Tobie Blanchard, McClure, Olivia J.
From diseases and insect pests to weeds and soil quality, a variety of factors can hinder agricultural productivity. To raise awareness of these issues, 2020 has been designated the International Year of Plant Health.
The Year of Plant Health is an initiative of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. The organization estimates up to 40% of food crops grown around the world are lost to damage from pests — which cuts into farmers’ incomes, limits people’s food supply and affects international trade.
Plant health is broad topic encompassing many disciplines.
“Anything that impacts the ability of that plant to produce to its maximum yield potential is a plant health issue,” said Lawrence Datnoff, head of the LSU AgCenter Department of Plant Pathology and Crop Physiology. “If we’re going to feed and clothe people and protect the environment, we have to have solutions to help manage and protect plant health.”
AgCenter scientists are working on a number of projects aimed at defending plants’ health and preventing future problems. Here are some examples:
Many different diseases attack plants, and it can sometimes be difficult to pinpoint which one is the culprit. AgCenter plant doctor Raj Singh oversees the Plant Diagnostic Center, where he helps farmers and home gardeners alike identify pest problems and solutions.
Pollinators play a major role in keeping plants healthy. AgCenter entomologist Kristen Healy and forage researchers Wink Alison, Buddy Pitman and Kun-Jun Han are studying ways that farmers and ranchers can help with efforts to improve habitats for bees and other pollinators.
One of the best ways to combat pest infestations is through genetic resistance. AgCenter scientists who breed new varieties of rice, sugarcane and sweet potatoes look for traits that make these crops resistant to insect pests and diseases.
Healthy soil helps make healthy plants. AgCenter soil scientists Lisa Fultz and Brenda Tubaña are working on a project funded by the Patrick F. Taylor Foundation that examines how to optimize fertilizer use to reduce runoff and costs while still giving crops the nutrients they need to thrive.
Weeds compete with crops for nutrients, water and space. AgCenter weed scientists help farmers find strategies for controlling these undesirable plants, from using herbicides to implementing cultural practices that discourage weed growth.
Gadgets and the data they collect are an increasingly important part of modern agriculture. AgCenter experts are studying how to harness the power of technology and “big data” to grow healthier crops.
The LSU AgCenter and the LSU College of Agriculture