Rasel Parvej cultivated an interest in agriculture growing up in Bangladesh. There he worked alongside his grandfather and uncle growing rice, wheat, sugarcane, cotton and vegetables — some of the same crops he would work with halfway across the world.
Now the LSU AgCenter soil fertility specialist helps Louisiana producers make sure the soil in which they grow their crops has the right balance of nutrients.
Parvej said farming conditions were much different in his native country, where there was little mechanization. Cow-driven plows prepared the fields, and crops were hand-harvested.
“Most of the farmers were growing for local consumption,” Parvej said. “It was small farms, 1 to 5 acres.”
It was in those early years that he developed a passion for science and agriculture, which led him to pursue his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the Bangladesh Agricultural University. With the opportunity to study soil fertility under a renowned expert, Parvej moved to the U.S. in 2012 to work on his Ph.D. at the University of Arkansas.
His Ph.D. supervisor, Nathan Slaton, helped sharpen Parvej’s scientific curiosity.
He recounts visiting problem fields with Slaton and listening to him ask so many questions of producers. It was there that Parvej learned that asking the right question could help him develop his own answers to the farmer’s questions.
“He had so much past experience, and I was grateful to work with him. I would learn a lot from him.”
Parvej said he is still learning every day, and a lot of his time is still spent visiting problem fields trying to diagnose an issue. In addition to field work, he also conducts video chats with producers and receives photographs to help look at problems.
“Producers sometimes call without knowing what the problem may be,” he said.
While he specializes in soil fertility, he said disease and pest problems can sometimes look like nutrient issues, so he works closely with AgCenter agronomists, entomologists and plant pathologists to ensure issues are identified properly.
Nutrients are a big part of crop inputs, and the soil helps bring life to plants.
“You have to provide certain nutrients to get certain yields, or your crop will suffer,” he said.
Parvej joined the LSU AgCenter faculty in October 2019, shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic threw the country into lockdown. He said it was challenging early on to get some of his research projects underway because of the shutdown.
The researcher is in his second year of a study to look at updating nutrient recommendations for soybeans. He said current recommendations are based off old data. He expects to have updated phosphorus and potassium recommendations for soybeans when he completes the third year of the study.
Based in Winnsboro at the LSU AgCenter Macon Ridge Research Station, Parvej has statewide research and extension soil fertility responsibilities mainly for row crops such as corn, soybean, cotton, rice and grain sorghum. He also helps interpret soil test results and provides fertilizer recommendations for horticulture crops.
“My routine extension responsibilities are to help producers, crop consultants and extension agents understand soil sampling, testing and interpretation of soil-test results, crop fertilization for maximizing crop yield and improving soil fertility.”
Parvej also helps evaluate new fertilizer products on the market.
“Companies push different products, and I believe every product has certain value, but producers need to use these products based on their soil and crop requirements,” he said. “My main challenge is to educate producers to understand the value and usefulness of certain fertilizer products before they use it, so they don’t have to spend more money unnecessarily.”
Parvej is actively participating in the national initiative, the Fertilizer Recommendation Support Tool (FRST), and will represent the AgCenter in developing regional and national soil-test-based fertilizer recommendations for row crops.
He also is actively involved in training extension agents and crop consultants by organizing field days with soil fertility and nutrient management issues.
Parvej is helping farmers grow crops with higher yields in the most efficient manner. He sees his work as building resiliency in agriculture from the soil up.
Tobie Blanchard is director of Communications at the LSU AgCenter.
(This article appears in the fall 2021 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)
Rasel Parvej uses a sensor to help determine plant growth in a soybean field in Avoyelles Parish. Photo by Bruce Schultz