3/17/2006 4:00:18 AM
Avoyelles Parish is known as the Cajun Crossroads and home to a diverse agricultural economy. It’s where you will find Larry Sayes doing what he does best – growing bumper crops of corn, cotton and soybeans on nearly 3,000 acres.
Sayes does it so well he was named the 2006 Louisiana Farmer of the Year.
"Ever since I was little, I loved agriculture," Sayes said. "I used to ride the cotton pickers when I was boy. I just find it fascinating to watch plants pop out of the ground and grow or to watch a field of cotton turn snow white in front of your eyes."
Sayes was recognized for his accomplishments at the Louisiana Farmer of the Year Banquet held Friday evening (March 17) at the Lod Cook Alumni Center in Baton Rouge. The annual banquet and awards program is sponsored by the Louisiana Agri-News Network, Dodge, First South Farm Credit, the LSU AgCenter and the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry.
This year’s Farmer of the Year was chosen from among three finalists for the award. Other finalists recognized for their contributions to Louisiana agriculture were Jeff Kleinpeter of Kleinpeter Dairy Farms in Pine Grove and Kent LeDoux, ranch manger for the Gray Ranch in Vinton.
The winner, Sayes, who resides in the community of Vick, knows the value of the fertile topsoil on his farm and takes steps to ensure it stays there.
"I’ve implemented a lot of conservation measures. We’ve done precision land grading and made the slope where water will run away from a lake that is in a big recreational area," Sayes explained, adding, "We’ve planted cover crops. We do a lot of minimum till and ridge-till systems."
Times have changed in agriculture since Sayes began farming 27 years ago. Today, herbicide-resistant varieties dominate his acreage.
Another technology he incorporates is the use of global positioning satellite (GPS) equipment. He says he believes this equipment provides useful information that eventually will improve his bottom line.
"We’ll be able to see trends in the field where yields are up and down and be able to address these problems," Sayes said. "We’ll be able to apply herbicides, insecticides and fertilizers at different rates throughout the field using GPS technology."
In late September, Hurricane Rita stormed through Louisiana – leaving a trail of destruction in its path. Even the far inland fields of Avoyelles Parish were not spared. Sayes’ extraordinary cotton crop turned into a simply average one overnight.
"Ten and a half to twelve inches of rain and some 85-mile-per-hour winds, and we had our cotton crop half picked when the storm came," Sayes said. "So we probably lost half of what we had left. We had a great crop of cotton before the storm came, so we averaged out OK.
"We’re not griping much, but we could have put some real money in our pockets if we could have harvested all of it," he said.
As for other finalists, Kleinpeter is a fourth-generation dairy farmer who oversees a dairy farm in the rolling hills of St. Helena Parish and a processing plant in Baton Rouge.
For years, Kleinpeter Dairy had milked Guernseys, but they did not adapt well to the new dairy facility, so Holsteins were brought into the operation. The Holsteins did better than the Guernseys, but Kleinpeter was still not satisfied. Now, he thinks he has found the solution with a third breed.
"The Holsteins did well, but we noticed that the butterfat and solids were not quite where we want them to be," Kleinpeter explained. "So we said let’s try Jerseys, and they have been a great addition to our farm. We’re now milking about 175 Jerseys a day."
Marketing is a strong component of the Kleinpeter formula for success. To determine what consumers wanted, Kleinpeter initiated a marketing research campaign, and the results were quite surprising.
"We discovered that our customers want growth-hormone-free milk, and we had been packaging growth-hormone-free milk, but we didn’t showcase it, and it was important to the consumer," Kleinpeter said. "We’ve begun advertising that we treat our cows with love, not rGBH, and we showcase that."
LeDoux oversees one of the largest cattle operations in the state in a place where one would not expect find it – the coastal marshes of extreme southern Louisiana.
"Obviously, the unique factor for ranching on the Gulf Coast or here at Gray Ranch is going to be the terrain," LeDoux said. "Being on the coast, we have to deal with marshes, not mountains and rock, but very muddy terrain, very marshy areas.
"One major factor for us is that we have a lot of water, but we don’t have a lot of fresh water because of the salt content in the water here on the ranch," he added.
Another integral part of the ranch is the American quarter horse. The horses are the vehicles that allow much of the ranch work to be performed. The ranch also markets quality animals for numerous uses, including rodeo events and ranch work or for the part-time cowboy.
"The blood lines that we raise here are predominately performance-oriented. They’re used in a lot of different disciplines and a lot of different events – roping, reining, cutting, a working cow horse," LeDoux said. "A lot of our customers are your weekend warrior cowboys who like to do ranch work, and our horses are certainly suited for that."
For being selected Farmer of the Year, Sayes receives $1,000, a one-year lease on a Dodge truck and a one-year lease on a farm tractor. The other two finalists, Kleinpeter and LeDoux, each receive $500.