Oak Grove farmer named 2009 ‘Farmer of the Year’

Fred Bolding has spent nearly his entire adult life farming the fertile bottom lands and ridges in West Carroll Parish. And he does it quite well.

So well, in fact, he was named the 2009 Louisiana Farmer of the Year.

Bolding farms 1,500 acres just outside the town of Oak Grove. His primary crop is soybeans, but he also grows milo and wheat. When Bolding started his farming operation more than 40 years ago, he focused his efforts on soybeans which went against the advice of his county agent.

“I decided early on I didn’t want to be a cotton farmer, didn’t want to be rice farmer, I wanted to be a soybean farmer,” Bolding said. “My county agent said I couldn’t make a living just growing soybeans. I had to grow cotton or rice to make a living on. I told him, ‘I’m going to show you. I’m growing soybeans as a first hand crop, and I’m going to be successful at it.’”

Bolding was one of four finalists recognized for their accomplishments at the Louisiana Farmer of the Year Banquet held at Chef John Folse’s White Oak Plantation in Baton Rouge.

The annual banquet is sponsored by Louisiana Agri-News Network Inc., the Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation, the LSU AgCenter and the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry. Other finalists recognized were Mike Smith of Winnfield and Angie and Scott Tyler of Dubach.

Bolding planted his first crop in 1966. Through his experience, he has learned that a good crop rotation can yield big dividends to his bottom line. By rotating milo with his soybeans, he has reduced the effect of diseases and pests on his crop.

“We plant milo on 200 or 300 hundred acres every year to get rid of the nematodes and diseases in the soybeans to keep our yields up,” Bolding said. “When I switch fields the first year after milo, I’ve seen a 10-bushel increase almost every year.”

Bolding, 74, is showing no signs of slowing down. He farms alongside his son, Roger, and one day plans to turn the operation over to his son. But right now, he is having too much fun, and he still finds the daily challenges of farming invigorating

“I love it. It’s in my blood,” Bolding said. “At my age, if you don’t stay active, you are going to go downhill fast. In fact, my son tells me that’s what keeps me alive. I’ve got something to do and think about everyday.”

The town of Oak Grove is becoming the focal point of farming in Louisiana. Bolding is the third farmer from the area to be selected Farmer of the Year.. Previous winners were Ralph Oldham and Vendal Fairchild.

Smith farms nearly 2,200 acres in Winn and Natchitoches parishes. His two primary agricultural interests are a registered Hereford cattle business and the management of nearly 800 acres of forestland. He also is involved with a car dealership in the town of Winnfield.

“I guess as long as we’re living, we’re going to have an old cow out there to look at, a tree to go out and sit under. I fell truly blessed to grow up in this area. It’s been a great opportunity for me,” Smith said.

As a way to give back to a community that provided him with so much, Smith was elected state senator for 12 years. Even though he was involved in politics and is still engaged with his car dealership, Smith is a farmer at heart.

“I love to fool with cattle, and I love forestry. I’m really a conservationist at heart, and I think any farmer is,” Smith said. “You love the soil, and you love the land. There’s nothing prettier than a young growth of first-thinned pine, and there’s nothing prettier than a baby calf.”

Angie and Scott Tyler have been involved in the poultry business for 18 years, the last 10 in Louisiana. For more than nine weeks, the Tylers are the sole caretakers of nearly 150,000 baby chicks. And after those chicks grow up and leave the “nest,” what happens with the Tylers? They become parents again, and the process is repeated again and again.

“As long as we can manage it ourselves, that’s the way it’s going to be. Now there are times it works on us, no doubt about it. There are times we wish we could have help. But this seems to work well for us,” Scott Tyler said.

The Tylers produce nearly six million pounds of poultry per year and their own diesel fuel for use in their farm equipment. One of the keys in making this husband-and-wife operation a success is the same component that makes their marriage work.

“Yes it’s hard work. Marriage is hard work. So when we’re together as much as we are, we have to communicate. You can’t read each others’ minds. We have to communicate with each other.” Angie Tyler said.

For being selected Farmer of the Year, Bolding receives $1,000. For being named finalists, Smith and the Tylers receive $500.

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