LSU vice president Matt Lee said agricultural research and education is entering a new era in Louisiana — one he hopes will be marked by unprecedented scientific innovation and a recommitment to helping the people of the state live better lives.
Lee, the newly-appointed VP for agriculture and dean of the College of Agriculture, spoke at the LSU Sugarcane Research Station in St. Gabriel on July 19 and the LSU AgCenter Hammond Research Station on July 21. He moved into the roles in an interim capacity in August 2022 and was named to the positions permanently in April 2023.
By Olivia McClure, LSU AgCenter
“We had a very well-attended field day to discuss state-of-the-art horticulture practices,” he said at the Hammond meeting
Attendees got a chance to tour the station’s colorful trial gardens, where scientists evaluate hundreds of new plants every year to find out which ones perform best in Louisiana conditions. They also heard about research on best management practices aimed at helping those in the nursery and landscape industries stay profitable.
Lee said the station was an appropriate place to give his address, noting the outsize impact the AgCenter has on the agricultural world.
“We are a statewide enterprise affecting national and international agriculture practices,” he said.
The AgCenter and College of Agriculture are coming off a banner year that saw several major accomplishments.
Faculty brought in more $46 million in grant funding, exceeding a previous average of about $30 million annually.
“This is unheard of throughout the country,” he said. “This is an extraordinary achievement.”
Researchers and extension personnel are using the grant money for important work, including projects looking at growing rice more sustainably, forestland restoration and promoting healthful behaviors.
The state Legislature also made a “generous investment” in LSU agriculture programs, Lee said, pointing to a 5.5% increase in the general fund budget, $11 million in one-time funding for new equipment at research stations as well as millions allocated for facility repairs and construction.
“This infusion of new support will be catalytic for us,” he said.
Fundraising efforts also are going well, increasing to $4.5 million in the past year. Donors have provided funding for scholarships and research in key areas such as sugarcane production and precision agriculture.
The Louisiana 4-H shooting sports program recently won its third national championship in the past four years, and the College of Agriculture graduated is largest, most diverse class ever.
But more can — and must — be done, Lee said.
“We are a public organization,” he said. “We serve the state. We serve the citizens of Louisiana. We owe it to them to be the very best we can be.”
He laid out a series of goals for the next year. First, he said, the AgCenter must bring in more grant funding to support innovation and to enhance outreach programs.
Grants also influence the AgCenter’s position in national rankings, something Lee hopes to boost. With $97.5 million currently spent annually on research, the AgCenter is No. 19 out of more than 300 institutions of higher education for agriculture and natural resources research expenditures.
If that number can increase to $100 million or $120 million, “we’re going to be in the top 10. This is imminently achievable,” Lee said.
He also wants to escalate fundraising efforts, setting a goal of bringing in $10 million annually.
College of Agriculture enrollment also must increase, he said.
“We need to recruit more Louisiana students into our college to provide them the tools to go back and contribute to the socioeconomic vitality of their local communities,” he said.
Lee described his first year on the job as “inspiring.” He said he has enjoyed working with AgCenter and College of Agriculture employees as well as meeting stakeholders and clientele around Louisiana.
“The AgCenter and the College of Agriculture are incredible organizations, and you are the resource that makes them so special,” he told employees.
He said he’s proud of the achievements he has witnessed in the past year and is looking forward to more.
“We’re winning for Louisiana,” he said.