The Bubenzer Family
Sugar News, July 2014
a colony for the French and Spanish, Louisiana was pretty much a bust.
The only thing Louisiana had going for it prior to 1795 was New Orleans.
Whoever controlled New Orleans controlled the commerce of the
What happened in 1795? Sugar happened. When
Etienne DeBoré perfected the sugar crystallization process, Louisiana’s
fertile Mississippi River, Bayou Lafourche and Bayou Teche valleys
suddenly became a vast resource waiting to be leveraged into a money
Sugar, one of the first international mass
market products, created wealth for whoever could grow, produce and ship
the commodity efficiently. Sugarcane, plus Louisiana’s fertile land and
its waterways primed the state for agricultural development. If it had
not been for sugarcane, Louisiana would have had to wait for the
development of King Cotton in the 1840s before the hot, humid,
mosquito-infested land became attractive enough for real settlement.
first successful sugarcane growers were well-connected and
well-financed businessmen who exploited slave labor to build wealth. The
Civil War ended that merciless system, but sugar remained a valuable
commodity. The post-war years opened up new opportunities for new
Rapides Parish sugarcane farmer Grady Bubenzer said his great-grandfather, Christian Bubenzer, seized such an opportunity.
Christian was a Union Army Civil War soldier from Indiana. Perhaps he
saw his first opportunity when he signed up for the 26th Indiana
Infantry. He fought in the Red River Campaign and was captured by
Confederate troops in Sabine Parish. The next significant prospect for
Christian came when he noticed his Confederate guards weren’t keeping a
close eye on him. He simply walked away from the Sabine POW camp and
kept walking until he cleared the state and reached Vicksburg,
"He (Christian) was mustered out of the Union Army
at Vicksburg, but instead of going back to Indiana, he just stayed,”
said Grady. "Eventually, he married a lady from around Lake Providence.
He knew about this (Bunkie-Cheneyville area) country — sharecropped,
worked in sugar mills — doing whatever he could to make a living. My
grandfather (Harvey I) and my great-grandmother bought this place in
1901. We call it the Home Place.”
The Home Place is an 1800-acre
farm that sprawls across northern Avoyelles Parish into southern
Rapides. The fields are bisected by U.S. Highway 71 and the meandering
"We’ve got about 1500 acres in sugarcane,” Grady
said. "We’re trying to work our way back up to 1800.” All together, the
Bubenzer family manages about 4,200 acres.
Grady, 67, is
semi-retired. His brother, Kemper (Harvey Bubenzer III) and Grady’s son,
Fletcher, are the senior partners in B & A Cane, Inc. Kemper’s son,
Harvey IV, is also a partner. In addition to sugarcane, the Bubenzers
grow soybeans, rice, wheat and sorghum. Cotton is not out of the
question, but Grady said it is just too costly to plant right now.
"Sugarcane is what really made this area around Cheneyville,” Grady said.
Bubenzers owe a lot to their grandfather, Harvey, and father, Harvey
Jr., who instilled in the boys an appreciation for skillful land
management, planning and research.
"He (my father) was really the
innovator as far as land leveling,” Grady said. "We had a lot of problem
with Johnson grass back in those days but he really made it a lot
easier on us, the next generation, because we don’t have much of fight
with it (Johnson grass).”
Education was important and all the
Bubenzer farmers went to Louisiana State University. But a part of their
practical education taught by their patriarchs included chapters on
adopting new techniques and keeping an open mind.
"They always stressed that you have to try things and make mistakes,” Grady said. "But not too big of a mistake.”
that he’s trying to grow sugarcane, a tropical plant, in Louisiana’s
sub-tropical zone, Grady laughed and said, "My father used to say it was
too far north for cane and too far south for cattle.”
farming in central Louisiana, the most northern reach in the world of
sugarcane cultivation, presents a different set of challenges for the
grower, to say the least. Early frosts can threaten a standing crop and a
late winter freeze can damage the root system of next year’s crop. To
combat that, the Louisiana sugarcane research program has developed
cold-tolerant cane varieties that have lessened the risk.
of rain can be critical as well and many Red River farmers find it
beneficial to install irrigation. Fortunately, advancements in global
positioning systems (GPS) have given the farmer new tools to manage
land. Fields can be sloped at precise angles to accommodate modern
watering techniques and water management projects on the Red River are
sending more water down Bayou Boeuf.
Natural resources can be
managed in the northern reaches of the cane belt, but economic issues
can be managed as well, Grady said.
The Meeker Sugar Cooperative
Mill closed in 1981 and a lot of farmers, including the Bubenzers,
abandoned cane for a while. By 1989, most of the old cane land was back
"We didn’t really want to get out of cane, and we
didn’t, really, because we were growing some of the first Kleentek seed
cane plots for the industry,” Grady said. "You can almost always turn in
a good sugarcane crop.”
The state, however, granted the
sugarcane industry a 100,000-pound total-vehicle-weight limit which
allowed northern belt farmers to economically ship their crop to mills
in the south.
And that’s all the farmer is looking for — favorable
operating conditions. But farmers are also needed to take advantage of
man-made technological advances and Mother Nature’s resources. As usual,
the Bubenzers have that part covered and making considerable headway in
creating the next generation of sugarcane growers.
here over 110 years now on this same land,” Grady said. "My brother and I
started with about 500 acres, but like everybody else, you need more
volume. When you get more sons and nephews and son-in-laws, you try to
expand a little more.”
Joining Grady, Kemper and their
30-something ons, Fletcher and Harvey, is a son-in-law, Trevor
Blankenship. Trevor, who came aboard a year ago, is married to Kemper’s
daughter, Mallory. The Blakenships recently delivered Harvey V into the
Bubenzer tribe. There’s no indication yet if Harvy V is going to be a
farmer, but one of his first toys is sure to be a tractor.
In the land where sugarcane is king, the Bubenzers are making a permanent mark.
Thank a Farmer for Your Food Independence
that fired up the grill this past Independence Day owe a lot to the
American farmer, whose contributions to our society help keep the cost
of a Fourth of July feast under $6 bucks a person, according to a recent
survey by the American Farm Bureau Federation. Americans spend just 10
percent of our incomes on food – the lowest of any country – thanks to
the "thin green line.” Read the story.
Sugar Industry fed up with "Fed Up”
discounts the seriousness of America’s obesity problem, least of all
those of us who grow and refine pure natural sugar. But the filmmakers
of "Fed Up” have continued to use inaccurate information, despite having
been provided facts and figures by The Sugar Association more than a
year ago (February 2013). We believe that giving consumers incomplete,
or even misleading, information does them a serious disservice. In
particular, we are troubled by the oft-repeated negative messages about
the supposed role of natural sugar in our nation’s obesity crisis. Read the story.