Proposed highway would kill pecan research

The proposed route of Interstate 69, a new highway that will eventually connect Mexico and Canada, could have a devastating effect on Louisiana’s pecan industry, because it goes through the LSU AgCenter’s Pecan Research and Extension Station near Shreveport, La.

“We are the premier pecan research and extension center for this region,” said David Boethel, LSU AgCenter vice chancellor for research and director of the Louisiana Agricultural Experiment Station. “This route would result in closure of this facility — which contains research orchards, office buildings and greenhouses — and virtually eliminate the pecan research program.”

The proposal includes an interchange at the Pecan Station located south of Shreveport, just off of Louisiana Highway 1. The interstate branch would head east-northeast, crossing the Red River and U.S. 71 near Louisiana 527.

“We have been trying to inform pecan growers of this problem, and they have been very supportive of helping us get the route changed,” said Boethel, who in the late 1970s was a faculty member at the station.

“It would appear that there is ample room either north or south for the road to go through and not disturb the station,” said Ben Littlepage of Colfax, La., three-time president of the National Pecan Growers Association and current treasurer of the Pecan Producers of Louisiana. “Growers depend on recommendations from this station for efficient production of pecans.”

New pecan orchards take approximately 10 years to establish to the point where meaningful research can take place, Boethel said.

The Pecan Station is comprised of about 100 acres, with about half those acres maintained as research orchards.

“The life span of pecan orchards is measured in decades, and research orchards are generally replanted once in a lifetime,” Boethel said.

The station has been in continuous operation since 1930, first by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and since 1973, under the management of the LSU AgCenter. The station is the only land-grant university facility in the country devoted solely to pecan research and extension programming to support the pecan industry.

The research and extension activities conducted by the scientists at the station have made significant contributions to maintaining the sustainability and profitability of the industry, Boethel said. In 2006, the pecan industry contributed nearly $23 million to Louisiana’s economy. Pecans are grown in 39 Louisiana parishes and are commonly found in the homeowner landscape.

“If Interstate 69 maintains its proposed route through the research station, it will probably end a nationally recognized program that has been in existence for decades,” said Jere McBride, LSU AgCenter director for the Northwest Region and director of the Pecan Station.

McBride was honored at a recent pecan grower meeting at the station for his 34 years of support of the pecan industry. More than 100 people participated at the meeting June 21, including representatives from Mississippi, Texas, Oklahoma, Georgia and Alabama.

“The station gives pertinent information to not only Louisiana, but east Texas, Arkansas, and Mississippi,” said Lamar Jenkins, Southeast Pecan Growers president from Alligator, Miss.

“Destroying the station would be devastating. You can’t just plow land and start all over. My generation would never get any more good out of it,” Jenkins said.

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