The Louisiana Rice Research Board has given $1 million to fund an academic chair dedicated for rice research in the LSU AgCenter.
The presentation was made on Jan. 9 at the annual joint meeting of the Louisiana Rice Council and the Louisiana Rice Growers Association.
The board has pledged to provide an additional $500,000 later this year for the Louisiana Rice Research Board Chair for Excellence in Rice Research with the hope of more allocations in the next few years to growing the chair over time.
The money is coming from funds obtained through the Colombian Free Trade Agreement. Interest from the funds is dedicated solely for research purposes.
Board chairman Richard Fontenot said planning for the chair began in 2015.
“The research that has come out of the LSU AgCenter over the years has certainly helped the Louisiana rice industry, but it has also supported and fed the world,” Fontenot said. “This endowment has been in the works for a long time, and now that it is official, I feel good knowing the rice industry will continue to benefit from world-class research that will come out of LSU thanks to this strengthened research program.”
Rogers Leonard, LSU AgCenter associate vice president, said the chair will provide a reliable funding source for research.
“This perpetual funding source will help make sure that the LSU AgCenter’s world-class rice research will continue uninterrupted,” Leonard said.
Also at the meeting, Gov. John Bel Edwards addressed the gathering of about 250 people. The governor said funding for higher education in Louisiana has been stabilized. “That’s the first time that’s happened in a decade,” he said.
Edwards said he recognizes that tuition increases have not provided any additional funding for the LSU and Southern University ag centers.
“I’m so thankful for the work the ag centers have been doing for the state,” he said.
The governor said he has voiced farmers’ concerns about the trade war’s effects, and he has urged President Donald Trump to resolve trade issues quickly.
Betsy Ward, USA Rice president, said sales of U.S. rice to China appear likely after more than a decade of work, although currently a 25 percent tariff would be imposed.
Trade officials from both countries recently met. “They are very optimistic that this is the real deal. This is one time that there’s a brand new market for U.S. rice,” Ward said.
Sarah Moran, USA Rice vice president for international promotions, said the free trade agreement with Colombia that provided funding for the AgCenter rice research chair has resulted in a total of $9 million for Louisiana rice research, and all of it must be used for research.
But, she said, by 2022, half of the funds raised under the agreement will have to be split between rice promotion and research.
Mike Strain, commissioner of the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, said a project is about to start to dredge the Mississippi River to provide an additional 5 feet of depth to accommodate larger ships. Many of those vessels will be hauling grain for the export market, he said.
Currently, 60 percent of U.S. grain exports rely on the Mississippi River, and the dredging project will increase that to 70 percent, he said.
Strain said he hopes to show U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue the need for expanded poultry cold storage at the Port of New Orleans when Perdue and Trump are in New Orleans for the American Farm Bureau Federation Convention on Jan. 14.