Louisiana weed scientist and rice grower honored at national conference

A.J. Sabine, broadcaster with the Louisiana Farm Bureau, was among seven men chosen for the 2014-16 Rice Leadership Class sponsored by John Deere, RiceTec and American Commodity Corp.

Eric Webster, center, received the Rice Industry Award at the USA Rice Federation Outlook Conference in St. Louis on Dec. 5. He is joined by his wife, Sarah, and Steve Linscombe, director of the LSU AgCenter Rice Research Station. Photo by Bruce Schultz

Elton Kennedy, Louisiana rice grower and owner of the Kennedy Rice Mill, with his daughter Meryl Farr, received the Rice Lifetime Achievement Award at the USA Rice Federation Outlook Conference in St. Louis.

News Release Distributed 12/06/13

ST. LOUIS, Mo. – Eric Webster, LSU AgCenter weed scientist, was honored here Dec. 5 with the Rice Industry Award at the USA Rice Federation’s Outlook Conference.

Webster, who began his career with the LSU AgCenter in 1997, has been instrumental in the development of the most effective use of Newpath herbicide on Clearfield rice. Over the past two years, he has noticed an improvement in rice weed control.

“That has translated into higher yields,” he said.

Webster, son of an Auburn University researcher, said he planted his first rice crop on the first day he started his career in rice at the University of Arkansas. On his second day, Webster recalled, he was quizzed on his knowledge of rice by a county agent, who asked how much he knew about growing rice.

“I told him ‘100 percent more than I knew yesterday,’” Webster said.

Steve Linscombe, director of the LSU AgCenter Rice Research Station, said Webster was an obvious choice for the award. “He is extremely deserving of the recognition because he is an excellent example of a hardworking, dedicated and respected research scientist.”

Linscombe said Webster has a national and international reputation. “He is often called upon to travel to other states to help address weed problems. He is also often asked to speak at field days and grower meetings in other states and countries.”

In 2010, Webster received the Rice Technical Working Group’s Distinguished Research and Education Award. In 2005, he received the LSU AgCenter Rogers Research Excellence Award and the Weed Science Society of America Outstanding Early Career Award.

Arkansas weed control consultant Ford Baldwin, who worked with Webster in Arkansas, said Webster is dedicated to helping farmers. “I cannot imagine anyone more qualified to receive the Rice Industry Award.”

Baldwin recalled how Webster won over several farmers at the interview session when being considered for the job at the University of Arkansas. “They would have ridden us out of town on a rail if we hadn’t hired him.”

Baldwin said Arkansas growers still rely on Webster’s expertise. “We continue to use him like he is one of ours. I continue to depend heavily upon him in my role in the private sector, and his number is in the speed dial of most rice consultants in Arkansas.”

Barrett Courville, LSU AgCenter county agent in Jefferson Davis and Acadia parishes, said he relies on Webster’s knowledge to help farmers. “Dr. Webster is invaluable to me as a resource for any problems in weed control that may arise during the growing season.”

Also honored at the conference was Elton Kennedy, Louisiana rice grower and rice mill owner, who received the Lifetime Achievement Award. Kennedy farms several thousand acres of rice in north Louisiana and opened the Kennedy Rice Mill at Mer Rouge in 2012. He leases a rice mill in Brinkley, Ark., and one in Abbeville with the Godchaux Family Partnership. Kennedy said this year marked his 50th year growing rice.

“It’s such an honor to be here and to be associated with such a group of people,” said Kennedy, who stressed the importance of a united rice industry.

Linscombe said Kennedy has been a strong supporter of LSU AgCenter faculty. “Mr. Kennedy has always been a very strong supporter of the research efforts of me and my colleagues.”

Also recognized was Joe Aguzzi of Cleveland, Miss., as the 2013 Rice Farmer of the Year.

The awards presented to Webster and Kennedy were sponsored by HorizonAg, RiceFarming magazine and the USA Rice Federation.

Also at the conference, A.J. Sabine, broadcaster with the Louisiana Farm Bureau, was among seven men chosen for the 2014-16 Rice Leadership Class sponsored by John Deere, RiceTec and American Commodity Corp. Also chosen for the class was Jonathan Hobbs of Russell Marine in Metairie.

The pending farm bill was the major topic of discussion at the conference. John Owen, Louisiana Rice Growers Association president and a rice farmer in Richland Parish, said the farm bill deliberations are grinding along. He said rice farmers don’t want special treatment, but they are asking for assistance so they can continue to be viable when prices are bad.

Jim Wiesemeyer, of Informa Economics, said the rice industry is well represented by Reece Langley, the USA Rice Federation lobbyist. “Rice is holding its own in the farm bill debate despite its relative small acreage.”

He said there is in-fighting among some commodity groups. “Some groups ought to be ashamed of themselves.”

Wiesemeyer said he expects a farm bill to be approved by mid-January, and an extension of the 2008 farm bill is unlikely.

Economist Richard Brock said the nation’s economy is still suffering. “Probably the wealthiest sector of the economy right now is agriculture.”

But, he said, corn and soybean prices are destined to decline sharply in the next few years. Farmland and equipment are showing signs of decreasing in value, he said.

Johnny Saichuk, LSU AgCenter rice specialist, told the conference attendees that he expects next year's Louisiana rice acreage to remain unchanged from 2013.

Saichuk said rice buyers have become more insistent on good quality rice, and he said offering a premium for better rice would improve the overall quality in the market. "If we want to sell rice, we have to sell what they want."

Linscombe gave an overview of the LSU AgCenter rice breeding program. He said two lines, a Clearfield medium-grain and a Clearfield Jazzman, are candidates to be released for seed production next year. He said the Clearfield medium-grain line is being evaluated by the Kellogg Co., and results so far have been favorable.

The Clearfield Jazzman line has higher yield potential than its two predecessors, he said.

A potential long-grain line is in development now with a seed increase in Puerto Rico, Linscombe said, and the goal of that line is to have the yield of CL151 without that variety's disease problems.

Linscombe said the hybrid program is progressing with several promising lines. He said an emphasis on quality is being placed on the hybrid program.

Bruce Schultz

12/7/2013 4:32:03 AM
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