Story and photos by Derek Albert
Eunice – A collaborative effort among LSU Eunice, the LSU AgCenter and a host of agricultural and civic organizations is fostering interests in agricultural careers in the tri-parish area.
The Sustaining Future Farms in Louisiana program is beginning its inaugural semester within the school’s Agriculture Department this month. At the helm of this new venture is Program Manager Caitlin Denux. She said the program stemmed from funding from a U.S. Department of Labor grant that was awarded to the college last year.
“The purpose of the grant is to reinvigorate an aging population of farmers; to provide college credit for youths who are interested in agriculture; and to provide some relief to unemployment that was caused by COVID and natural disasters,” Denux said.
She said the free program is targeting high school and college students, as well as veterans and former energy extraction workers in Acadia, St. Landry and Evangeline Parishes who are interested in exploring agriculture a career path.
“I hope to provide individuals with the trainings and education that may benefit them for their futures,” Denux said. “There is a great need to educate youths or to provide a new pathway for individuals who found where they are now just isn’t working out for them. It is a great opportunity for people to explore agriculture.”
She said the courses will be offered in six-month sessions with the inaugural session starting this month and running through June. The next session will begin in the summer.
Those eligible will be enrolled in the college’s Introduction to Agriculture online course. From there, enrollees can choose from one of four pats of interest: Cattle, Farming & Aquaculture, Commercial Drone Operation or Certified Crop Advising. Each pathway offers a unique set of training opportunities offered by separate agricultural entities. For the Cattle program, participants will be enrolled in the LSU AgCenter Master Cattleman course. Likewise, the Farming and Aquaculture participants will be ebrolled in the AgCenter’s Master Farmer program. The Commercial Drone Operators will be trained through ThePilotInstitute.com’s online curriculum culminating with a Federal Aviation Administration exam. TH Certified Crop Advisor online course would provide full certification for those enrollees following an international-and state-level exam regimen.
Several local corporate sponsors have stepped in to offer support for the program including Supreme Rice, of Crowley, Coastal Plains Meat Company and 3rd Day Gardens, both of Eunice, and Main Street Meal Prep are all offering paid internships to those who complete the program.
Participants who complete the program and wish to continue their academic endeavors, LSU Eunice is now offering a new Associate of Science in Agriculture Degree. Denux said the program will offer a financial incentive to those choosing this path.
“Once they get through the program, and they want to continue part-time or full-time for that associate’s degree, we give them a $1,000 scholarship for their first official semester to help with fees and tuition,” Denux said.
This focus on bolstering the LSUE agriculture offerings is a new step for the Tri-Parish community, but agriculture is not a new endeavor for Denux. She earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from Northwestern State University and a master’s degree in plant, environmental management and soil science from LSU. She is currently pursuing a doctorate from LSU in environmental science. Her professional career has revolved around agriculture, as well. Working for the AgCenter as a research associate at the Dean Lee Research Station and subsequently the H. Rouse Caffey Rice Research Station earned Denux some valuable experiences that she says has carried on into her current position.
“It has given me an appreciation and understanding for what agriculture is on a broad spectrum…everything from research to sales…It has really helped me grasp a lot about the agriculture industry,” Denux said.
At the Rice Research Station, Denux served as a research associate in the Rice Pathology Project. She said during her tenure there, she worked to test the efficacy of fungicides on new rice cultivars that were developed at the facility.
So far, for its inaugural semester, the Sustaining Future Farms in Louisiana Program has eight applicants with spots still available for anyone interested. More information for the program as well as application forms can be found on the LSU Eunice Agriculture Web site.