Sugarcane producer Paul Schexnayder doesn’t call a lot of attention to his farming operation in Pointe Coupee Parish. He’s just concentrating on getting the most sugar out of the land.
Like many farmers, he keeps a low profile and seemed a bit surprised that the Sugar News wanted to do a story on a country farmer. His mailing address is New Roads but he’s never lived in the town’s city limits.
“We’re out here on what folks call the Pointe Coupee Road,” he said.
Schexnayder started farming right after his 1970 graduation from the old Poydras High School in New Roads. He tried college at LSU-Eunice and Nicholls State University but “college wasn’t for me.”
“I learned everything I needed to know from my ancestors,” Schexnayder said. “I didn’t have to go to college.”
My family was in sugar. My grandfather, Albert (A.J.) Schexnayder was born in 1881 in St. James Parish and came here in the early 1900s and bought three plantations along the riverfront. I happen to be farming all three. My daddy (Gerald Schexnayder) was a farmer who had 3 children. I’m farming Live Oak Plantation, Red Store Plantation, Riche Plantation, and a big stretch of Labarre Plantation. We’re 100 percent sugarcane blood.”
In late August when the Sugar News visited with Schexnayder, planting operations were just about done. Schexnayder said he was getting seven-to-one ratios by hand planting wholestalk cane and will get ten-to-one in other fields. Hand planting is one part of Schexnayder’s plan for doing what he thinks is right for his farm.
Another piece of the puzzle for Schexnayder was land acquisition. He’s been buying land tract by tract since 1973. Because of his careful planning, he’s been able to increase his total yield.
“I think I’ll be able to cut 180,000 tons this year,” he said. “Last year we did 167,000. We have more acreage this year and we’ll have more acreage next year. I just want to hold it at that. I don’t want any more land. I’ve got enough.”
“Enough” is 7,000 acres of land, 5,000 in sugarcane. He rotates soybeans as well. He stays abreast of new technologies and just took delivery of four brand new combine harvesters. He’s very eager to see how the newly released sugarcane varieties will do in his sandy soil.
At age 67, Schexnayder plans on farming indefinitely.
“As long as I keep my mind, I’m going to keep doing this,” he said. “If I get disabled, they can push me around in a wheelchair and I’ll keep farming,” he said. (He may or may not be joking).
Schexnayder’s operation is top-notch and he’s earned his good reputation.
He manages the farming operation of Paul Schexnayder Sugar Farms largely by himself but with paperwork assistance from his wife, Kathy. Schexnayder, Kathy and daughter Emily also oversee the operation of Pablo’s Truck Stop and Casino on Hwy. 1 heading in the LaBarre community.
Even though managing a large farming operation is a full-time job, Schexnayder manages to find time to do what he likes best: hunting.
“My wife and I both like to hunt,” he said.
That’s a bit of an understatement. Paul and Kathy have made ten hunting trips to Africa. They have also hunted in Australia, New Zealand, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries. In addition to his overseas hunts, he has a 2000-acre deer lease not far from his farm.
A successful farm relies on a successful team and most of the bookkeeping is done by Schexnayder’s secretary Kim Laurent.
“Kim has been with me for 24 years and I don’t buy a piece of equipment until we’ve discussed the financials,” Schexnayder said. “My farm manager, John Albert Gay, keeps things running right and he’s assisted by George Martinez. They keep the field crews happy who have stayed loyal to me for all these years as well.”
When the subject of retirement comes up Schexnayder said his daughter has expressed an interest in following in her father’s footsteps. Schexnayder’s nephew, farm manager Gay, has a good sugarcane pedigree and he might be next in line for the acreage but that’s all in the future. Speaking of the future, Schexnayder thinks sugarcane is in pretty good shape.
“The industry looks good,” he said. “Sugar is worth about 25-26 cents to us. White refined sugar is about 32 cents a pound. I see a future in sugar for the guys that are getting into it. I think they have got a good future in it if they stay with it. There will be some rocky roads, but we had rocky roads all our life…19 cent sugar, 18 cent sugar… (at those prices) you don’t make money. And the cost of things…chemicals, they go up every year but I’m going to keep going. I enjoy doing what I’m doing but you have to want to do this.”