Story and Photos by Bruce Schultz
FinLEBEAU – Joey Boudreaux and his Dad, Ike, were just two or three hours away from wrapping up their 2018 corn harvest.
“I was hoping to have a good day and finish,” Joey said.
Then came a breakdown in their combine. Always something.
But a glitch was preventing the combine header from lifting. It took 2 hours to find a short in a pesky wire to a solenoid, and that meant completing harvest wouldn’t be accomplished until the next morning.
Joey and Ike were glad to put the year behind them. They were disappointed with the yield of 150-160 bushels an acre. “We ought to be cutting 200 bushels,” Joey said. “The past several years, we averaged 200-plus bushels.”
Ike said the cold, wet spring interfered with the crop’s progress. “And it was so hot and dry during pollination, and it didn’t pollinate well.”
Dan Fromme, LSU AgCenter state corn specialist, said the 2018 Louisiana corn crop will be average. Planting was delayed as growers waited for their fields to dry. (Planting at the Boudreaux farm started in March.) Then the crop got off to a late start due to wet weather.
Once the crop had started growing, dry conditions were the norm for much of the state. The hot, dry weather had a negative effect on yields, especially on nonirrigated fields.
“The rains didn’t come early enough for many growers,” Fromme said. “The date you planted also made a difference.”
Dennis Burns, LSU AgCenter agriculture and natural resource agent in Catahoula, Concordia and Tensas parishes, said the weather may have also affected crop rotation schedules that could be responsible for some disappointing yields.
“Some of it went in as corn-behind-corn when normally we’re in a corn-to-soybean or corn-to-cotton rotation,” Burns said. “This year with all the rains that came, and it being later, the fields that dried out first were perhaps corn in 2017 and went back to corn.”
Burns also said that yields fluctuated from field to field.
“Yields are anywhere from low and a little disappointing to really good. It doesn’t matter whether it’s irrigated or not. It just varies according to the field,” he said. From their observations of corn fields across the state, both Fromme and Burns expect the final harvest figures to be average and will certainly not be a bin-buster for Louisiana corn farmers.
“I think it will be an overall average corn crop,” Burns said. “I think there’s been enough low-yielding areas to offset anything that has been above average.”
According the LSU AgCenter Ag Summary, the five-year state average for corn yields is approximately 178 bushels per acre, which includes a record yield of 186 bushels set in 2013 and nearly matched last year.
Joey said the yield probably would have been even lower if not for the improved corn genetics with improved drought resistance. But no corn hybrid has been developed with hog resistance. Large patches of downed corn show where the wild swine wreaked havoc on patches of the crop. Joey said a neighboring farmer killed more than 90 pigs this year.
The Boudreaux farm only had 350 acres of corn this year. “We usually plant more but it was so cold and wet, we didn’t push it,” Joey said.
With the price of corn falling, it’s probably a good thing they weren’t able to plant more back in March.
“Right now, we’re just in a stage where profit margins are low,” Joey said. “I’m not planning on making any equipment upgrades unless I have to.”
They planted 2,400 acres of soybeans, and so far the crop looks good. Joey said with the drop in price from the trade dispute with China, a good yield will be needed to make money.
“You almost have to cut 45- or 50-bushel beans.”
But he said their soybeans look good, with potential for high yields. He was pleased with the first day, harvested on Sept. 5 near Big Cane and yields ranged from 45 to 65 bushels. “I’d say it’s probably hanging in the mid-50s. I think the bean crop is going to be better than the corn crop.”
By the second day, further into the 250-acre field, the yield had dropped to the mid-40s. “If we can cut 50-bushel beans, we’ll be all right, but with 40-bushel beans, we’ll be eating Vienna sausage spaghetti.”
But he was at least relieved that Hurricane Gordon stayed away from south Louisiana, and the new draper header he had installed was working well.
Joey and Ike are leasing bins from a neighbor so they have the flexibility of holding onto their crop to take advantage of better prices. “We never did have bins before. We were at the mercy of the weather and the elevators.”
They sell most of their crop to Louis Dreyfus Co. on the Mississippi River in Port Allen and some to the Zen-Noh Grain Corp. at Convent, also on the river.
Joey said farms with 5,000-10,000 acres could make a profit with 40-bushel soybean yields but small operations will barely get by. He couldn’t help but think back to the days when his father raised a family on an 800-acre farm.
“Nothing really looks good right now except cotton and sugarcane,” Joey said.
Cotton is risky, he said, and he’s not sure about getting started in sugarcane.
Joey said his oldest girl, Emma, age 10 wants to be a farmer, but he’s not sure he will encourage her. “It’s stressful. There are so many things out of your control.”
And the days of a slow-paced life on the farm are gone, he said. “It’s so fast-paced. Everything has to happen fast. Unfortunately, we don’t have the time to teach our kids like when I was growing up. I started driving a tractor at 8 years old.”
Joey said despite the challenges, he still enjoys farming. “You have a lot of freedom. You are your own boss. Of course, you’re probably harder on yourself if you’re the boss.”
Ike insisted that Joey get a degree, even if he wanted to farm. “My dad was the same way,” Ike said. “You had to get some kind of degree.”
Ike obtained a civil engineering degree, and he did survey work on the side that included the southern stretch of the construction of Interstate 49.
In pursuit of the mandatory degree, Joey almost became Dr. Boudreaux, but an accident in 2009 changed all that. While deer hunting in the St. Landry Parish woods, his tree stand came loose when a pin holding one of two chains popped out. A safety strap held one of his legs and he was dangling in the air until he could grab a tree limb and take some of the pressure off his suspended leg. He hung by one leg for several hours, 30 feet in the air until he finally fell to the ground. If he hadn’t been able to use a cellphone to call Ike for help, it’s likely he would not have survived, but recovery from the severe back injury was a lengthy ordeal.
His recuperation also hampered his work on a doctoral degree in weed science under Dr. Jim Griffin at LSU, so he opted to graduate in 2011 with a master’s degree instead of a doctorate.
Joey said his graduate work involved a study of the use of Gramoxone, or paraquat, as a harvest aid on soybeans. He said the research was gratifying because it was an applied project that helped many farmers, especially sugarcane farmers who want to get their bean crop out early enough to allow sugarcane planting. “Our work showed you could use Gramoxone to dry beans down when it looked like they weren’t going to dry down.”
Joey said he uses Gramoxone on every acre of his soybeans, and it helps in fields where some areas are late to mature after the rest of the crop is ready for harvest. “If you spray Gramoxone, you can get everything ready at the same time.”
Joey said he studied all aspects of farming at LSU, with extensive learning about diseases and insects as well as weed science. “I tried to tailor my master’s degree as a well-rounded student.”
Ike decided when Joey started working on the farm, it was time to turn the reins over to his son. “He’s the boss. I said, ‘You run the business. I’ve done it long enough.’ “
Joey talks with his dad about major financial decisions, but it’s Joey who decides the day-to-day issues like what varieties to grow and when to spray fungicides. “You can’t have two bosses. One person has to make all the decisions.”
Ike, who started farming in 1973, has done more in his farming career than just work the fields. He has been active in the United Soybean Board, elected national chairman in 2008, and he served on the national Soybean Promotion Board. “Here’s a little farmer who becomes a chairman of a national organization. It was a very humbling experience.”
In 2009, he chaired the Soybean Exporting Council that showed Chinese agriculture and trade officials how soybeans could be used for animal feed for poultry and hogs. “We worked with China probably 8 or 10 years.”
He recalled a Chinese official advised them that just because a deal was signed, doesn’t mean trade will start immediately. “The negotiations begin after the contract is signed.”
Ike said developing new markets such as China was made possible through the national soybean check-off program. “It’s amazing what the check-off has done.”
He said the check-off board of directors had a goal of finding 2-3 new products each year that would use soybean oil. And it continues to benefit farmers, he said. The check-off program has been used to help develop a new product, Roof Maxx, a coating that can strengthen and extend the life of conventional asphalt shingles.
Now soybeans with high oleic oil are being grown in the Midwest where processing plants have been built to extract the oil to be used for cooking, Ike said, and farmers are getting a 50-cent premium for growing those soybeans. “From what I’ve seen, it’s going to be a better oil. I think eventually, all soybeans will be high oleic.”
Vince Deshotel, LSU AgCenter county agent in St. Landry Parish, said the Boudreauxs set a good example for the farming community. “They’re good farmers. They’ve grown their operation through the years with a lot of hard work.”
He said Joey is active in the St. Landry Parish Farm Bureau chapter, and Ike’s work on
the United Soybean Board has helped boost Louisiana’s status as an agricultural state.
“They have found their place in the industry as far as being active.”