Two inducted into Louisiana Ag Hall of Distinction

Kenneth Gautreaux  |  3/26/2018 8:35:16 PM

(3/26/18) BATON ROUGE, La. — Margie Yates Jenkins and Pierre “Pete” Lanaux came from two different backgrounds, but they shared a common passion — a love for agriculture. Their passion and dedication to their livelihoods led to both being inducted into the Louisiana Agriculture Hall of Distinction on March 22 at the L’Auberge Hotel in Baton Rouge.

Jenkins was born in St. Tammany Parish in 1921 and grew up surrounded by agriculture. Large family gardens put food on the table, and her family also raised cotton, sugarcane and trees. This upbringing instilled an interest in plants that would soon become her career.

Lanaux grew up in New Orleans and attended Tulane University for a time, but it was the allure of growing sugarcane on family property straddling St. John the Baptist and St. Charles parish lines that drew him away from the bright lights of the city. He passed away in February at the age of 93, less than six weeks before his induction.

Jenkins’ first commercial venture into growing plants involved growing watermelons as a cash crop with her husband, Bryant. Their success with watermelons would be the seed that grew into a large, thriving nursery business that is still in operation after nearly 60 years.

“I guess I’ve always had that urge in me to grow,” Jenkins said. “And I’m sure I talked my husband into it. And we planted a little patch of watermelons, and they turned out pretty good. Watermelons would always give us that little fast crop that didn’t cost a lot to put in, and it would give us a chance to buy a piece of used equipment.”

Jenkins is well-known for her cultivation of native plants, especially azaleas. It was a horticulture class she took in her 50s that made her realize that growing plants from seedlings and cuttings was her calling.

“After I took that course, I knew without a doubt my love was for growing, and the part I liked the best was the propagation part of it,” Jenkins said. “Trying to root things and then selecting out seedlings that were superior was what I liked.”

Jenkins, 96, is still active with the nursery. She drives herself to work and makes daily tours of the nursery in her golf cart to see how the plants are doing. And she is willing to share her secrets of a long, happy life.

“The first thing is probably doing what you like to do. Then studying. I had to study a lot. And working. You gotta work. But really, when you are doing what you like to do, it’s not work. And you got to share.”

Lanaux raised about 1,000 acres of sugarcane for 73 years. When he first arrived on the farm, all of the field work was done by hand using mules.

“In those days, the mules and the horses knew when it came 12 o’clock,” Lanaux recalled in a 2012 interview. “Each mule knew their stall. If you bought a new mule, and he got in the wrong stall, you had a heck of a mule fight.”

Lanaux’s son, Peter, said his father was very dedicated to agriculture.

“I think what he found was his passion, and it wasn’t just a job,” Peter Lanaux said. “Farming became a passion of his, and he really enjoyed working out here in the fields.”

Throughout his career, Lanaux was willing to try new techniques and experiment with modern technology, including global positioning equipment and using his own iPad. He was also active in helping with research regarding the development of new sugarcane varieties.

“He liked the research of the secondary station,” said Will Bolton, farm manager for T. Lanaux & Sons. “He could get a jump-start on different varieties and see how they grew on his place because not every variety will grow on the same soil.”

Weather can play havoc on sugarcane. Freezes can ruin a crop, and hurricanes can bend and break cane, making the harvest a slow, tedious and more costly process.

“He would always come up here and stay through all the hurricanes, including Katrina,” Peter Lanaux said. “It made him nervous. As soon as he could, he was in the field checking out the crops, seeing what he had to deal with.”

Peter Lanaux said his father would be humbled by his induction to the hall.

“I think it is a great honor coming from the agricultural community that my father was dedicated to. He taught us the value of God, commitment to hard work and perseverance. We learned a lot from him by what he did,” he said.

Jenkins’ and Lanaux’s inductions bring the total number to 14 individuals who have been enshrined into the Louisiana Agriculture Hall of Distinction.

The hall is a collaborative effort between the LSU AgCenter, the Louisiana Radio Network, Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation and the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry. It recognizes individuals who have made significant contributions to agriculture and agriculture-related industries in Louisiana.

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The Louisiana Agriculture Hall of Distinction added two members during their induction ceremonies at the L’Auburge Hotel on March 22 in Baton Rouge. The two inductees were Margie Yates Jenkins, a nurserywoman from Amite, and Pierre “Pete” Lanaux, a sugarcane farmer from Edgard, who was inducted posthumously. Pictured from left to right are Jim Engster, of the Louisiana Radio Network; Bill Richardson, of the LSU AgCenter; Jenkins; Peter Lanaux, son of Pete Lanaux; commissioner of agriculture Mike Strain; Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser; and Jim Monroe, of the Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation. Photo by Frankie Gould/LSU AgCenter

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