(08/19/22) MANSURA, La. — About 40 agriculture students from Marcus Oldham College in Australia were part of the annual Interagency Rolling Ag Field Tour in central Louisiana Aug. 10.
This year, the students’ scheduled tour of farm operations in Texas and Louisiana coincided with the traditional tour of central Louisiana farms, said Tara Smith, director of the LSU AgCenter Central Region.
The Marcus Oldham website states that it is Australia’s only independent agricultural and equine business management college.
Hopefully jetlag wasn’t still a problem for these visitors because the tour was a fairly large circle that covered parts of Avoyelles Parish.
AgCenter agent Justin Dufour, who coordinated the event, said the timing was perfect for the students to join the tour.
“Dr. Smith was informed that the group wanted to tour the Dean Lee Research Station and Research Station, but this event was already scheduled so it worked out great for them to see various farming operations,” he said.
Will Tickner, a farm management major from Victoria, Australia, said he is in his third year and was glad to take the tour because the American farming operations were fascinating to him.
“It’s amazing to see that your farmers get so much rain compared to the 16 inches per year that we get,” he said. “We are not able to grow as many crops as you do here. Where I live, the major crops are wheat, barley and fava bean.”
Boo Harvey, a rural properties salesperson for CBRE Group, one of the trip sponsors, said this is the first trip to the U.S. for the college but hopefully not the last.
“In the past, we’ve had tours to New Zealand and to China, but we are hoping to make this an annual trip,” she said.
Smith said this field tour shows the cooperation that must exist between the LSU AgCenter, NRCS, Farm Service Agency and the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry to help the producers of the state.
The tour consisted of stops at five different farms to show the diversity of farming operations in the state, she said.
At the Wiley Ranch in Avoyelles Parish, the group was hosted by the father and son team of Kim and Erik Wiley, who, according to their website, began their Santa Gertrudis herd with the purchase of two heifers from Wendt Ranch in 2009. That hobby herd has now increased to 450 head and growing.
The group visited a soybean nematode trial where David Moseley, AgCenter soybean specialist, and Tristan Watson, AgCenter nematologist, discussed the damage caused by these pests.
He told the group that variety selection was a major factor in deciding which type of soybean seed to plant.
“Our studies show that yields can be increased by up to 15 bushels per acre by using nematode-resistant varieties,” Mosely said.
The stop that seemed to draw the most questions was at Ram Ram Hemp Farm in Bunkie.
Ramondo Ramos, one of the early adopters in the new hemp industry, said he started looking at the possibilities for the industry a few years ago and just decided to give it a try.
“I’ve been able to grow things all my life, so I decided to grow hemp and so far I have been doing OK,” he said.
Ramos said he processes his own CBD oil products, and he plans to expand his operations every year for the next few years.
“The biggest problem that I’ve had is making sure that the THC level in the plant stays below .3%,” he said. “Anything above that is considered marijuana, and I may have to destroy the entire crop.”
Lester Cannon, the interim coordinator of the Louisiana Department of Agriculture industrial hemp program and director of seed programs, said the industry is a little ahead of its time but is catching up fast.
The tour made a stop at the James Deshotel Sweet Potato Farm in Bunkie, where the group heard about the labor required on a sweet potato farm.
Deshotel, who farms 350 acres of sweet potatoes, said it takes 35 people working 10 months per year to keep the operation going.
“I have to hire H2A workers because it is difficult to find labor,” he said. “It takes 12,000 plants per acre, and each one is touched by hand twice.”
He said it takes two months to plant his crop, and 90 days later, he’s ready to harvest.
Deshotel said the parish once had more than 12,000 acres of sweet potatoes; now it’s down to about 600 acres.
Smith said sweet potatoes are the most economically important vegetable crop in Louisiana.
“With a little over 8,000 acres, we are fourth in production behind North Carolina, Mississippi and California,” she said.
Michael Salassi, AgCenter associate vice president and program leader for animal and plant sciences, said the tour is a great way for AgCenter agents and other ag agencies to get together to share information.
The tour is hosted annually in late summer, moving to different parishes in the Central Region.
The tour is hosted annually in late summer, moving to different parishes in the AgCenter's Central Region.
About 40 agriculture students from Marcus Oldham College in Australia were part of the annual Interagency Rolling Ag Field Tour in central Louisiana Aug. 10. Photo By Johnny Morgan/LSU AgCenter
LSU AgCenter agent Justin Dufour and Ramondo Ramos, the owner of Ram Ram Hemp Farm in Bunkie, discuss the growth of the hemp industry during the annual Interagency Rolling Ag Field Tour in central Louisiana Aug. 10. Photo By Johnny Morgan/LSU AgCenter
James Deshotel, right, is one of the last sweet potato farmers left in Bunkie. He explained the labor involved in producing a crop during the annual Interagency Rolling Ag Field Tour in central Louisiana Aug. 10. Photo By Johnny Morgan/LSU AgCenter