Story and photos by Bruce Schultz
CROWLEY – The genesis for Acadia Crawfish can be traced back to owner Scott Broussard’s high school days.
“You probably won’t believe this but when I was a sophomore in high school, me and two friends, Stephen Moody and Mark Provost, wrote this exact business plan,” Scott revealed.
Even as a boy, he knew something about crawfish and farming. “Farming was in my blood.” His family had farms in Allen and Acadia parishes where cattle, soybeans and rice were raised.
While in 4-H, he had a 4-H Club project raising 12 acres of crawfish.
After graduating from Notre Dame High School in Crowley, Scott went to the University of Southwestern Louisiana where he played football and eventually decided to start working. He took jobs in the oilfield, at an ethanol refinery, at the family-owned Broussard Rice Mill near Mermentau and he sold cars for a Crowley dealership.
In 1991, he pulled out that business plan from high school and started farming 40 acres of crawfish to sell at a drive-through business in Crowley. “My wife and kids served crawfish out of a window. We just built it to where we are today. I pinched my pennies to survive.”
It takes considerably more labor to staff the business today. At its peak, the Acadia Crawfish plant will run 24 hours, with the peeling operation running in the day, and the whole-boiled crawfish at night.
Acadia Crawfish has a full-capacity workforce of about 160-170 employees. About 100 work in the peeling operation. Another 30 work on the farm operation, and the rest work all over the facility.
Almost all the workers are Mexicans. Many have worked 18-20 years for him, and he knows the regulars by name. “They are good people. Good workers. Very honest.”
“If I could not afford to house them, I would put them in my house with me. We treat them very well and they treat us very well.”
Scott still has enthusiasm for getting up to work at his business every day.
“I love what I do. It’s a challenge to buy and sell. It’s never the same obstacles. And I know I’m helping a lot of people.”
Scott’s wife, Julie, is the chief financial officer of Acadia Crawfish.
All five of the Broussards’ children work in the business. Their oldest son, Trent, oversees bait sales and he manages the farm. The youngest son, Taylor, works on the Acadia Crawfish farm of about 600 acres where rice and crawfish are produced, and he is a bareback rider on the professional rodeo circuit.
The third son, Trey, works in sales and inventory control.
One daughter, Elizabeth Broussard Schmid, works in receivables (she has become a standout in barrel racing for McNeese State University) and daughter Emily Broussard Stutes works in accounting for Acadia Crawfish.
Scott and his wife have grandkids to occupy their time when they’re away from Acadia Crawfish. “I have 11 grandkids and the twelfth is on the way.”
The Acadia Crawfish plant has about 120,000 square feet built on the old Jimmie Gainnie Chevrolet dealership lot on Second Street. “So we were able to buy this property in June of 2015 and we started construction immediately.”
The need to build a custom facility became obvious after Broussard and his workers were on the job 18-20 hours a day. “We couldn’t get our product in refrigeration in a timely manner.”
He said the new building is much more efficient. “It allows us to have a better product for our customers.”
Those customers include local groceries in Acadiana, as well as grocery chains based out-of-state.
Broussard said even though he has an established business, contact with existing buyers is required. “They don’t just break down your door. You have to pursue it and be competitive.”
Broussard said the business buys crawfish from 50-60 farmers in the area, and from other brokers who buy from farmers.
This year’s crawfish season has gotten off to a good start, he said. “It appears to have a lot of production. We’re hoping Mother Nature gives us the weather for them to grow.”
He said the crawfish will molt and grow with the cold fronts that typically roll through in the winter and early spring.
Broussard is concerned that a sudden freeze in the fall may have stunted his medium-grain rice stubble and he’s worried that the food supply for crawfish may play out by mid-spring.
Mark Shirley, LSU AgCenter crawfish specialist, said the mild weather has been favorable for crawfish. “The weather has been cooperating with warm spells to help crawfish grow to a larger size.”
Shirley said crawfish early in the season might appear too small to harvest, but it’s a mistake to return those crawfish to a pond with the assumption they will grow to a desirable size. “If it’s big enough for a trap, you’re better off to sell them as a peeler. Putting them back will just add to the overcrowding factor.”
Shirley said it’s unlikely those same small crawfish will be caught again, and money and time have already been spent to harvest that crawfish. Shirley said crawfish that hatched in October or November have reached peeler size. “They need one more molt to get to a medium size. We’re at the point where young of the year are just reaching harvestable size.”
Shirley said more land is being used for crawfish, and this year’s statewide total is expected to reach 250,000. “Crawfish is a good alternative crop if you already have rice land with levees and a water system already in place. With the right management, you can switch into crawfish fairly easily and rotate with rice.”
Scott said more farmers are harvesting crawfish to make ends meet. “I don’t know any rice farmer that does not crawfish.”
He said farmers who sell to him have doubled their crawfish acreage in recent years, and the increase is significant this year. “We’re probably three times ahead of where we were last year.”
He said last year’s cold winter killed a lot of crawfish, but this year’s mild winter has resulted in higher numbers but a smaller size.
Shirley said the entire crawfish industry, like the Broussards’, is dependent on the guest worker program. Foreign workers arrive in January to start harvesting and employees for processing are right behind them.
Shirley said the whole-boiled operation like Acadia Crawfish has will help expand the crawfish market nationwide and relieve the local market of a glut. “I ate some the other night, and I’m sure it was last year’s crawfish but it was good. It’s acceptable especially if it’s going to markets in surrounding states.”
Acadia Crawfish hasn’t started its whole-boiled crawfish operation this year. When the price falls, Broussard will crank up that unit to have frozen boiled crawfish for sale.
Broussard said he is finding that the whole-boiled product sells better outside the area of traditional crawfish consumption. “We have had some product that goes to California, Virginia, North Carolina, Minnesota, Oregon and Nevada. We’ve actually exported some to Vietnam and China.”
Live crawfish can be hauled to the International Airport in Houston to be flown to the Asian countries that same day.
Acadia Crawfish has a fleet of trucks, but they are only used for regional distribution. Anything beyond the Gulf Coast region is transported by contract haulers.
He said about 85 percent of what the company sells is live, while the rest are processed.
Shirley said the Acadia Crawfish operation is a well-run operation capable of handling a large volume. “They’ve got a really nice modern facility that’s well-designed and laid out well.”
Scott is optimistic about the future of Louisiana crawfish. As more people beyond Louisiana learn about crawfish, the market will be able to absorb more product. “Ten years ago, we weren’t selling whole boiled crawfish. Today, the Louisiana industry is selling 15 to 20 million pounds of whole boiled crawfish a year.”