Linda Benedict, Bogren, Richard C. | 6/13/2014 11:42:35 PM
In the mid-1980s, Pete deGravelles of the American Sugar Cane League approached Rouse Caffey, then chancellor of the LSU AgCenter, with the idea of an agricultural leadership program. By January 1988, Robert Soileau was hired as the first director, and the first two-year course with 32 participants began.
Since then, the program has graduated 13 classes and 371 new ag leaders. “They represent all parts of our state and numerous professions,” said current director Bobby Soileau, who is the son of the first director and took over the program in 2008.
The program includes seminars, tours, personal skills improvement and meetings with Louisiana business and government leaders. In addition, the program broadens the participants’ perspective with trips to Washington, D.C., California and an international tour.
When the first class was nearing the end, state budget cuts threatened to suspend the program.
“We were basically told the program was over by the administration,” said David Fields, a member of the first class. “But the entire class said that wasn’t going to happen. We raised enough money so another group could have a class.”
Since then, endowments and other private support have allowed the pro program to continue. Funds from the Chalkley Family Endowed Chair and the H. Rouse Caffey LSU Agricultural Leadership Program have provided financial stability.
Other support includes financial and in-kind contributions from the Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation, Louisiana Forestry Foundation, the American Sugar Cane League and the Agricultural Leaders of Louisiana, the alumni association for Ag Leadership.
“Those endowments have allowed us to keep the program fee at a lower level,” Soileau said.
Three other individuals have led the program – Jim Fowler, 1997-2000; Ken Roberts, 2000-2002; and Mike Futrell, 2002-2008.
Soileau said the program seeks to develop leaders as effective communicators who understand global opportunities and who strive to improve their enterprises and communities.
“I’ve had the pleasure of being in a number of leadership programs,” said Jim Simon, manager of the American Sugar Cane League and a graduate of Class VII. “The Agricultural Leadership Development Program is by far the most thorough and professional.”
Rick Bogren is a professor and science writer in LSU AgCenter Communications.
(This article was published in the spring 2014 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)