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LSU AgCenter researchers honored for developing rice soil test

Dustin Harrell and Brenda Tubaña, LSU AgCenter agronomists, were among seven scientists honored by the Rice Technical Working Group with a team award for their collaborative work on a nitrogen soil test for rice.

The RTWG held its 34th gathering Feb. 27-March 1 in Hot Springs, Ark., with rice experts from across the United States and world to present the latest results from their research and Extension efforts. Fourteen presentations were made by LSU AgCenter faculty.

When the Distinguished Rice Research and Education Team Award was presented, the comments of Evangeline Parish farmer Richard Fontenot were read aloud that the nitrogen soil test, called N-ST*R, has been one of the most significant research developments in recent years, and reduced fertilizer usage on his farm by 78 percent.

“The highlights of these research efforts were the nitrogen soil test for rice, identification of urease inhibitors in rice production and determining mid-season nitrogen rates using spectral reflectance technology,” Harrell said.

Others in the team included Richard Norman, Nathan Slaton and Trenton Roberts, soil fertility professors from the University of Arkansas; Mississippi State University agronomist Tim Walker, and Garry McCauley, agronomist from Texas A&M, who also received the RTWG Lifetime Achievement Award.

Harrell said use of N-ST*R in many cases requires substantially reduced rates of nitrogen fertilizer from standard recommendations. He admitted that decreased nitrogen application rates result in a field that is not as lush and green as usual, but a farmer’s pockets could be greener from spending less on fertilizers.

“We’re going to have to change our mindset about what a high-yielding rice field should look like.”

Don Groth, LSU AgCenter pathologist, told the RTWG audience during a discussion of his research on rice diseases.

Groth said farmers have told him that using fungicides leads to less lodging because diseases tend to weaken stalk strength. Groth said fungicides are still going out too late on Louisiana rice fields to control sheath blight and blast diseases.

He said the sheath blight pathogen in some locations in Acadia Parish has become resistant to certain fungicides.

Mike Salassi, LSU AgCenter economist, talked about the economic effects of lodged rice. He said losses could total $264 per acre on a typical farm that experienced lodging losses of 15 percent of total yields.

He said crop insurance coverage is being developed that would cover part of the increased costs from harvesting lodged rice.

Jim Oard, LSU AgCenter geneticist, gave a presentation on his work to identify genes that affect a rice plant’s disease resistance and susceptibility. He said field work has validated the lab findings, and data coming out of the RICECAP cooperative project among several universities, including the LSU AgCenter, helped with the work.

“I think this strategy appears to be useful,” Oard said. “We are right on track.” He said the research will help breeders develop disease-resistant varieties.

Herry Utomo and Ida Wenefrida, LSU AgCenter scientists, outlined their work to develop rice with increased protein levels. Utomo, a molecular biologist, uses genetic markers to identify genes that impart increased amounts of protein.

Wenefrida, LSU AgCenter rice researcher, said multi-location testing will be done on five rice lines this year.

Xueyan Sha, LSU AgCenter rice breeder, gave an update on work at the Rice Research Station on developing hybrid rice. “We’ve made some progress,” he said.

Sha said two lines developed at the station have high yields, more than 9,000 pounds per acre, with good quality grain.

Stuart Gauthier, LSU AgCenter county agent in Vermilion Parish, gave a talk on the saltwater problems for rice farmers in Vermilion Parish. He said farmers abandoned 2,000 acres of rice last year because of high salt levels in irrigation water. Some farmers with the problem harvested their crop, and one field with a salt level of 4,096 parts per million yielded 42 barrels an acre, even though the LSU AgCenter recommends not growing rice with soil containing salt above 600 ppm.

Gauthier said levels were high last year because of drought and because a barge damaged the Lehman-Bowman locks near Intracoastal City, allowing saltwater intrusion from the Gulf of Mexico. But, he said, recent rains have flushed salty water from canals.

Natalie Hummel, LSU AgCenter entomologist, discussed the new smartphone app, Ricescout, which is being developed to help farmers with insect, fertility and disease problems. She said the app, the first developed by the LSU AgCenter, should be available by early May.

Eric Webster, LSU AgCenter weed scientist, said the herbicide League will delay rice emergence, and plants can appear weak and spindly, but no yield reductions have been found.

Webster said the problem of weed resistance to herbicides is not as much of a problem in Louisiana as it is in Arkansas, but it is increasing. He said the weed sprangletop has been found in the Bunkie area to be resistant to the herbicide Clincher.

Much of the problem is caused by continuous rice production with no rotation, Webster said.

Rick Cartwright, associate director of agriculture at the University of Arkansas, told the RTWG that the biotechnology potential for agriculture has to be realized in the next few years to meet the growing demand for food with the increasing population. “We’re going to have to agree that some of this technology is useful and has a place in society.”

Cartwright predicted robotics and energy self-sufficiency will become commonplace on farms.

Steve Linscombe, rice breeder and LSU AgCenter Rice Research Station director, outlined a major project under way with $10 million in funding by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation at the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines.

Linscombe spoke at the RTWG session for crop consultants. He said the IRRI project, working under a 15-year timeline, aims to develop rice from a C3 plant to a C4 plant. Corn and grain sorghum are examples of a C4 plant. He said change would make rice more efficient at using sunlight and nutrients that could lead to a 25-50 percent yield increase, with more efficient use of water.

Linscombe said after the RTWG session that grain quality issues dominated much of the talk among colleagues.

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