Kenneth Gautreaux | 3/3/2007 1:21:18 AM
News Release Distributed 03/02/07
For more than 33 years, Vendal Fairchild has worked the fields of Northeast Louisiana – growing corn, soybeans and rice on nearly 2,500 acres.
His proficiency as an agricultural producer was rewarded Friday (March 2) when he was named the 2007 Louisiana Farmer of the Year.
"I was raised on a farm, and it was real exciting to drive tractors when I was a kid, to see crops grow and to watch the crop materialize through the year, and then be able to harvest. It’s something special," Fairchild said.
Fairchild was recognized for his accomplishments at the Louisiana Farmer of the Year Banquet held at Chef John Folse’s White Oak Plantation in Baton Rouge.
The annual banquet and awards program for the state’s farmers was sponsored by Louisiana Network Inc., the Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation, the LSU AgCenter and the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry.
Fairchild was one of three finalists for the Farmer of the Year title this year, and all were honored during the banquet. Other finalists recognized for their contributions to Louisiana agriculture were Richard Fontenot of Ville Platte and Fred Zaunbrecher of Duson.
Fairchild, who resides near Oak Grove in West Carroll Parish, knows one of the biggest hurdles facing agricultural producers is the uncertainty of the weather. To reduce his risk from drought, he has worked tirelessly to get his land irrigated.
"When we started farming in 1974, we had zero irrigation. In 2006, 99 percent was irrigated," Fairchild said. "Drought is so bad here. Its tough to watch those 50-bushel beans go to 10 bushels, and there was nothing I could do about it back then."
Fairchild is active in his community and was instrumental in the development of the Thomas Jason Lingo Center. It is the centerpiece of the Northeast Educational Development Foundation (NEED), which is working to provide economic opportunities for the region.
"A major goal of the NEED was the building of the Thomas Jason Lingo assembly center. It’s a big asset to the community. It gives us meeting places, houses the LSU AgCenter extension service and has a distance learning center," Fairchild explained.
Farming not only has provided Fairchild with a means to earn a living but has also provided an opportunity to spend time with those closest to him.
"I have had a real rewarding life, and I’ve enjoyed it," he said. "Farming does give me time to be with my family more. My wife works on the farm with me, and that’s real rewarding for her to be with me."
As for other finalists, Zaunbrecher is a fifth-generation farmer who raises crawfish, rice and soybeans in Acadia Parish. His love for agriculture also started very early in life.
"I started driving a tractor for my dad when I was nine years old. In fact, I have a picture of my first check – it was for $35, and I was pretty proud of it," Zaunbrecher said.
Zaunbrecher said he realizes the importance of conserving natural resources such as soil and water. To help accomplish these tasks, he has adopted several cultural practices to alleviate erosion and conserve water.
"We have precision-leveled our fields for the past 15 years, and that has reduced the amount of water used on our rice crop," Zaunbrecher said. "It also greatly reduces erosion when water is drained off the fields."
Rounding out the finalists, Fontenot raises crawfish, rice, soybeans, wheat and cattle in Evangeline Parish. He is a big proponent of technology and said he has seen the benefits technology offers his operation.
"Yield mapping all of my fields has given me a good picture of where some problems exist so that they can be addressed immediately," Fontenot said. "In addition, I have installed a parallel tracking system on my tractors to minimize overlap and reduce my fuel costs."
If Fontenot is not working in his fields, he is probably busy working a meeting room. He is a strong advocate for agriculture, and his reasoning goes back to his childhood.
"When I was a kid I always wanted to change the rules. Now that I’m an adult I still want to change the rules, but there is a protocol, and the only way to change those rules to benefit your operation or the community is to be a voice," Fontenot said.
As part of his rewards for being selected Farmer of the Year, Fairchild received $1000, as well as other prizes. The finalists, Zaunbrecher and Fontenot, each received $500.
Writer: Craig Gautreaux at (225) 578-5673 or firstname.lastname@example.org