Grow Where You’re Planted
● Published by Robert Frey
By Shanna Perkins | Submitted Photos
Something about farming gets in the blood. Maybe it’s the reward of hard work. Maybe it’s a love of the land. Maybe it actually is in the blood. It’s quite possible that the genetic makeup of a farmer is composed of one part fresh soil and two parts pride. So many sugar cane farmers are continuing the work of their ancestors and each generation brings with it change.
Edward Charles “Charlie” Levert is a sixth generation sugar cane farmer. Today he works right along his father on the family farm, Levert-St. John, LLC. His grandfather was a sugar cane farmer and sugar broker. Levert explains how much he learned from watching both of these men work.
“My dad has taught me so much, but one that sticks out for me is the value of getting up early,” he states recalling the early mornings of his childhood. “He’d always have to wake me up at least twice. But now I understand that the faster you get started, the faster you’ll be finished. And from my grandfather, I learned the importance of being a hard worker, but still managing to have fun. He taught me how to have a good time.”
Levert and his father are the only ones in the family who still work on the farm, but he does have a 13-year-old son who has expressed an interest in the family business. Levert knows that will have to be a decision his son makes for himself after he graduates from college, the same way Levert did.
Levert reflects on the changes in equipment and procedure that he has seen on the farm during his career. But admits that possibly the biggest change he’s ever seen is happening right now, moving away from the traditional 6 foot rows to 8 foot rows. He relates that he and his father are watching closely to see how the process unfolds. In addition to hoping for a year of high yield and high sugar, Levert hopes to see the family business carry on.
“I certainly want to keep this whole thing going,” he expresses. “Hopefully we’ll be able to keep stepping it up for the family tradition. I’m very proud to keep this family farm going.”
Ted Broussard has sugar cane and farming coming from just about every single branch of his family tree. It’s difficult to keep up when he breaks it down, but it all comes down to six or seven generations of farming…depending who you ask. But, Broussard isn’t one to get weighed down with tradition. The aforementioned changing of row size is being done in part by Broussard – he is one of six farmers in the state implementing the process. He credits his family for teaching him the importance of maintaining an innovating spirit.
“My family always taught me, don’t sit back and wait for the next person to make a move,” Broussard says. “You have to always be progressive. Once you stop accepting progression, you start to fade away. The way you’re doing something, might not be the best way”
The innovations and technological advancements are something Broussard is acutely aware of. He left the family farm in 1995 to pursue his own ventures in St. Mary Parish before returning to Iberia Parish in 2015 to purchase the family farm. During his time on his own, he began to realize that thanks to technology, he could efficiently do work by himself that would have previously required at lest three men. With this realization and the assistance of the younger generations of his family, his son Quaid and his nephew John, Broussard is eager to explore adapting the way we farm.
“If it weren’t for the younger generation, my son and my nephew, I’d probably be sitting down and just riding it out,” Broussard states frankly. “If it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t have the energy to make these changes, but when you have someone behind you, it keeps you moving forward. They’re so good with the new technology, it’s humbling what they can teach you.”
Broussard believes that the technology that has been available in other industries for years is finally starting to catch up with farming and that it’s their responsibility to take advantage of it. It’s also his belief that when the technology industry doesn’t make agriculture a priority, it’s the farmers’ job to proactively demand it. And he hopes that this dedication to moving forward stays with his family for years to come.
“I hope my family continues to prosper and doesn’t ever get complacent,” Broussard says of the future of his family farm. “Just because it’s the best today, doesn’t mean it will be the best forever. You have to keep pushing and staying in front of the industry.”
Errol Domingues is a fourth generation farmer; his family has been farming sugar cane for 97 years. Today, his business is still very much a family business. His father Jimmy still worked with them until four years ago. Domingues brother Jim is his business partner and his wife Charlotte handles the administrative and technology aspects of the business. His two sons Austin and Blake also pull their weight around the farm.
Growing up in a farming family, Domingues remembers that as a child what stuck out to him was that there was no Christmas, Thanksgiving or New Years, because that was harvest time. Despite, this it’s the only job he ever considered.
“It’s just what we did,” he says with a laugh. “It’s who we are and it’s what we do. It’s a unique lifestyle and it’s a hardworking, 365 days a year lifestyle. But, it’s incredibly fruitful work. No one thing made me want to be a sugar cane farmer, I just had no desire to do anything else.”
Domingues is one of the key players in the South Louisiana sugar cane industry. He has been on the Board or Directors for the Louisiana Farm Bureau for 20 years, chairing as President for 6 of those years. He has been on the St. Mary Sugar Co-Op Board of Directors for 6 years. Through these organizations and his family’s extensive history in the industry, he has seen many changes come to farming. When speaking about the future, he hopes his sons will be accepting of the changes that are sure to come.
“I hope that our boys will always be on the forefront of the mechanization and the new types of equipment,” he expresses. “Staying innovative is what keeps you in business. And I hope that all of this progression finds a way to create stability in our economic marketplace.”