Cattle and cane at the Iberia Research Station

V. Todd Miller

In the southern Louisiana parishes of St. Martin and Iberia, the landscape is dominated by acres and acres of cane fields interspersed with herds of cattle grazing in nearby pastures.

Both commodities are crucial to Louisiana agriculture. The Iberia Research Station, created to benefit producers in this region, provides farmers and ranchers with the knowledge they need for success.

Nearly 100 years ago, the Iberia Research Station was one of the stations where breeders developed the Brangus, a composite between Angus and Brahman that is adapted to the heat and humidity of the South and resistant to parasites.

“Today, we have a small herd of about 50 Brangus females that we keep year-round,” said Guillermo Scaglia, LSU AgCenter ruminant nutrition and forage systems researcher. “I’ve been doing a few different types of studies on winter pastures, from December to May. Research with summer perennials and annuals were also conducted as part of the development of systems for grass-fed beef production.”

Scaglia came to the station, near Jeanerette at the end of 2007 to work in grass-fed beef finishing systems; grazing management; plant-animal interface, which includes grazing behavior, supplementation strategies and dry matter intake; and forage systems for different classes of cattle. He has developed forage systems for year-round, grass-fed beef production and evaluated different breed types for the same purpose. Among these breed types, he conducted research on Holsteins, a traditional milk-producing breed; Brangus; Angus; and Pineywoods, which is a heritage breed that is well adapted to the Gulf Coast.

Scaglia and his colleagues were able to secure nearly $1.5 million in federal funding for this research. He’s currently concluding a five-year project on not only production but also marketing opportunities for grass-fed beef. He has been able to work with producers that have supported his research program and helped developed this niche market.

Cows are kept in the herd as long as they are productive, usually for 10 to 12 years, the oldest currently being 13 years of age. New animals enter the herd every year and old animals are removed. Right now, the station has around 100 acres of mixed summer pastures for grazing, as well as hay meadows, which can be used for grazing if needed.

“Usually, when feeding hay, we use supplements, so that the nutrient requirements of replacement heifers and cows are met,” Scaglia said. “Same for stockers, which are animals between seven to 10 months old that have already been weaned. Those have a high demand for nutrients, so supplementation can allow them to gain according to their genetic potential.”

The research station works together with beef cattle producers and holds an annual field day every March where research data are presented and extension specialists, agents and weed control experts are brought in to speak directly to the producers.

Issues cattle producers may include evaluation of different supplements for young cattle. For example, corn gluten feed and soybean hulls, which are supplement byproducts of different industries, can be used for feeding cattle. Producers are interested in their cost, the response in terms of weight gains and the effect on the farm’s profitability. At field days, they have also addressed health topics, such as vaccinations and deworming, where an extension veterinarian attends the field day to present these topics to producers and explain their best options.

“We do a tour around the station with three or four stops where we do the different presentations,” Scaglia said. “We average about 90 to 130 people every year. We have a lot of producers who are part of our community, and we listen to their needs.”

As the AgCenter Southwest Region director and acting resident coordinator, Scaglia’s colleague Kurt Guidry wears a few hats, but his overarching duty is to keep things running smoothly for farmers in the region, one that is vital to the state’s sugarcane industry.

“This area is important for cane production, so the station plays a major role in providing information for sugarcane producers,” Guidry said.

One long-term study was begun by the now-retired AgCenter agronomist Sonny Viator on the effects of combine harvest residue retention in sugarcane. Treating stubble and trash left after harvest — choosing whether to sweep it, burn it or leave it — has an impact on soil quality. After Viator retired, the station has worked with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Agricultural Research Service in Houma to continue the study and provide data analysis.

According to Guidry, until a few years ago, Iberia was the largest sugarcane producing parish in the state and was recently surpassed by Point Coupee. Assuring varieties work for producers in the region is a critical component of the station’s sugarcane breeding program. The heavier clay soil at the station makes the work more difficult because when the weather is dry the soil is much harder. But when oversaturated, it becomes quite sticky.

“We have a different environment here in terms of soil conditions and growing than other area of the state,” Guidry said. “So, if a variety can make it here, it can pretty much make it anywhere.”

V. Todd Miller is an assistant communications specialist, LSU AgCenter Communications and assistant editor of Louisiana Agriculture.

(This article appears in the fall 2021 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)

Alt text: a view of the4 front of the Iberia Research Station

The Iberia Research Station addresses the needs of the sugarcane and cattle farmers in southwest Louisiana. Photo by V. Todd Miller

Alt text: an outdoor class for cattle producers at the Iberia Research Station

Stan Dutile, LSU AgCenter county agent in Lafayette Parish, makes a presentation during the Acadiana Cattle Producers and AgCenter Iberia Research Station field day in March of 2017 on ways to reduce weight loss, or shrink, in cattle that are being weaned or transported. Photo by Bruce Schultz

11/24/2021 3:29:31 PM
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