Research Is Essential for the Louisiana Rice Industry’s Viability
H. Rouse Caffey Rice Research Station/Southwest Region
The Rice Experiment Station was established in 1909 on a 60-acre tract of land north of U.S. Highway 90 just west of Crowley. The station today is known as the H. Rouse Caffey Rice Research Station and has two research sites. The main station is 720 acres and is located north of Interstate 10 just east of Crowley, and the south unit is 320 acres located just east of La. Highway 13 south of Crowley. This research facility has continuously provided technology advances to increase the viability of the Louisiana rice industry during its 108 years of existence. The station was first established primarily because of the farsightedness of a group of leading southwest Louisiana rice producers in the early 1900s. They realized that if their industry was to prosper into the future, there was a need for new technology that could only come about as a result of carefully conducted scientific research. The newly established station was a cooperative effort between the Louisiana Agricultural Experiment Station (part of the current LSU AgCenter) and the United States Department of Agriculture. In fact, the first scientists on the station were USDA researchers.
The mission of the station today is very similar to the mission in 1909, and the research areas are similar as well. The first priority endeavor was to provide improved germplasm (varieties) to the industry. This was first accomplished by bringing rice varieties from rice production areas around the world and testing their adaptability to the southwest Louisiana rice production region. This led to several improved varieties that provided yield and quality improvements to the industry for a number of years. Later, rice breeders began to utilize specific breeding techniques to create new genetic combinations. These breeding lines were then grown out through several generations to purify the lines and decrease genetic variability. When the lines reached an appropriate level of genetic uniformity, they were then included in replicated testing programs which provided for the evaluation of grain yield, grain quality and numerous important agronomic characteristics which are important for rice varieties in this production region. When, after extensive testing, a line showed itself to be superior to the other varieties in use at that time in some respect, seed was further purified and increased and at some point, foundation seed of the new variety was provided to seed growers who then further increased the seed supply to provide adequate seed for commercial production by the industry.
In many ways, this is how new varieties are produced today. However, modern-day breeders have many more tools to facilitate variety development that were not available 100 years ago. In the early 1970s, the rice station established a winter nursery near Lajas on the island of Puerto Rico. This tropical location (18 degrees latitude) allows for breeding activities to be conducted year-around. The use of this facility often decreases the time to develop a new variety by up to three years. As well, modern day planting and harvesting equipment and analytical instruments in the various station labs, also provide for much more precise and expedited evaluation of breeding lines. A very good example here is the technology available to plant breeding lines. Forty years ago, this was accomplished by one individual pushing a single-row planter while another person slowly fed the seed into the planter. It typically took several weeks to plant 5,000 rows. Today with our specialized seeding equipment, we can plant 25,000 rows in an eight-hour day. The breeding efforts at the station have been fruitful, having released 53 new varieties with 32 of these being released in the last 25 years. These varieties have certainly helped the Louisiana rice industry remain viable and successful.
The station has conducted research in many other areas through its history including fertilization and weed, disease and insect control. In the area of weed control, there are numerous examples of advances provided by station research. Red rice is a weedy relative of commercial rice that has always been a major constraint in Louisiana rice production, causing yield as well as quality reductions. Many years ago, the station developed the pin-point flood water management system which was a cultural control technique for minimizing red rice. For many years, this was the only viable approach for red rice suppression. More recently, the station developed the Clearfield system. This system is based on an induced mutant rice line which is resistant to a herbicide that will control red rice. The Clearfield system allowed for the chemical control of red rice for the first time in the history of rice farming and has revolutionized how rice is grown in Louisiana in many respects. Not only has this technology allowed our rice producers to effectively control red rice with the resulting yield and quality improvements; it has also allowed them to change many of their seeding and management practices as well. The results here have led to yield improvements well beyond red rice control as well as improvements in the environmental impacts of rice production.
These are just a few examples of new technologies from rice station-based research that have helped the Louisiana rice industry. The success of the rice station in recent years is also partially due to the establishment of a check-off funding program that was first instituted in 1972. Through this program, rice producers provide funds to directly support rice research efforts. This has provided millions of dollars through the years which has gone a long way towards insuring the success of research conducted at this facility. Hopefully this success will continue for many years into the future.
This project was partially supported by USDA National institute of Food and Agriculture.
Permission granted May 15, 2017 by B. Leonards (LA Farm & Ranch) to republish article on www.lsuagcenter.com.
Planting breeding row –
50 years ago – today.