Berken tabbed as Rice Farmer of the Year

CROWLEY – Donald Berken of Welsh has been chosen as the Rice Farmer of the Year for the 2013 International Rice Festival slated for the weekend of October 18-20, 2013 in downtown Crowley as announced by Romona T. Credeur, festival president.

Donald has been farming rice and soybeans in Jeff Davis Parish for the past 40 years. He currently farms 450 acres of rice and 500 acres of soybeans.

Growing up on the family farm instilled the desire to pursue a degree in Agriculture and Business at McNeese State University after graduation from high school in 1969. He initially stayed on campus for several semesters but eventually commuted from home so he could help on the farm after school and on weekends and summer vacation. In the summer of 1972, he married his high school sweetheart, Charlotte Sonnier, and received his Bachelor of Science degree in December. The following year, he worked with his father and then rented a farm and started his own operation in 1974.

Through the years, Donald has grown rice, soybeans, wheat, milo, and crawfish, but currently raises rice and soybeans with the help of one full-time employee and occasional help from family members at harvest. When he started farming the traditional method of growing rice was working the ground under flooded conditions and then dropping the rice in the water by airplane. This was the most reliable method of controlling red rice but was hard on equipment and resulted in releasing silty water into public waterways.

When the Clearfield technology was released he quickly changed to dry tillage and now uses water tillage only as a last resort. Most of his rice is now broadcast dry and shallow incorporated into the soil. Donald also broadcasts his soybeans. This method works well on his silt loam soils, especially under adverse weather conditions, providing a better chance of obtaining a satisfactory stand.

Like most farmers, Donald has always been mindful of conserving the soil and improving the land. He has installed pipedrops at field drains and installed underground irrigation, where possible, to conserve water and fuel. Most of his ground has been laser leveled to conserve water use on rice and also provide better drainage for soybeans.

One of Donald’s life goals when he started farming was to one day farm his own land. That dream seemed elusive, especially during the farming recession in the 1980s. However, the opportunity came in 1998 and in 2001 when he was able to purchase two tracts of land totaling 200 acres that he had been farming. He still rents most of the land he farms but he feels that the satisfaction of owning some of it was worth the risk.

In the late ‘70s, Donald became involved with Farm Bureau, initially with the Young Farmers and Ranchers Committee, and then on the parish board, eventually serving 12 years as its president. This experience made him realize the importance of being involved with organizations addressing farm issues. He also realized that others before him had put in time and effort to make things better for agriculture and resolved to step up if opportunities arose.

He currently serves the farming industry in various capacities; the Jeff Davis Farm Bureau Board, Jeff Davis Rice Growers Board, the Rice Research Board, the Soybean, Wheat, and Feedgrains Board, the La. Agricultural Commodities Commission, the La. Farm Bureau Rice Advisory Committee, several committees with the USA Rice Federation, and the La. Soybean Association Board.

Donald is quick to acknowledge that the most important contributions he and his wife have made to society are their four children. Although they have chosen fields other than agriculture, their experiences growing up on the farm have provided them with a work ethic allowing them all to graduate from college and excel in their chosen fields. Patrick is manager of engineering for a water valve and hydrant company; Nick is a systems administrator for an oil field service company; Ashley is marketing manager for a national lubricants and fuel distributor; and Jennifer is completing her doctorate in biostatistics.

Their family has also expanded to include Patrick’s wife, Crystal, and their two children, Kayla and Preston; Nick’s wife, Maranda, and their two boys, Tucker and Cole, and Ashley’s husband, Dave Rickman.

Donald is humbled by his selection as Farmer of the Year. He knows there are a lot of good farmers in southwest Louisiana and considers it an honor and a privilege to represent the industry during this year’s Rice Festival.

Acadia Parish Today

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