it yourself — that’s the only way that sugarcane farmer Lane Blanchard
and his brothers, Harvey and Brant know how to make things happen down
at their Iberia Parish farm. "We do everything ourselves,” Lane said.
"From tire repair to oil changes — very seldom does something go to the
shop. Anything mechanical, we pretty much do here.”
"Here” is the Blanchard Brothers Inc. shop in the Grand Marais community south of New Iberia.
Pictured above, Taylor, Lane, Brant, Zachary and Harvey Blanchard and the three-row planter.
brother Harvey is busy fine-tuning the hydraulic system of a three-row
planter. Lane says the planter is the first whole-stalk three-row
planter of its kind. If they can get the three-row gadget to work the
way they want it to, they could eliminate more than $50,000 in labor
expense from their bottom line. The planter is in its third year of
When you have a 15-day planting season that can
stretch out to 30 days, planting costs running nearly $50 an acre for a
crew, and a 1000 acres to plant, it doesn’t take a lot of thinking to
figure out that those costs can blow the whole budget out of whack.
"Do the math,” Lane said.
really need to make this thing work for us,” Harvey said. "If we could
go to this machine, we could get rid of five machine and go to two.”
Harvey is banking on recent hydraulic technological advances to help get
them over the hump.
"We’ll know in the first week of planting if the planter is working the way we want,” Lane said.
innovative new equipment and fine-tuning machines is the type of
do-it-yourself scenario that plays out every season in Louisiana’s
sugarcane farming community. Sugarcane is a specialized operation. Only
485 farmers are producing cane in the Bayou State’s 22-parish Sugar Belt
— but they’re growing more sugarcane than they did in the last 218
growing seasons. Why? Because of efficiencies growers like the Blanchard
brothers come up with every year.
"I think (self-reliance) is
what got us on top of our game,” Lane said. "We keep the outside labor
down to a minimum and that really has paid off. My older brother takes
care of the mechanicals; I pretty much do the farming. Brant manages
herbicide applications and labor and my two boys do the precision
Interestingly enough, while many of Louisiana’s farming
professionals have college degrees, the Blanchard family has gone
straight from New Iberia High School to the cane fields. Lane gestures
to the shop. "We went to college right here,” he said.
Joining Blanchard Brothers are Lane’s two sons, Taylor, 22, and Zack, 23. They followed their father into the tractor cab.
Harvey joked about his nephews’ job choice. "They know too much now. We got to keep them,” he said.
blood runs deep in the Blanchard family. "On my dad’s side, all his
family farmed. On my mom’s side, my grandpa farmed sugarcane, her two
brothers farmed sugarcane and her two sisters married sugarcane farmers.
We’re six generations in,” Lane said.
When your roots are that
deep in the sugarcane field, it seems only natural that you’d feel
nostalgic about a tractor, but some farmers say they don’t feel
sentimental about equipment. Don’t believe them. Nearly every grower has
some rusty old implement out in the field that they can’t get rid of
because "that belonged to my papa.” In Lane’s case it’s a tractor, but
not just any tractor — a 1969 John Deere 4020 used by related in-laws on
both sides of his family. Lane logged a lot of hours on the old
open-air model with the bouncy steel seat.
"On my dad’s side, the
tractor originally belonged to my aunt’s father-in-law. Then, on my
mom’s side, another uncle by marriage bought the tractor and farmed with
it for a while. We bought the farm from that uncle. That’s how we got
the tractor. We used it for about 10-15 years before we bought newer
models,” Lane said. Obviously, a tractor with that kind of
cross-generational lineage deserves to be restored.
he has more tractors he’d like to restore but that’s on hold while the
Blanchards seek out ways to re-purpose equipment, no matter how old, as
long as it does the job. He points to a 20-year-old whole-stalk cane
cutter that’s been modified to work as a high-row sprayer. No doubt
they’ll keep it in service for a few more seasons.
Lane and family
like to restore old tractors as a hobby, but they also have a camp in
Grand Isle for recreation. Lane spends as much time there as possible,
especially during the slower June and July months.
There is a
joviality that percolates through the Blanchard family. The Blanchard
sense of humor is plaicolored planters resting in the field. The
planters, painted green, red, white, yellow and pink, are known as the
Skittles Crew after the popular candy brand.
"There was pink rag
lying around the shop and somebody suggested they were going to paint
one of the planters pink,” Lane said. "Well, we’ve got a pink planter
now but that makes it easy to spot out in the field.”
the beef? For that matter, where are the eggs, chickens, rice, corn and
strawberries grown. Farm Policy Facts has created an interactive map of
the United States that shows us how each state contributes to our
agricultural well-being. Your "farm facts at a glance map” include
acreage, number of farms and farm receipts for each state, as well as a
links to full reports featuring information top crops, typical farm size
and more. READ THE STORY
From Louisiana’s Sugar Belt to Your Table Educational Packets Available
does a sugarcane stalk turn into sugar? It’s a pure, natural process
and Louisiana’s sugarcane farmers and millers wants you to know how
those beautiful leafy green plants end up as pure sugar crystals on your
breakfast table. The American Sugar Cane League produced an
eight-lesson, full-color educational packet in a handsome folder for
students of all ages. It’s available for distribution now. SEE THE PACKET
The 2014 Louisiana Sugarcane Educational Packet
One Sweet History
From the Field to the Table
Sugar - Captured Sunshine
A Closer Look at Sugar
More Than Just Sweet Taste
Where Does Sugar Come From?
A Sweet Part of a Healthy Diet
It's Sweet to the Environment