Ville Platte man named 2008 Louisiana Farmer of the Year

Editor’s Note: This story is compliments of the LSU AgCenter. Writer is Craig Gautreaux.

BATON ROUGE - Richard Fontenot can’t sit still for very long. With more than 2,500 acres to farm, he can’t afford to. But his efforts and contributions to Louisiana agriculture led to Fontenot being named the 2008 Louisiana Farmer of the Year.

“Agriculture provides opportunities and lifestyles second to none in my opinion,” Fontenot said. “In addition to that it also allows me the opportunity to work with my family on a daily basis.”

Fontenot was one of three finalists recognized for their accomplishments at the Louisiana Farmer of the Year Banquet held Friday night (March 7) at Chef John Folse’s White Oak Plantation in Baton Rouge. The annual banquet is sponsored by Louisiana Network Inc., the Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation, the LSU AgCenter and the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry.

Other finalists recognized were Tommy LaBorde of Hamburg and Eric Morrow of Ponchatoula.

Fontenot, who resides just outside of Ville Platte, is a fifth-generation farmer. He has a diverse operation that includes rice, soybeans, wheat, crawfish, cattle, hay and a land-leveling business. He says with today’s volatile markets it is important to spread your risks and plan for the future.

“When we look at crop rotations and crop decisions we try to look at a three-year plan. If you chase the markets, you’ll get into trouble,” Fontenot said. “You have to find something that works on your ground, in your rotations, and not just for this year. You have to look two or three years down the road.”

Fontenot said farming allows him to combine the two elements that are most important to him, family and agriculture. He works alongside his father Brian Fontenot and is looking forward to the day his son Lance Fontenot will have the opportunity to farm with him.

“A lot of times people ask me why I farm, and I ask why not? Agriculture provides the food, fiber and fuel for the world today,” Fontenot said. “If you can do what you love and you can raise a family while doing it, why not?”

Turning to the other finalists, LaBorde farms nearly 4,200 acres in Avoyelles Parish. He produces cotton, corn, milo, soybeans and wheat. He also manages a herd of more than 700 cattle, and he has implemented a variety of conservation practices to protect the environment.

“We’ve gone to different cultural practices over the years, which helped ensure we are using less insecticides through Bt varieties, and we are using more efficient practices to stop soil erosion and runoff,” LaBorde said.

LaBorde says the development of new varieties that are resistant to the herbicide glyphosate has changed the landscape of agriculture. And while farming may not be as pretty as it once was, it is more efficient, according to LaBorde.

“We use to plow everything like a garden, probably running five to six passes before planting. Roundup may make you ‘farm ugly,’ but we have found that we can produce just as well with that and have less erosion problems. It also reduces wear and tear on equipment,” LaBorde said.

As for this year’s third finalist, Morrow’s first occupation was as a securities trader in Chicago. When he got an opportunity to return to the family farm , one that has been in his family since 1859, he jumped at the chance.

“Once the market closed you couldn’t do anything about it afterwards,” Morrow said. “Here it is more like a lifestyle than a job. I really don’t consider this my job. I consider this a lifestyle and what I want to do.”

Morrow’s primary crop is strawberries. He also grows seasonal vegetables and fruits, such as sweet corn, broccoli, potatoes, tomatoes, blueberries and blackberries.

Morrow says he enjoys the direct interaction he has with his customers.

“I just love seeing our customers purchasing our fruits and vegetables,” he said. “You build up a relationship with your customers, and it’s great to see them come back.”

Morrow says he enjoys his lifestyle so much he will never leave the farm. “People always have that resume’ typed up, looking for that next job. I tore mine up 10 years ago. I’ll never leave the farm,” he said.

For being selected Louisiana’s 2008 Farmer of the Year, Fontenot received $1,000. For being named finalists, LaBorde and Morrow each received $500.

Dupre said Detective Hale and Deputy Bertrand searched Michael’s residence where they located another battery box. When they returned to the vehicle, they located the antenna and another electrical device with the boxes.

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