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Simon honored with Coulon Service Award at St. James banquet

James “Jim” Simon of New Iberia was honored as the recipient of the Kermit Coulon Sr. Outstanding Service Award at the 62nd St. James Appreciation Supper held in Vacherie at the Westbank Reception Hall July 27.

Leonard “Lenny” Waguespack, committee chair of the St. James Parish Agricultural Tour, said Simon was an obvious choice.

“Jim has been a tremendous asset to the Louisiana sugarcane industry even before he accepted the responsibility as manager of the American Sugar Cane League,” Waguespack said. “His banking background has helped many a farmer achieve success and as League manager, he has guided the industry in an outstanding manner.”

Jeanie Stein, of the Audubon Sugar Institute, was also honored with a lifetime achievement award for her work in the sugarcane industry.

As manager of the League, Simon is responsible for coordinating federal and state lobbying activities, monitoring research activities, and overseeing public relations, promotional and educational activities of the organization.  Additionally, he monitors environmental, trade and other industry issues, as well as social and cultural issues that have a daily impact on Louisiana’s $3 billion sugar industry.

After joining the League in 2004, Simon quickly rose in prominence among United States sugar industry executives, where he is recognized for his calm, stabilizing demeanor. He has served as chairman of the Sugar Association in Washington D.C. and is one of the U.S. sugar industry members of a task force which is responsible for negotiating sugar trade with Mexico.

His sense of civic duty brought him to service as chairman of the board, director and chair of numerous committees of civic organizations including the Greater Iberia Chamber of Commerce, Industrial Development Foundation, Kiwanis Club of New Iberia, Louisiana Sugarcane Fair & Festival Association, Shadows on the Teche, Boy Scouts. He is also currently heavily invested in the ACTS Retreat program through St. Peter Church.

Sugarcane has played a vital role in the St. James Parish economy for more than two centuries. Realizing just how important sugarcane was to the towns of Vacherie, St. James, Gramercy, Paulina, Lutcher, county agent Kermit Coulon Sr. and St. James Sugarcane Co-op mill manager F. A. Gaugnard decided 62 years ago to create the St. James Agricultural Tour to promote scientific research in sugarcane.

“There was a movement among the folks, mostly who worked in the industry to recognize the research contribution from the LSU AgCenter, United States Department of Agriculture and American Sugarcane League,” said Waguespack.

“Coulon and Graugnard arranged a field day at a farm in St. James Parish where the researchers could tell the farmers and other interested parties about their work,” Waguespack said. “It was always well attended.”

Waguespack is too young to remember the birth of the St. James tour, but he knows that Dr. W. G. Taggart, was the first recipient of what is now known as the Kermit Coulon Sr. Outstanding Service Award. He also knows the list of scientists who have received the Outstanding Service Award reads like a who’s who of the sugarcane world — Senator Allen Ellender, Dr. Richard Breaux, Dr. Freddie Martin, Dr. Harold Birkett, Charles Gravois Sr., George “Scrap” Hymel — all have been selected for their role in advancing Louisiana sugarcane. Tour founders Coulon and Graugnard were eventually recognized for their contributions and received the outstanding service award as well.

When the LSU sugarcane research farm moved from Baton Rouge’s River Road LSU campus to the present day farm in St. Gabriel and began hosting an area field day for the river sugarcane parishes, the need for the St. James tour lessened so the organizers switched gears and began hosting an appreciation supper to honor all the researchers and promoters of the sugarcane industry.

“My uncles and grandfather were all sugarcane farmers,” Waguespack said. “I’ve been involved in sugarcane from the mill management and financial side of the industry, so I know how important research is to the cane belt. Louisiana would be a whole lot different without sugarcane. Sugarcane is a vital piece of Louisiana’s economy, and we want to keep it that way. This is our way to honor them and their work.”

Sugarcane and truck farming was the way most folks on both banks of the Mississippi River parish made their living before the arrival of the petrochemical industry, but sugarcane was and will remain a vital part of rural St. James.

At one time, there were dozens of small sugar mills in the parish but after World War II, St. James Sugarcane Co-Op, Helvetia Co-Op and Armant Mill, emerged as the three dominant mills. Sugar refining has also been in the parish for a long time and Louisiana Sugar Refining, a major player on the local, state and national scene, stands on the site of the old Colonial Sugars site. Eventually economy of scale and consolidation issues changed the way cane was milled in the parish and most of the 25,000 acres of St. James sugarcane is now trucked to the nearby Lula, Westfield, Lafourche and Raceland mills.

But sugarcane remains the heartbeat of St. James.

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