While the LSU AgCenter Rice Research Station near Crowley is the epicenter of rice research in Louisiana, scientists conduct many studies at locations other than the station. These off-station sites are located across the rice-growing regions of the state. These trials are conducted in cooperation with rice farmers who provide land, irrigation water and many other services. They also are patient in dealing with some of the idiosyncrasies associated with small plot research activities.
In 2014, these off-station trials were conducted at six locations in southwest Louisiana: Jimmy Hoppe’s farm south of Fenton in Jefferson Davis Parish, Kent Lounsberry’s farm south of Lake Arthur in western Vermilion Parish, Kody and Larry Beiber’s farm west of Mamou in Evangeline Parish, Kenneth LaHaye’s farm west of Mamou in Evangeline Parish, R&Z Farms (Keith Rockett, Dwayne and Doug Zaunbrecher) east of Mowata in Acadia Parish and Charlie Fontenot’s farm north of Palmetto in St. Landry Parish. In addition, two locations were planted in north Louisiana, John Owen’s farm east of Gilbert in Franklin Parish and Woodsland Plantation southeast of Monroe in Richland Parish. These sites are normally between 2 and 6 acres. Many of these locations have been used for off-station research for many years. The research trials in 2014 were being conducted for the 30th consecutive year at the Lounsberry farm and the 20th consecutive year on the Hoppe farm. Several of the other locations have also been used for more than 10 years.
These sites are treated as miniature research stations. The site must have independent flooding and draining capabilities. This will allow for flushing, flooding or draining the research area without affecting the producer’s adjacent fields. The farmer prepares the seedbed in the research area for drill-seeding. Researchers then travel to the site with the same small plot planting equipment used at the Rice Research Station. Seed for each plot is weighed and packaged in the lab over the winter and laid out in a logical planting order before traveling to the off-station site.
The field is squared off and laid out for planting, and the planting operation itself is normally completed within two to three hours. After planting, the site is managed similarly to sites at the station. This includes water management (flushing, flooding and drainage as appropriate) and proper fertilization, as well as weed, insect and disease control. Often, fertilization and pest control treatments may be part of the research studies, so care must be taken to avoid jeopardizing these treatments when managing the rest of the research area.
Researchers visit these sites once or twice a week at a minimum to take notes and collect data and make management decisions. As the rice approaches maturity, these visits become more frequent because at most locations each plot will have a hand-harvested sample removed at harvest maturity for milling and other quality analyses. When all plots have reached harvest maturity, researchers travel to the site with a small plot combine used to harvest each plot. During the harvest operation the weight, grain moisture and test weight of each plot are recorded for later comparisons. At some south Louisiana locations, the research area is fertilized and re-flooded after harvest to generate ratoon (second) crop data.
These off-station sites are invaluable to our research effort. One good example is in new variety development. Typically, all of the early generation selection and advancement, as well as preliminary yield testing of breeding lines, are conducted either at the Rice Research Station or at the winter nursery facility in Puerto Rico. However, as lines move into advanced testing prior to potential release, these off-station testing sites provide critical information on the stability of these lines. Stability refers to consistent performance in environments with different soil types and disease pressure regimes, as well as general growing conditions. There have been a number of experimental lines through the years that looked good in tests on the station. However, evaluating these same lines at the off-station sites led to the discovery of inherent characteristics that warranted a decision not to release. On the other hand, consistent superior performance over locations and years by a potential release can corroborate data produced on the research station and help justify a variety release. In addition to variety development, typical areas of research conducted at these off-station sites include fertility and agronomic studies, as well as disease, insect and weed control work.
County agents are vital to the success of our research program. They are instrumental in locating cooperating farmers, as well as helping in the planting, data collection and harvesting of the research sites. In addition, most locations serve as the venue for parish or area field days, which are coordinated by the agent. These field days are well-attended and allow producers to see new technology in a farmer-oriented setting.
As with much rice research conducted in Louisiana, these off-station sites would not be possible without the funding provided by the Louisiana farmers through the rice research checkoff program. These funds are administered by the Louisiana Rice Research Board, which is made up of Louisiana rice growers nominated by several statewide grower organizations and appointed by the governor. These funds are critical to rice research and extension activities to support the Louisiana rice industry.
Permission granted September 15, 2014 by B. Leonards (LA Farm & Ranch) to republish article on www.lsuagcenter.com