Tara P. Smith
It all begins with a seed! Louisiana agriculture is deeply rooted in the history and development of the signature plant commodities featured in this issue. Higher yielding varieties with superior performance and quality attributes are foundational to successful farming operations. Regardless of crop, there exists a continuous need to increase yield and quality. This goes back more than 225 years to the birth of Louisiana’s oldest commodity — sugarcane. LSU AgCenter scientists have worked in concert with producers and industry leaders to address production and pest management constraints, with an overarching goal of increasing profitability and sustainability.
The AgCenter operates 15 research stations strategically located across the state, and variety development and breeding programs are a key focus of many of the units. Faculty located in several on-campus departments also direct and support breeding program research. The breeding programs are fully integrated with foundation seed programs for several crops, including rice, sugarcane and sweet potatoes.
AgCenter breeding programs are geared to meet the constant demand for higher yields, improved quality and better tools to manage insects, disease and weeds that negatively impact crop production. Pest management tools, such as herbicide-resistant rice varieties, help in managing weeds affecting rice while also improving sustainability and reducing water needs of the crop. Increasing tolerance or resistance to insect pests, including the Mexican rice borer and sweetpotato weevil, is a key component of effective and sustainable integrated pest management programs.
Foundation seed programs for rice, sugarcane and sweet potatoes are a lifeline to the respective industries they serve and form a bridge between researchers and producers. This system allows for rapid increase and dissemination of new varieties.
Variety testing is also conducted with producers on farms across Louisiana, which allows for evaluation across many soil types and differing environmental conditions. On-farm research and demonstrations facilitate communication and the advisory process, providing an opportunity for our scientists and extension agents to remain engaged with producers and aware of production and pest management constraints facing the various industries.
Collectively, the agronomic crops featured herein contribute more than $2.5 billion annually to the Louisiana economy. Industry funding from commodity boards and commissions, including the Louisiana Rice Research and Promotion Board, the American Sugar Cane League, the Louisiana Soybean and Grain Promotion Board, the Louisiana Cotton State Support Committee and the Louisiana Sweet Potato Commission, continues to fuel our research programs and contribute to variety development and improved best management practices for field crop production. Royalties associated with intellectual property developed by AgCenter scientists in the breeding program are significant and are directed back to support more research.
The importance of breeding and related foundation seed programs for Louisiana’s signature agronomic crops cannot be overstated. Many varieties have contributed to the continued success of these industries through the years. Over 65% of the Louisiana rice crop is planted in AgCenter-developed rice varieties, while 100% of the sweet potato acreage is devoted to AgCenter-developed varieties. Many varieties released over the years have truly revolutionized crop production systems, including LCP 85-384 sugarcane, Clearfield rice and the Beauregard sweet potato.
The articles in this issue highlight the history, focus and future of several of the LSU AgCenter breeding and foundation seed programs. The information underscores the contributions these respective programs have made and the commitment we have to working with our stakeholders and industry partners for sustainable production systems.
Tara P. Smith is director of the Central Region and the sweet potato extension specialist.
(This article appears in the spring 2021 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)
Tara P. Smith