The Louisiana delta is known for its sprawling and fertile fields, and it’s where Hank Rabb has spent a lifetime working the land watching corn, cotton and soybeans grow into a bountiful harvest. For his dedication, Rabb was chosen as the 2012 Louisiana Farmer of the Year.
Rabb was one of three finalists recognized for their achievements at the Louisiana Farmer of the Year Banquet held Feb. 23 at Chef John Folse’s White Oak Plantation in Baton Rouge. The annual banquet is sponsored by the Louisiana Agri-News Network Inc., the Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation, the LSU AgCenter and the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry. Other finalists were Bobby Morris, of Port Allen, in West Baton Rouge Parish, and Charles Staples, of Calhoun, in Ouachita Parish.
Rabb currently farms corn, cotton and wheat on more than 5,000 acres primarily in Tensas Parish. The St. Joseph resident is a fourth-generation farmer, and although he grows multiple crops, he has a special affection for cotton.
“I like to grow grain crops, but I truly love to raise cotton. Seeing that big harvest moon on that white cotton in the fall, it just does something to my heart,” Rabb said.
Rabb has seen agriculture evolve throughout his career. Technology has made some aspects of farming easier, but keeping abreast of the changes presents new challenges.
“When we first started planting cotton it was 40 bucks a bag, and if you were off and messed up on your seed, it wasn’t that big a deal. Now with $480-$500 per bag of seed, you really have to have your seed count down.”
Crop rotation is an essential element of Rabb’s farming operation. The practice helps him manage crop pests such as insects and diseases, and he has seen the benefits through increased production.
“I’m a definite believer in rotation. All my cotton is planted behind my corn and vice versa. The yields (cotton) just go up 150-250 pounds when you do it. It’s really a no-brainer.”
Morris produces sugarcane and is also a fourth-generation farmer. Family plays a large part of his operation, and he hopes the Morris family tradition will continue for many years.
“I wake up in the morning, and I love what I do. There’s nothing like seeing your wife come out in the field with your two kids, hop in the tractor and want to drive. Hopefully this tradition will continue.”
Growing sugarcane along the banks of the Mississippi River can be challenging. Last year’s historic floods proved to be a major issue for Morris and disrupted his cultivation schedule.
“We have about 300 acres there that we cannot get in and fertilize at the right time in the spring, cultivate and spray. A bunch of that is done by air, but we make it work.”
Staples runs one of the last dairy farms left in northeast Louisiana. He has milked cows for nearly 54 years and doesn’t see himself slowing down any time soon.
“I can’t picture me waking up without Holsteins around me. I take one afternoon off a week, sometimes two, and my wife will tell you, I don’t feel good when I don’t go to work,” Staples said.
Milking occurs without fail every day of the year. Staples works alongside his two stepsons, and while working with family members every day of the year would be problematic for many, it works for Staples.
“There’s no such thing as being late for work or not milking on time. These boys, my stepsons, they love the cows. And I can tell you this, there is never a cross word. We just all work and do what has got to be done and that’s it.”
For being selected Farmer of the Year, Rabb received $1,000. For being named finalists, Staples and Morris each received $500.