V. Todd Miller
Built in a bend of the Mississippi River, St. Joseph, Louisiana, is remote by nearly any standard.
You have to travel 40 miles in any direction to get what is considered even common small-town amenities.
Sitting on approximately 420 acres in St. Joseph, or St. Joe, as it is commonly referred to, is the LSU AgCenter Northeast Research Station, serving the Tensas Parish town, but also so many more.
According to AgCenter weed management expert Donnie Miller, a 25-year veteran of the station, the community means as much to the station as the station does to the community.
“High school kids have worked here at the station. It provides a good employment source for them in a small community like St. Joe,” Miller said. “Outside of agriculture, law enforcement, government and banking, employment opportunities are scarce for summer student-type employment. It’s not like there’s a Wal-Mart or Sonic kids can go to work at. A lot come to work here at the station in the summer, and they are greatly valued for playing a large part in our program, producing the volume of data we need.”
The total economic contribution of crops researched at the Northeast Research Station to the state was more than $1.5 billion in 2018, according to the Louisiana Agriculture Summary. The station can test various herbicides, insecticides and fungicides in small sections before producers commit to using them on potentially thousands of acres of their own crops.
“What our core objective is to try to get a hold of products in early development stages,” Miller said. “We can test them on a 13-by-40-foot section, replicating scientific methods and see what producers can truly expect on their farms because we have the soils here that they have.”
The station works hand-in-hand with area producers, according to Miller. He calls the station, along with parish extension offices, the face of the AgCenter and LSU in the area.
“You may have a farmer out here who has never stepped foot on the main campus in Baton Rouge, so this is LSU to them,” Miller said. “There’s a pride thing in that it’s being done in their backyard. You’re part of the community.”
Working alongside Miller is Dennis Burns, the Tensas Parish extension agent and research coordinator for the Northeast Research Station, who has been a resident of the area for 42 years. He echoes the sentiments of Miller, saying that the station is crucial to the Delta parishes of Catahoula, Concordia, East Carroll, Madison and Tensas. Burns conducts agronomic soil testing on cotton, corn, soybeans, row rice, grain sorghum and wheat at the station.
The Delta’s soil types range from sandy silt loam to heavy clay. Variety trials are conducted on both types, according to Burns. Soybeans, cotton and corn are done on both soils, while grain sorghum and rice are done on clay.
“We have producers who farm both clay and silt loam, so we try to balance it out,” Burns said. “They come here with questions, look at plots and see what we’re doing, and what they can change if they’re having a problem on their land.”
Regardless of the size of a community, technology can be a great equalizer. Burns is conducting irrigation trials where he is able to water four fields remotely from his iPad.
“I watered them the other night from my house,” Burns said. “I look at the sensors every day or can get alerts. The producers look at them all the time as well.”
Because the area is so rural, Burns says the research station is the hub of agricultural knowledge for farmers.
“We are an unbiased source of information and that’s what we’re here for,” Burns said. “We’re not trying to sell anyone anything.”
V. Todd Miller is an assistant communications specialist and assistant editor of Louisiana Agriculture.
(This article appears in the fall 2021 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)
LSU AgCenter agronomist Syam Dodla, center right, tells attendees at a Northeast Research Station field day in June 2017 about a test plot of cover crops. Photo by Olivia McClure
The total economic contribution of crops researched at the Northeast Research Station to the state was more than $1.5 billion in 2018, according to the Louisiana Agriculture Summary. Photo by Craig Gautreaux