LSU AgCenter scientists hope they will soon be able to make recommendations for farmers whose fields were hit with saltwater contamination from Hurricane Rita's storm surge.

“LSU AgCenter faculty are working diligently to answer the many questions the producers have relative to the soil and its suitability for production,” said Steve Linscombe, the LSU AgCenter's regional director for Southwest Louisiana.

Linscombe, who also is in charge of the LSU AgCenter's Rice Research Station, said extensive soil sampling results are being analyzed to determine what, if anything, should be done to fields.

“The work being done by the scientists at the station won't answer all the questions, but we'll have a better idea of where we stand,” he said.Research is being done in a greenhouse to determine how well rice will grow in different soils collected from seven locations in Vermilion Parish. Linscombe said those locations also will be re-tested throughout the winter.

In addition, two products are being tested for effectiveness at helping plants overcome high salt levels.

Linscombe said most of the research published so far about salt contamination deals with salt levels in irrigation water rather than the effects of a storm surge. He said officials at the LSU AgCenter want to make certain recommendations are sound.

“People would like to have answers today, but this is something we have to approach cautiously,” Linscombe said.

LSU AgCenter rice specialist Johnny Saichuk agreed, saying interpreting the results of research and soil testing so far has been a challenge.

According to Saichuk, experts think it's likely high levels of salt contamination will cause problems and that low concentrations will cause little to no damage.

“It's the gray area that will be the biggest problem figuring out,” Saichuk said.

Compounding that difficulty will be consideration of variables such as different soil types and the depth of saltwater penetration, Saichuk added.

“We don't have research for anything like this,” he said. “It's just not clear cut.”