming the Louisiana Rice Research Board. Growers agreed to pay 5 cents of every 100 pounds of their rice crop sold at the mill to fund research projects. That program has generated more than $30 million for research projects. Retired rice farmer John Denison credits the station for keeping Louisiana rice farmers in business by conducting research and variety development that have boosted yields. Denison said a 25-barrel yield was once considered respectable, but now that total has more than doubled. “When we made 20 acres to the barrel, we thought we had a great crop. Then when we planted Nato (a rice variety developed in 1956), we were suddenly able to make 30 barrels to the acre. When Saturn was developed by Dr. Jodon, we were making 40 barrels to the acre. So, you can easily see how our gross income would increase with these great improvements in varieties.” Higher yields were not just the result of new varieties, however, as the station’s studies of agronomic practices have also increased production.

The practice of water leveling was perfected at the station in the 1960s. Any major insecticide or fungicide labeled for use in the southern U.S. was tested thoroughly at the station, including propanil that allowed rice breeders to develop shorter rice less susceptible to lodging.

The station had a herd of cattle until 1990 to replicate growing conditions of farmers who are also in beef production.

Clearfield developed at the station in the late 1990s, resulted in rice varieties that enabled farmers to make progress against red rice. Clearfield technology allowed farmers to drill seed rice into dry soil instead of water seeding from the air. Varieties developed at the station during the past 15 years dominate the southern U.S. rice growing regions. Clearfield acreage has exceed 65 percent of rice grown in the south in some years, Linscombe said. In total, a century of rice breeding at the station has resulted in 53 varieties. “We have close working relationships with rice stations all over the world,” Linscombe points out. The H. Rouse Caffey Rice Research Station obtains new breeding lines and germplasm throughout the globe. Rice is unique among commercial crops, Linscombe suggests, because many rice varieties are still developed through publicly funded research. Research at the station has changed drastically, thanks to improvements in technology and knowledge. According to Linscombe, rice breeders 40 years ago would have chosen experimental lines from 4,000 rows a year. Now, breeders make selections from more than 80,000 rows each year. DNA markers used to determine if lines have desired characteristics have decreased the time required to develop a new variety, and the use of a winter nursery in Puerto Rico also enables varieties to be available sooner.

“All of these advancements are designed to help farmers remain competitive and economically viable,” Linscombe said.

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