Rice Farming


Guy Gardiner gathered these farmers in the early 60's for a photograph at Dalva LeJeune's farm just southeast of Gueydan's city limits. Mr. Gardiner wanted to use the photo to publicize how many farmers in the area used John Deere products. Only a portion of the photo is seen here. Note the closest thing to air-conditioning in the1960's - the umbrella! In the back row, left to right, Neelis Adams, Ernest Breaux, Wilton Hebert, Norris LeMaire, Clarence Breaux, Jr., Bernice Adams, Nelson LeJeune, unknown, Kenneth Touchet, Melvin Leleaux, Oran LeJeune, A.J. Leleaux, Warren LeJeune, Ernest Smith, Manson Saltzman. Front row kneeling, left to right, Clayton LeJeune, John Guidry, Raymond Adams, Steven LeJeune, Wilson LeJeune, Jr., Dale Theriot, unknown, Mark Bertrand.



...and now

Things have certainly changed since the 1800's, when rice was brought into production here in the Gueydan area. The first farmers were forced to use a great quantity of manpower to till, plant and harvest the crop. The drill, which once planted the rice, has been replaced by the airplane. Tractors and plows are now more powerful, and till wider rows, which reduces the amount of time needed to prepare and plant. Binders and threshers, which were once used to cut the rice and separate the grain from the stalk were replaced with a pull type combine with a cutting width of 6 feet. This was later replaced by the self-propelled combine with a cutting width of 12 feet. Today's 24 foot cutting width combines pull themselves by means of a four-wheel drive mechanism and utilize tracts, instead of tires, to prevent bogging and ruts in muddy fields.

Farmers now have the option of an onboard Global Positioning System (GPS) on the combine. This GPS method of farming is referred to as precision farming. During harvest, the GPS records the position of the combine as it moves through the field. Inside the hopper, where the combine collects the cut rice, the GPS is keeping track of the intake. With compatible computer software, the farmer can combine the two units of information and print a yield map showing how many barrels per acre he harvested for each particular acre to pinpoint exactly where his low yielding areas are located. In order to get the most from this system, it requires that the farmer be constantly attentive to the data going in and out of the system the entire time he is harvesting.

More farmers at this time use another service of precision farming, called grid sampling, which was designed to be used with or without the GPS installation on harvesting machines. Local seed companies install a GPS unit on a four-wheeler and use it to map a field. A soil sample is taken and, with the same computer software, a fertility map is printed. If you have the GPS system on the combine you are then able to compare the fertility map with the yield map in order to determine how your yield problem correlates. Otherwise, your fertility map is able to determine where specific applications of certain fertilizers are needed. The idea behind this system is to even the level of the yield for each acre planted. If a farmer is able to yield 20 barrels for every acre planted, instead of only averaging 20 barrels per acre, he increases his yield and his income.

Once it is determined where specific applications of fertilizers are needed, the application truck uses a compatible depositing system to deliver those needs. The truck beds are divided into five separate units and automatically, from information taken from the fertility map, unloads what the map has determined is needed. However, the truck application is better suited to row crops, rather than rice, which uses the blanket application method. Approximately 10-15% of acreage currently under cultivation falls under the grid sampling method.

Crop dusters, airplanes which deliver a blanket type of application to the crop, also have a GPS aboard to aid in planting, fertilizing and applying herbicides. However, this GPS is strictly used for determining the plane's position in the field. Before this system was installed, it was necessary for two people to be in the field while the crop duster was applying chemicals, marking off distance and flagging the airplane in order for the pilot to determine his previous position. The GPS now picks up two signals, both of which are necessary for the system to work. A satellite signal is picked up off of the Pentagon's GPS and a corrections signal is picked up from a tower that the Coast Guard has located in New Orleans. Private companies also send out signals and, for a yearly subscription fee, a farmer can have a more personalized service. This dual signal service puts the airplane within 2 - 4 feet of where applications are needed rather than a possible 20 feet when relying on the flagging system.

Once the rice has sprouted, it's not uncommon to hear "gunshots" on a regular basis in order to frighten birds that might otherwise eat the grain. But, unlike yesterday's farmer, these sounds are made by a propane gun. This device is stationed in the field and is rigged to discharge on a timed schedule in order to drive away the predators. It is not the most reliable way of frightening birds but is one of the tools at a farmer's disposal.

Today's harvesting methods can be compared with that of many years ago in order to appreciate the progress that has been made in the equipment. At one time, two men handling pitchforks would load cut grain onto wagons. This load was then brought to a threshing machine where the worker, positioned on the wagon, fed the bundles of grain into the thresher. Once the grain was separated from the stalk, it was transferred to a sack. A sewer would bind the end of the sack, weighing approximately 180 pounds, which would then be loaded onto a wagon or truck and stored in a warehouse until sold. A fast sewer was a valuable, much sought after worker, since he kept the pace moving speedily. Today, one air-conditioned combine with an operator can do the work of almost all of these former employees. Grain is cut with the combine, unloaded into a cart which is pulled by a tractor and taken to a large truck. This grain truck then transports the rice to a farmer's private rice dryer or to a public rice dryer for drying. Considering the price per barrel offered in a particular year, the farmer may choose to sell his rice directly to a rice mill while still green and let the mill dry and prepare the grain for sale to the public.

While we can appreciate the evolution of farming methods, and the time spent on planting and harvesting a crop, little has ever been said of the role that the farmer's wife played. In the 1920's and 30's, farm workers generally had to rise early and travel long distances to the land they were working. The farmer's wife rose just as early in order to prepare breakfast for the entire crew. As soon as breakfast was served, they began cleaning and cooking lunch. Lunch was normally brought to the men in the fields and sandwiches were made for an afternoon snack.

In the 1950's, with the average family now owning an automobile, it was not necessary for the men to leave home as early or for the farmer's wife to have to serve breakfast. Lunches were still served in the fields. This was normally done by 11:00 so harvesting could begin and continue until mid afternoon when they received fresh baked goods and cold drinks. This ritual was done every day during harvest until recently, when men started preferring hamburgers to larger, heavier meals.




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