With a new year comes a time of remembrance and a hope for a better tomorrow. In this spirit, the family of Durwood Joseph Newton has set up an LSU AgCenter professorship in sugarcane variety development in his name to honor their beloved father and grandfather.
The Newton professorship was created to recognize the grit and dedication to family, community, farming and education that their five generations of farmers have experienced first-hand. Over the decades, Newton family members have worked closely with AgCenter researchers and are grateful for the exceptional scientists who strived to make a better life for rural America in the mid- to late 20th century.
Durwood Newton’s son, Carl, fondly recalled talking to his father about the research being conducted on their family farm in his younger days.
“I remember AgCenter scientists like Dale Newsom, the first department head for entomology in the ‘60s and early ‘70s, and Jerry Graves, who did research on my father’s farm and was integral to developing integrated pest management techniques,” Carl Newton said.
The Newton family moved to Bunkie in 1928, just before the Great Depression — “slugging it out” and trying to make a living, Newton said, just like most others in small rural communities at the time.
“My grandfather grew sugarcane and was paid $2 per ton,” Newton said. “He was paid in syrup during the Depression because there was just no money.”
His grandfather, Frederick Newton Jr., finished seventh grade before having to go to work. School was a luxury many people could not afford at the time.
“My siblings and I are very fortunate that we had parents and grandparents that were exceptional and taught us how to behave,” Carl Newton said. “They gave us a chance to be successful.”
Durwood Newton farmed sugar, cotton, grains and potatoes for 50 years. He went from using mules to plow fields to a more modernized approach thanks to the advent of the internal combustion engine.
“Cotton and sugar were the cash crops,” his son said. “Half your land was planted in corn for animal feed. Mules were the tractors of the day, and that’s what they ate.”
His father was also witness to his family farm getting electricity thanks to the Rural Electrification Administration initiated through President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal.
“It was a national program set up and funded with bonds to run electrical lines in rural areas,” Newton said. “When the government came in to put the lines through my grandfather’s property, he didn’t want money. He just asked them to hook his house up.”
Newton, who graduated from LSU in 1978 with a degree in agronomy, is finishing his 43rd year in farming with his younger brother and business partner, Mark, who also attended LSU before going to work on the family’s 500-acre farm. He says that none of his or his family’s success could’ve been possible without their relationship with the AgCenter and its scientists.
“Many outstanding researchers dedicated their lives to solving problems so that rural America has a chance to have a comfortable and sustainable lifestyle,” Carl Newton said. “Science to the everyday lives of the community is critically important. It was important 50 years ago and will be more important in the future.”
With regard to that future, Newton referred to a quote attributed to Mark Twain: “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.” He said people need to understand and respect history to gain insight into what comes next. He believes giving back to the institution that was integral to his family’s success is a duty that will benefit each generation to come.
“My father-in-law set an example for me,” Newton said. “He would often say, ‘It’s fun to make money, but it’s even more fun to give it away in areas you think will do the most good.’ ”
The Newton family has been a mainstay in the Louisiana farming community since the 1920s and have recently created the Durwood Joseph Newton professorship in sugarcane variety development in honor of their father. Pictured from left to right is Jeff, Carl and Mark Newton. Photo provided by Carl Newton
A Newton family photo, taken in 1988 to celebrate Bessie Bordelon Newton’s 90th birthday. Bessie and Frederick Newton Jr. were the parents of Durwood Newton, center, for whom a new professorship in sugarcane variety development is named. Photo provided by Carl Newton