Sunday, September 19, 2021

California Rice Experiment Station taps LSU’s Dustin Harrell as new director

• By Vicky Boyd,
Editor •

Dustin Harrell, LSU AgCenter rice specialist
Dr. Dustin Harrell

The California Cooperative Rice Research Foundation has tapped Dr. Dustin Harrell as its new director of the Rice Experiment Station near Biggs, California.

“We couldn’t be more excited,” said Glenn rice grower and foundation chairman Gary Enos. “His experience as a rice agronomist and just being director of the LSU research station speaks very well of him.”

Harrell spent 15 years at the Louisiana State University AgCenter’s H. Rouse Caffey Rice Research and Experiment Station in Crowley, most recently as professor and resident coordinator. Prior to that, he was the AgCenter state rice Extension specialist and research agronomist for more than six years.

Harrell said one of the things that attracted him to the Rice Experiment Station position was an opportunity to work directly with rice growers.

“The system in that state is a little bit different,” he said. “The station is run by the California Cooperative Rice Research Foundation board composed of 11 rice growers, so I get to work directly with them. And that’s a lot different system than we have here in Louisiana — we work for the Rice Research Board but we work for the university as well.”

The Roxy attraction

Another aspect that interested Harrell was the herbicide-tolerant Roxy Rice Production System being developed by the Rice Experiment Station.

Researchers at the station identified a gene in 2014 that imparts tolerance to oxyfluorfen herbicide and are developing varieties containing the trait. Ankeny, Iowa-based Albaugh, which markets post-patent crop protection materials, is partnering with the foundation to develop proprietary oxyfluorfen formulations — ALB2023 and ALB2024.

The Rice Research Foundation, which owns the trait, and Albaugh hope to launch the Roxy system commercially for the 2023 season.

“When I started my career at LSU, it was just in the very beginning of the commercial release of Clearfield rice,” Harrell said. “That’s when the rice industry down here moved from water seeding to drill seeding, and there were lots of questions about the management practices of Clearfield rice.

“I get to be in front of Roxy rice and see the first herbicide-tolerant rice for California.”

Kent McKenzie stepped up

Enos also praised Dr. Kent McKenzie, who retired as Rice Experiment Station director earlier this year, for filling in until the foundation board could find a new director.

“He stepped up as interim director for the summer, and we couldn’t have done it without him,” Enos said. “I feel very pleased that he would come back. He can hand off now to Dustin.”

Harrell’s agronomy background is not an anomaly for a Rice Experiment Station director, Enos said. Dr. Marlin Brandon, who headed the station for 15 years before passing away in 2000, also was an agronomist.

After receiving a doctorate in soil science from the University of California, Davis, Brandon spent six years at the LSU AgCenter before returning to California in 1985.

McKenzie also received a doctorate from UC Davis although his field of study was genetics. He spent eight years as a rice breeder at the LSU AgCenter before returning to California in 1988. McKenzie was named Rice Experiment Station director in 2000, becoming the only rice breeder to lead the station in recent memory.

Harrell said finding suitable housing in the Chico area for him and his family will dictate his start date, but he hoped to be at the Rice Experiment Station no later than November.

The Rice Research Foundation is an entirely grower-owned non-profit entity that operates the 109-year-old Rice Experiment Station. Supported by grower check-off funds and to a lesser extent, the sale of foundation seed, the station’s main focus is to develop high-yielding improved rice varieties for California producers.

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