Clarence Berken chosen as Farmer of the Year

Clarence Berken of Lake Arthur, has been chosen as Farmer of the Year for the 2009 International Rice Festival slated for weekend of October 15-17, 2009, as announced by Janet R. Hebert, president.

Clarence Berken, farms in a partnership with his brother, Stephen,

in Thornwell, Louisiana.  He began farming in 1973 after graduating from the University of Southwest Louisiana in agricultural engineering and formed the partnership in 1974.  It is this partnership and working relationship that has allowed him the freedom to become involved in off-farm activities related to the rice industry.  They plant approximately 2,150 acres of rice, 1,100 acres of soybeans, and 300 acres of winter wheat.

Clarence grew up in a farming family.  He was accustomed to water leveling that was introduced in the 1960s to improve rice production and red rice control.  In the late 1980s, he began using the method of grooving to prepare a seed bed and then used Ordram herbicide for red rice control and plant in clear water as opposed to water leveling.  Today, Clarence practices a combination of fall stale seed bed, true no-till rice behind soybeans, grooving, and conventional pin-point flooding as well as Clearfield cultural practices on all of his rice acreage.  All of these planting methods help in controlling red rice, which can have a major impact on yield and quality, and addresses water quality issues related to rice production.  One of the biggest improvements Clarence has made is the practice of laser leveling.  Approximately three-fourths of the land he farms has been lasered.  This one practice has been especially productive in recent years with the increase in fuel prices.  Laser leveling has reduced water usage, improved red rice control, and improved yields because of better water management.

In addition to perfecting his farming methods, Clarence is an active participant in numerous committees and organizations in the agricultural community.  He just completed his term as Chairman of the USA Rice Council.  He also serves on the USA Rice Federation Board of Directors and the Louisiana Rice Growers Board of Directors.  Clarence is Vice Chairman of the Louisiana Rice Council and Vice Chairman of the Louisiana Rice Research Board.  He is also chairman of the Imported Rice Task Force which has just released a “Grown in the USA” logo to be used on all packages of domestically produced rice.  He was an integral part of the LA Rice Grower initiative that changed the national crop insurance regulations to include saltwater intrusion as a covered peril.  This change yielded huge dividends and saved many farmers in the aftermath of our three recent hurricanes.  As a very active member in the Jeff Davis Rice Growers Association, Clarence initiated an effort to increase the use of rice in the Louisiana School Lunch Program.  By working with area legislators, this was accomplished in 2002.  

Most importantly, farming has been all about family.  To Clarence, the most rewarding part of his occupation was having the flexibility to spend time with his family.  “When the kids were small, I could always run by the house and take them out to the field or into town, I remember my oldest son learning his ABCs while riding in the combine with me.  Even today, they all enjoy spending time with me on the farm.”  Clarence is married to Karen Berry and they are the parents of three children- Erik, 30; Erin, 25, and husband Brady Williams; and David 23.

View the Rice Festival's website for more information on the festival activities at www.ricefestival.com.

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