Linda Benedict, Schultz, Bruce | 1/13/2010 2:38:56 AM
IOTA – Acadia Parish farmer Gerard Frey figures he has cut costs and increased production of crawfish by using push boats instead of mechanized watercraft to harvest his crop.
Among the reasons, he said, is that it’s inevitable a motorized boat will run over several traps during harvest, and those traps cost $7.35 each. Frey uses 7,500 traps on 350 acres.
“It got to the point I was replacing 20 percent of my traps a year,” he said.
A worker using a push boat wades in the water, and the boat is human-powered – which is slower but allows a harvester more time to place the trap in the water with no chance of it falling over. Frey believes his traps last longer that way, because they aren’t yanked out of the water from a moving boat.
Frey’s push boats have rods that serve as anchors to prevent the wind from blowing them off course when a worker stops to pick up a trap.
One of the main reasons he made the switch to push boats was to save his land, he said. The big motorized paddlewheel boats cut big ruts in the field, and the ruts get wider and deeper with each pass of the boats.
That disturbance creates expensive problems when it comes time to plant a rice crop, he said, explaining that the fields used for crawfish also are used to grow rice.
Even though the depressions from motorized boats were being backfilled, the soil doesn’t have time to compact, according to Frey, who said the result is a soft area where machinery can get stuck. “The land literally does not heal,” he said.
Frey keeps one hydraulic paddle wheeler that can be used to help catch up on orders, but he tries to keep its use to a minimum. He believes that the larger motorized boats kill crawfish as they drag the muddy bottom.
Ray McClain, an LSU AgCenter crawfish specialist at the Rice Research Station in Crowley, said no research has been conducted – although he said he’s confident crawfish are quick enough to avoid being run over by the slow-moving boats.
“One county agent, several years ago, got down on his hands and knees on several occasions and followed a wheeled push boat for a ways and could not find a single dead crawfish as a result of the boat,”
McClain said. McClain said push boats, which cost less but require more labor, traditionally have been used on small ponds.
(This article was published in the spring 2005 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)