Kenneth Gautreaux | 3/28/2005 11:39:44 PM
BATON ROUGE – Gerard Frey has lost crops to drought. He has lost money because of low commodity prices. He even lost both kidneys during one tumultuous harvest.
But Frey never lost his passion for farming, and his persistence was rewarded by being named the 2005 Louisiana Farmer of the Year during a banquet in Baton Rouge Friday (March 18) evening.
"The smell of the fresh-tilled ground – there is nothing like it. Then we look forward to the harvest and the first rice you cut, the smell of the straw. There is nothing like it. It’s reaping the benefits of the soil. It’s just an enjoyable way of life," Frey says of his farming experience.
Frey was recognized for his accomplishments at the Louisiana Farmer of the Year Banquet held at the Lod Cook Alumni Center in Baton Rouge.
The annual banquet is sponsored by the Louisiana Agri-News Network, All-Star Chevrolet, Louisiana John Deere Agricultural Dealers, the LSU AgCenter and the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry.
“We’re proud to be part of this program that focuses attention on agriculture,” LSU AgCenter Chancellor William B. “Bill” Richardson said. “All three of these farmers are winners. They represent excellence in Louisiana agriculture – success, efficiency, stewardship. And, best of all, they love what they do.”
Frey was chosen from three finalists for the award. The other finalists recognized for their contributions to Louisiana agriculture were New Iberia sugarcane farmer Ricky Gonsoulin and Donaldsonville sugarcane and beef cattle producer Warren Harang.
As for Frey, his G.A. Frey Farms, located near Iota in Acadia Parish, consists of 1,500 acres of rice, 600 acres of soybeans and 350 acres of crawfish ponds. Water is an essential element of his rice and crawfish operation, and concerns of depleting the local aquifer led Frey to adopt new cultural practices designed to reduce his water use.
"We looked at ourselves and what we were doing to preserve water. So many of us take water for granted, but now many of us have installed a new practice in our programs," Frey said. "We hold all of our winter water when possible. It saves us a flooding and then builds the water level up. It doesn’t take as much water to flood the next time."
Frey has faced many obstacles in his career. Low commodity prices, escalating input costs and weather-related disasters have hampered him, but the biggest challenge for Frey occurred in 2003 when he lost both of his kidneys. Yet, after receiving a kidney from his sister, Frey turned this setback into a positive experience.
"Disadvantages turn into advantages," he said. "My (farming) operation was growing tremendously. I had to become more of a manager anyway. So this gave me the opportunity."
Frey is accustomed to accomplishments. At 23, Frey was the youngest person elected to the Iota city council. At 27, he was the mayor.
Even before all that, he was a 17-year-old high school senior trying to secure his first farm loan. Now, after 26 years of farming, Frey still is enjoying every minute of it.
"If I leave the farm, I don’t have any more challenges. I don’t have anything to get up for tomorrow morning. This is what I love," he says.
As for other finalists, Gonsoulin is a third-generation sugarcane farmer who incorporates non-conventional techniques – and crops – into his operation.
For example, as part of the LSU Ag Leadership class, Gonsoulin started a no-till sugarcane project. While minimum-tillage techniques are common in other agronomic crops, it is an unorthodox approach in sugarcane. Yet the results have been positive.
"We’re seeing an increased yield by not disturbing the soil – keeping the soil intact," Gonsoulin said. "It’s all positive right now, and we’re going to continue to work on it. Hopefully in the near future it’s going to be part of a normal practice in sugarcane."
Last year Gonsoulin took unconventionality to a new level by growing a 20-acre experimental peanut crop. He was curious if peanuts could be grown commercially in South Louisiana and how they would serve as a rotational crop with his sugarcane.
"I was extremely impressed from a break-even standpoint, and it works well as a rotational crop," he said. "We can grow them in South Louisiana. Harvesting did present some problems with the clay in the soil, but any crop you grow presents some problems."
The other finalist, Harang, is a fifth-generation sugarcane farmer with a little cowboy mixed in for good measure.
Located in Ascension Parish, his B&W Farms raises sugarcane, and beef cattle and has a small stable of thoroughbred brood mares. Harang also uses a unique crop rotation that may be the only one of its kind in the United Sates.
"I rotate my sugarcane land with my cattle business," Harang explained. "As my sugarcane land becomes fallow, we plant winter rye grass. So I rotate the two, and it seems to work well for me. I don’t see many cane farmers or beef cattle people doing this, so I don’t know how it might work for someone else."
Harang feels that a strong agricultural sector leads to a strong country and that the American farmer is essential to ensuring the country has a safe food source.
"That’s the reason it costs a little more to produce these products, but we have a safe supply. My family consumes the same things that your family consumes, and I certainly want my family to be safe," Harang said.
For being selected Farmer of the Year, Frey receives $1,000, a one-year lease on a Chevrolet truck and a 150-hour lease on a John Deere tractor. For being named finalists, Gonsoulin and Harang each receive $500.
Writer: Craig Gautreaux at (225) 578-5673 or firstname.lastname@example.org