(09/09/20) HAMMOND, La. — Two LSU AgCenter researchers have been awarded U.S. Department of Agriculture grants to look at ways to improve specialty crops.
Yan Chen, horticulture researcher at the Hammond Research Station, will be looking at ways to improve the U.S. tea industry.
Chen said her goal in accepting the $50,000 award is to establish partnerships and build infrastructure for production, harvesting, processing and marketing of U.S-grown tea.
“Total annual consumption of tea in the U.S. has increased from $1.84 billion in 1990 to $12.66 billion in 2018, and this market demand was almost exclusively met through imports,” she said.
Chen says the climatic and soil conditions in many regions in the U.S. are suitable for growing the tea plant.
In the past decade, there has been a renewed interest and demand for tea that is both grown and processed locally.
“This planning grant will support two listening sessions with stakeholders: one in the fall of 2020 at the Hammond Research Station and another meeting in early spring of 2021 at the University of California at Davis to prioritize industry needs,” Chen said.
The long-term goals are to improve production efficiency, harvesting and processing mechanization, quality and profitability of U.S.-grown tea, and to enhance the overall economic, social and environmental sustainability of the domestic tea industry.
The second grant for $49,997 was awarded to AgCenter commercial horticulture specialist Jeb Fields, who is looking at using soilless media to grow plants.
Fields said traditionally, ornamental and greenhouse vegetable crops have been grown in soilless substrates due to the need for transportation and sterile environments.
Production of specialty crops in soilless substrates is expanding, with many high-value crops now shifting from traditional field production to soilless substrates due to diminishing availability of fumigants, increasing pest pressure and the need for flexible production practices, Fields said.
“We are starting to see national and global shifts where new specialty crop sectors are starting to utilize soilless systems for crop production,” he said. “Our team is composed of scientists at six universities in North America as well as researchers at the USDA whose goal is to host a North American Soilless Substrates Summit to identify and define the goals and needs for the future of the specialty crop industry.”
Soilless production has many benefits to new specialty crop sectors, Fields said. Most include resource efficiency, especially in relation to water and fertilizer.
“Soilless culture allows for high-yield precision agriculture in areas with poor soil health,” he said.
Fields said it is very feasible for many growing operations to shift.
“We are seeing large tree nurseries and small fruit producers across the country shifting portions of their production into soilless culture,” he said.
Some fruit tree producers are also beginning to investigate the potential of soilless culture.
“We engineer soilless systems to provide all the necessary inputs and growing parameters the crops need,” Fields said.
“While ease of transport has primarily been the push for soilless production, we are seeing beneficial opportunities for long-term crops to be grown in some sort of soilless system,” he said.
LSU AgCenter commercial horticulture specialist Jeb Fields discusses how using soilless media to grow plants is more efficient. Fields was recently awarded a nearly $50,000 grant to study the needs in the process. Photo by Johnny Morgan/LSU AgCenter
Yan Chen, horticulture researcher at the LSU AgCenter Hammond Research Station, left, explains what's involved in growing tea to a group touring the research station. Chen was recently awarded a $50,000 specialty crop grant to establish partnerships and build infrastructure for production, harvesting, processing and marketing of U.S-grown tea. Photo by Johnny Morgan/LSU AgCenter