Ronnie Gonsoulin: Insuring Sugarcane’s Future
Louisiana land is good for many things, but it’s especially good for
growing sugarcane…and it’s good for Iberia Parish farmer Ronnie
Gonsoulin. Gonsoulin and his cane farming brethren can grow sugarcane in
just about any soil type in the Bayou State.
"I have all (soil)
types.” Ronnie said. "I have the black stuff that is some of the most
extreme, but sugarcane can do well in that. We’ve got some lighter land
here and in the coastal area. We have some that is really sweet and high
in Ph and some that is acidic. Plus, we have everything in between.”
Gonsoulin and his son, Keven, operate Ulysses Gonsoulin and Sons, a
large farming operation based in the Charlotte community along Jefferson
Island Road south of New Iberia.
"I may get a grandson, maybe
two, that may get involved in the business,” Gonsoulin said. "Their
lives are different from mine when I grew up. They are involved in
sports at their schools and if you want to be on the team you have to
make a commitment to the sport.”
mid-summer, Gonsoulin is trying to dodge the daily rain and work on
laser leveling. His operation is busy maintaining harvesting equipment,
cane trailers and combines. He’s also tending to his 800 acres of
soybeans. He likes the discipline of soybeans.
"You have to be
much better disciplined in your timing process because you got things to
do in sugarcane and you got things to do in soybeans,” he said. "So you
have to be very disciplined to get both those things done on time. Then
you sometimes have to choose priorities.
"When you have soybeans,
you get the benefit of lessened soil erosion because it’s covering your
ground. You’re putting nitrogen in the ground; you’re carrying your
fallow costs by having the soybeans so it’s really reducing your costs.
On the other hand, you got to be highly disciplined in your scheduling
and all those kinds of things. You’ve got to be on top of it.
trains a person to be a better manager when you have all these
pressures coming in. You just have a better coordination of your
Gonsoulin knows his bread and butter is in sugarcane
because in the end with soybeans, "You can do all the right things at
the right time and you go to harvest and the weather turns against you.
If it’s raining when it’s time to harvest, you will definitely lose
Gonsoulin knows about losing out. He, like a lot of
Louisiana sugarcane farmers are cowboys and cattlemen at heart. One or
two generations ago it was common for a cane farmer to keep a few dozen
head of cattle on their range. Running cattle was in Gonsoulin’s Cajun
DNA. Prior to 1970, nearly all farmers in Louisiana had a primary crop
and herded cattle on the side. Ronnie’s plan was different. He wanted to
run a ranch.
He graduated from the University of Louisiana at
Lafayette in 1970 and prepared his family land for steers, heifers and
bulls. Why not? Louisiana was the home of the cowboys, the bush tracks,
the Brahmans and the trail ride—we know something about livestock.
The grand experiment didn’t go exactly as planned, however.
were going to get 150-200 head,” Ronnie said. "We had a feed silo, a
feed lot in the back. We had cement troughs and over the course of a
summer built fencing, a pipe chute and set it all up for cattle.”
There was a flaw in the business plan, however.
paid more than we sold them for,” Ronnie said. "We got a second load,
and it turned out we bought them for higher, sold them for lower. We
started real quick to think there was something wrong with that process
and we got out of that quick. Thank god that we did because it stayed
Gonsoulin tells the story with good humor as he has long
since discovered that the best crop for south Louisiana by far is
sugarcane. He’s very aware of societal and agricultural realities when
it comes to his farming practices. The Charlotte community has a much
smaller population than it did 50 years ago. Smaller farmers moved out
and their families took different jobs in the oil industry and other
professions as new opportunities were presented. Farmers willing to stay
on the farm acquired more land and have begun a process of merging
smaller fields into larger fields to create more efficiency. That
wouldn’t have been possible if not for advance in technology that
with increased efficiency, however, a young generation of farmers will
be required to carry on. It comes down to loving what you do and passing
that love (and technical know-how) on to the next generation. Gonsoulin
believes the key is including younger folks in the mix as soon as
"The sugarcane family is small and getting smaller,”
Gonsoulin said. "We need to educate our young people and get them
involved in the decision making process. Educate them from our own farms
and get them to know what we know so they can have some of what I call
some ‘built-in insurance’ for the future because I feel it’s going to
change and it’s going to change very, very rapidly. I don’t know if
they’re prepared for it because, from my viewpoint, they don’t have the
patience to wait for it to come. They want it sooner than later. For a
lot of the things we have today, patience paid off and of course,
His hope for sugarcane farmers is always the best.
"I wish that everyone has good health and a good harvest this year,” he said.
now, Ronnie is passing on his built-in insurance to his 45-year-old son
Keven. And Keven is patiently standing by, because when it comes time
to change, it will likely come far too fast.
written by Sam Irwin
Louisiana Sugar Cane Festival celebrates 74 years
The sugar mills are ready to go and the harvesters are revving up …. that could only mean it’s time to celebrate sugar. The 74thannual Louisiana Sugarcane Festival and Fair will be held September 23 – 27 in New Iberia, the heart of cane country.
festival honors the sugarcane industry, Louisiana’s oldest and most
successful commodity crop ever. Festival events will be centered on
downtown New Iberia’s Boulingny Plaza. The carnival rides are located at
the Fairgrounds at Hwy. 14 and Center Street.
Headlining the entertainment is Johnny Lee, the country and western musician who struck gold in the hit movie Urban Cowboy.
Jamie Bergeron and the Kickin’ Cajuns, Sideshow and Dustin Sonnier and
the Wanted fill out the bill. There are plenty of other fun activities
including a car show, art and crafts show, and a children’s parade. The
event wraps up Sept. 27 with the Royalty Parade hosted by King Sucrose
and Queen Sugar. READ MOREABOUT THE FESTIVAL
All free trade does not glitter
of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) traveled to Hawaii earlier this
summer to negotiate the mega-trade deal. They saw lots of beaches, coral
reefs and sailboats. The one thing they didn’t see was sugarcane. Why
is that? Hawaii possesses the world’s most fertile sugarcane soil. The
state only has one mill and produces 200,000 tons of raw sugar. It’s an
efficient mill, but once upon a time, Hawaii’s sugar yields per acre
were the highest in the world – double that of most major cane-producing
countries. The island state once produced 1.2 million tons of sugar on
just 240,000 acres of cane fields. Not any more -- stagnant low domestic
prices, widespread foreign subsidization and other trade-distorting
practices that kept world prices far below production costs spelled the
demise of Hawaii’s splendid industry. Could it happen in Louisiana? READ THE STORY
Recipe: Citrus Cocktail
citrus crop will be coming in soon so what better way is there to
celebrate oranges and sugar, two of the Bayou State’s most beloved
crops? Here’s Rose L. Dunckelman’s non-alchoholic Citrus Cocktail recipe
taken straight from Louisiana’s the #1 sugar cookbook, From the Sugar Bowl. From the Sugar Bowl is available through the American Sugar Cane League’s office.
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup grapefruit juice
1/4 cup orange juice
1/4 cup Louisiana cane sugar dissolved in water
dash of salt
fruit juices, sugar, salt and water. Pour over ice in stemmed glasses.
Yield: 2 servings. Note: this a good non-alcoholic cocktail. Your guests
will like it. Try fresh-squeezed juice from Louisiana satsumas and
other Louisiana-grown citrus trees.
Recipe from Rose L. Dunckelman of Houma, La.