From Lab to Field: LSU’s Ambitious Project to Create Climate-Resilient Rice Variety

LSU Mechanical Engineering Professor Manas Gartia, and the LSU AgCenter have recently been awarded a significant $10 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture sector. According to this news release from Louisiana State University’s College of Engineering, this grant will be used to fund their collaborative effort in designing a new variety of rice that can thrive in drought conditions. The need for such a development arises from the fact that rice is a crucial staple food for more than half of the global population, and as rice production continues to increase, so does the demand for water.

Rice cultivation, particularly the conventional season-long flood irrigation method, contributes to several environmental issues, including the depletion of underground water tables, increased salinity in groundwater, air and water pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions. Professor Gartia emphasized that despite a 39% increase in land-use efficiency and reductions in water and energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, and soil losses in U.S. rice production over the past four decades, there is still a need for more resource-efficient practices.

To address these concerns, the research team led by Professor Prasanta Subudhi from LSU’s AgCenter School of Plant, Environmental, and Soil Sciences will focus on two main hypotheses. The first hypothesis suggests that developing new rice varieties with better adaptation to climate variations, coupled with innovative crop management practices, can enhance the sustainability and profitability of rice production systems. The second hypothesis states that implementing educational and outreach extension programs will facilitate the adoption of a climate-resilient rice management system by current and future generations of rice growers in the Southern U.S.

Professor Gartia’s role in the project involves studying the phenotype and molecular changes in rice under various stresses, such as salt, drought, water, and heat. By identifying the genes responsible for the rice plant’s survival under drought conditions, the team aims to create a variety of rice with those specific traits. This will enable rice cultivation even in arid regions, reducing the reliance on water resources.

Gartia plans to utilize innovative metabolomic (NMR, LC-MS) and imaging (Raman microscopy) technologies to examine the leaf metabolic profiling in stress-tolerant plants. His objective is to establish a correlation between metabolite levels and stress tolerance in different rice genotypes under various stress conditions. By observing dynamic fluctuations in metabolite levels in real-time using Raman mapping, Gartia hopes to gain valuable insights into the stress response of rice plants.

Additionally, the team will employ techniques such as mass spectrometry imaging (MALDI) and mass spectrometry coupled with liquid chromatography (LC-MS) to analyze lipidomic profile changes in the leaves due to environmental stressors. These comprehensive methods will aid in characterizing the metabolomic profiles of rice lines exposed to drought and salinity stresses.

The outcome of this project will have significant implications for the rice industry, which is one of the largest sectors in both the United States and Louisiana. In 2022 alone, the U.S. produced over 150 million pounds of rice, solidifying its position as the world’s fifth-largest rice exporter. Louisiana, with its favorable warm climate, abundant water, and water-retaining clay soils, stands as the nation’s third-largest rice-producing state, trailing behind Arkansas and California.

This collaborative effort between LSU Mechanical Engineering Professor Manas Gartia and the LSU AgCenter has the potential to revolutionize rice production by creating a drought-resistant rice variety. By reducing the reliance on water resources and promoting more sustainable practices, this research aims to ensure a stable supply of rice for the ever-growing global population. In conclusion, the $10 million grant received by Professor Gartia and the LSU AgCenter will facilitate groundbreaking research in designing a new variety of rice that can withstand drought conditions. By combining innovative technologies and focusing on sustainability, this project has the potential to transform the rice industry, ensuring its resilience in the face of climate variability and environmental challenges.

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Louisiana Farm to School Program Provides Knowledge and Resources

A Louisiana Farm To School program from the LSU AgCenter has been promoting school gardening practices, gardening education, and local food procurement to Louisiana students and educators, and it’s set to expand its operations. According to this article from The Advocate. Since 2017, the program, Seeds to Success, which is funded by the United States Department of Agriculture through the Louisiana Department of Education, is set to provide expert training of agricultural literacy and knowledge to both students and teachers.

Today, 981 schools throughout Louisiana are participating in the Seeds to Success program, meaning that over a half a million students are being reached by the program and its benefits. In addition to this participation rate, nearly 70% of the participating schools are serving food that is locally or regionally sourced. Additionally, 52.9% of the schools are providing food, nutrition, or agricultural education to their students, and 36.5% of the schools have their own edible gardens on campus.

Crystal Besse is the Program Director of the farm to school program, Seeds to Success, and she describes one of the design aims of the program by saying, “Seeds to Success is designed to increase access to fresh, local foods while strengthening local communities and their economy.” Carl Motsenbocker is the program’s executive director, and when describing how the program is operating at this time of year, he said, “it’s like I’m busier than I’ve ever been. It’s like … isn’t it time to slow down a little bit? But there’s just so much work to do, and that’s been a great thing for us.”

Motsenbocker began the Seeds to Success program after years of recognizing that there was a growing need in the state for more widespread, healthy eating practices. Motsenbocker had also worked on a similar program at Slow Food Baton Rouge; the program involved school gardens growing seasonal produce. Slow Food Baton Rouge eventually led to the founding of Seeds to Success. In describing the origins of the idea, Motsenbocker said, “I started back in the 1990s doing service projects and putting in gardens at schools, working with kids growing food. I realized we needed to start younger, that we’ve got to get the kids when they’re little to eat better fruits and vegetables. They’re supposed to be eating five servings a day, but the average American eats barely one.”

At Seeds to Success, they boast of a plethora of programs, although it is worth mentioning the two main ones that have captured their current attention. It is impossible to overlook the Louisiana Harvest of the Month program, which meticulously showcases a myriad of Louisiana crops that can be locally and seasonally grown. The program is renowned for its superb high-quality videos that have been produced by the local PBS affiliate LPB. The videos cover a wide range of topics, from crawfish to rice, and ingeniously demonstrate the symbiotic relationship between the two crops. The program also offers a rich assortment of resources on how to grow and cook these crops to perfection. Another notable program that has taken center stage is Seeding LA, which was launched in 2021. During its inception, Seeding LA generously distributed more than 1,600 seed packets to various Louisiana schools, and in addition, over 1,000 seed starter kits were also distributed to deserving teachers.

At Seeds to Success, their farm to school endeavors are not solely concentrated on students. A significant portion of the program is geared towards farmers, with the aim of assisting them in expanding their reach and selling their products to a broader range of institutions, such as schools and hospitals. Through this program, not only does it promote healthy eating habits, but it also creates a substantial economic stimulus, making it a win-win for everyone involved. By providing the necessary resources and support, Seeds to Success helps farmers maximize their potential and develop sustainable business models, which in turn helps boost the local economy while providing nutritious food options to communities.

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Thibodaux John Deere Facility to Revitalize Cotton Harvesting

The John Deere manufacturing facility in Thibodaux, Louisiana is fixing to revolutionize its line of cotton-harvesting vehicles as well as train local high school students for future employment, as per this article from Houma Today.In April, the John Deere facility in Thibodaux will begin producing cotton pickers in order to revitalize its arsenal of cotton-harvesting vehicles. This effort will hopefully be able to circumvent and counteract what General Manager Mike Duplantis calls “stagnant technology.”  Mike Suplantis spoke to the South Central Industrial Association about the Thibodaux facility’s future plans by saying, “we’re replacing a design that is 30 years old. The product we’re going to be doing now is a clean sheet, redesigned, medium chassis cotton picker.”

The new cotton pickers have reportedly been completely redesigned from the ground up, and the current plans are to have them offered in two forms: balers and baskets. The baler will throw out harvested cotton in bales in a similar fashion to a hay baler, and the basket will be able to store cotton that has been harvested. As of March, the Thibodaux facility has already begun to create parts for the vehicles, and assembly is set to begin in April. The John Deere company is expecting production of the new cotton harvesters to reach full capacity by 2025.

In addition to the production of new cotton harvesters, the John Deere manufacturing facility in Thibodaux has also partnered with Fletcher Technical College and the Lafourche Career Magnet Center to begin working with two high school juniors as apprentices. The program aims to help these students to gain valuable work experience while they get their education. Interviews for these positions are expected to begin soon. Essentially, students who enter into the program will attend their high-school classes part-time in the mornings of their fall and spring semesters and work at John Deere in the evenings.

Duplantis commented on the benefits of the program by saying, “this is allowing us to teach such that these young individuals come out after their senior year and we know ’em, they know our processes, they know what we do. If we’re hiring, guess what? They’ll be making $50,000 to $60,000 a year.” Duplantis also told the South Central Industrial Association that the new cartoon harvester production will be creating between 50 and 100 new local production jobs as well as 10 to 12 engineering jobs.

Currently, the John Deere facility is housed in the former Cameco building, which is located along LA 3266. In 1998, John Deere, Inc. acquired the facility when they bought Cameco in order to become established in the sugar cane business. Since 2000, the Thibodaux site has been a design center for sugar harvesting and each-moving scraper equipment, and since 2015, it’s been a site and design center for Cane Harvesters.

Recently, the facility, which is 650,000 square feet, has seen a $29.8 million overhaul in preparation for its vehicle production. This overhaul created 70 new direct jobs with an average annual salary of $47,472, retained 311 existing jobs in Louisiana, which included 284 jobs at the Lafourche Parish facility, and the project also resulted in 110 new indirect jobs for a total of 180 jobs in the Bayou Region.

When the expansion was announced, Lafourche Parish President Archie Chaisson said, “John Deere’s expansion is a huge win for Lafourche Parish. The addition of new manufacturing lines to John Deere Thibodaux shows how productive and efficient this facility is, which is a testament to the local workforce and management. The Thibodaux facility’s successful competition for these new cotton harvesters shows just how competitive Lafourche Parish can be.”

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LSU AgCenter Received Grant for Sustainable Rice Research

It was recently announced via this news release from the LSU AgCenter, that one of their scientists has been awarded a $10 million grant from the United States Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture in order to improve the sustainability and profitability of rice farming. This will be accomplished through the LSU AgCenter scientists’s innovations in research that advance crops that are reportedly climate-resistant. The Louisiana State University Agricultural Center School School of Plant, Environmental and Soil Sciences received this $10 million grant as a part of a $70 million dollar investment from the United States Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture in order to establish robust, resilient, and climate-smart food and agricultural systems. As of the writing of this article, it is the largest grant for rice research that the LSU AgCenter has ever received.

William F. Tate IV, LSU President, commented on Louisiana State University’s Agricultural Center’s awarded grant by saying, “agricultural innovation remains paramount to the future of Louisiana. Securing federal funding for projects like this empowers LSU’s Scholarship First Agenda and enables us to further leverage our agricultural expertise.”

The need for Louisiana rice farming to become more sustainable and profitable is apparent as the state’s rice production currently contributes $550 million to Louisiana’s economy, and this amount is regularly affected by extreme weather patterns resulting from climate change. These extreme weather patterns pose significant challenges to enhancing rice production productivity, so this project is extremely vital, as its outcomes aim to assist southern rice growers to “make the right decisions at the right time to reduce yield losses, land use, water and energy consumption.”

Prasanta Subudhi is the lead investigator of the project and a crop geneticist in the LSU School of Plant, Environmental and Soil Sciences. Subudhi commented on how their project will affect the future of Louisiana rice production by saying, “we will equip the current and next generation of rice farmers, consultants and researchers with the necessary knowledge and skill set to embrace the new climate-smart agriculture technologies and production practices.”

Specifically, the project’s objectives are listed as aiming to “assess the socio-economic and environmental impacts of current crop management practices and identify barriers to adopting novel technologies and practices; develop novel genotypes with enhanced tolerance to biotic and abiotic stresses; develop and optimize environmentally friendly crop management practices; and implement a robust extension program to disseminate the concepts and benefits of sustainable farming technology.”

Reportedly, the project will use all knowledge gained through rice research to increase both the speed and accuracy of the identification of rice genotypes that have desirable combinations of genes for improved adaptation to a changing climate. Matt Lee, the Interim Vice President of Agriculture and Dean of the College of Agriculture, said, “with this project, the AgCenter is showing its commitment to promoting and disseminating sustainable farming practices and technologies and to training of the next generation of researchers and extension workers.”

This grant comes after last year, when the LSU AgCenter Rice Research Station in Crowley, Louisiana developed a new type of rice used to improve blood sugar levels. Additionally, a partnership with the Lafayette Parish Master Gardener Association, the Lafayette 4-H program, and the LSU AGCenter that incorporates gardens in schools saw students from five elementary schools — Alice Boucher, Charles Burke, Cathedral-Carmel, Green T. Lindon and Cpl. Michael Middlebrook — compete in the On Cuisine du Jardine, making complete nutritional meals using at least two ingredients grown in their school gardens. These two pieces of recent LSU AgCenter news coupled with this recent grant award, contribute to the Center’s impact on education, agriculture, and Louisiana as a whole.

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