Ask an LSU AgCenter scientist what a typical day working at a research station is like, and the response will probably be that there is no such thing.
Every day at a station can bring a different assortment of tasks, both indoor and outdoor — from taking care of crops or livestock to collecting and analyzing data from field trials to writing up articles for newsletters sent to farmers.
And that’s not all.
“Sprinkled throughout that entire time,” said weed scientist Daniel Stephenson, “are phone calls and farm visits with growers.”
Stephenson and his colleagues at the LSU AgCenter Dean Lee Research and Extension Center emphasize that these calls and visits are not interruptions.
“We can get some really good questions from them, which can then shape our future research,” said soybean specialist David Moseley.
Farmers’ questions, concerns, interests and needs drive much of the work that goes on at Dean Lee, which is located near Alexandria. Covering about 3,000 acres, the center — composed of the Dean Lee Research Station along with extension buildings — is one of the AgCenter’s largest facilities.
Because of its size, central location and research programs that encompass several row crops as well as beef cattle, it’s also one with a broad reach.
“The soil types on this research station not only represent the area around Alexandria, but these soils are all the way up to Caddo Parish in northwest Louisiana and close to the Atchafalaya Basin,” said Stephenson, who also serves as the station’s research coordinator. The same principle applies to other environmental factors.
“The data that’s generated here is applicable to a large area of the state,” Stephenson added. “Without having Dean Lee in this location, we would not be able to generate that information.”
Having the resources to try different farming methods and to develop recommendations — whether for growing crops like cotton, corn or soybeans, or for raising cattle — that are tailored to local conditions is valuable. And it can save producers money.
“If there is someone that should make mistakes, it should be us at the research station and not the producer,” said Guillermo Scaglia, a cattle researcher who conducts work at Dean Lee and the Iberia Research Station in Jeanerette, Louisiana. He added that researchers like himself take seriously the responsibility of carefully vetting practices that may eventually be recommended to producers and affect their bottom lines.
On the crop research side of Dean Lee, one way of responding to local needs is the recent addition of sugarcane plots to the station as Louisiana’s cane-growing belt grows northward. With this expansion has come the need for research on how production practices may need to be adjusted for central Louisiana’s slightly colder temperatures, different soil types, pest populations and other factors.
But Dean Lee, like many other AgCenter facilities around the state, is more than just a research facility. There is a human side to it that makes it part of the fabric of central Louisiana.
“Controlled experiments are important,” Moseley said, “but also, it’s a place that producers can come, gather together in one place, see what we’re working on and discuss whatever problems they’re facing.”
Scientists at the station have a unique role in the agricultural community.
“It’s a very small cohort of scientists who work very closely together, and you’re also part of your community,” said entomologist Sebe Brown. “Your kids go to school with farmers’ kids. You go to church with the same people. You’re a member of the community, but you’re also a scientist that helps give them information.”
Research stations like Dean Lee are critical to the land-grant mission in Louisiana, said Tara Smith, director of the AgCenter Central Region.
“Because of proximity to our clientele, because of where we’re located, because we are conducting research that is directly aligned with the needs of our producers and stakeholders, this is where the rubber meets the road,” she said.
What makes Dean Lee special to local farmers is easy access, said plant pathologist Boyd Padgett. It’s not uncommon for farmers to show up at the station simply wanting to sit down and chat with the researchers, who are happy to oblige.
Padgett said nurturing those bonds with the industry is important. To central Louisiana farmers, Dean Lee is not just another LSU AgCenter facility, he said. “It’s their AgCenter.”
Olivia McClure is an associate communications specialist, LSU AgCenter Communications.
(This article appears in the fall 2021 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)
LSU AgCenter plant pathologist Boyd Padgett, left, shows samples of disease-damaged plants at an Agronomic Crops School on Aug. 5, 2021, at the Dean Lee Research and Extension Center near Alexandria. Photo by Olivia McClure
LSU AgCenter engineer Randy Price, second from right, speaks about a sprayer drone at an Agronomic Crops School on Aug. 5, 2021, at the AgCenter Dean Lee Research and Extension Center near Alexandria. AgCenter weed scientist Al Orgeron, who also is conducting work with the spray drone, is at right. Photo by Olivia McClure
LSU AgCenter entomologist Sebe Brown, center right, shows cups containing insect pests to members of an FFA team at an Agronomic Crops School on Aug. 5, 2021, at the Dean Lee Research and Extension Center near Alexandria. Photo by Olivia McClure
Attendees of an Agronomic Crops School on Aug. 5, 2021, at the Dean Lee Research and Extension Center near Alexandria participate in a herbicide symptomology exercise led by AgCenter weed scientist Daniel Stephenson. Photo by Olivia McClure