Donald Segura: Sugarcane, Service and Softball
Donald Segura of New Iberia says he’s retired but he may be busier than ever. For a man that likes to stay busy, that’s saying a lot.
The 76-year-old French speaker has concurrently been a sugarcane, okra, pepper, wheat and soybean farmer while he was a dairyman milking 100 cows twice a day, driving a school bus and operating a community grocery store.
So how did he find time to become one of Louisiana’s top sugarcane farmers? “I’d go to bed at ten o’clock and wake up at two,” Donald said.
Somehow, Donald thought there was still a bit of time available in his work day so got elected Justice of the Peace in 1969. He went on to serve six terms as a Police Juror for the Rynella and Avery Island communities of Iberia Parish. On top of that, he was on the American Sugar Cane League board of directors for 12 years.
You would think he’s done enough in his agricultural life to walk into the sunset but not Segura. He is vivacious. That’s why he’s going to learn all there is to know about crawfish farming this season. The Segura agricultural holdings, managed by two of his sons, Juan, 51, and Jaime, 49, acquired a 200-acre crawfish pond last year and Donald will be “raising the traps” in a tractor boat. Jarrod, 50, is a schoolteacher.
Not to be outdone, his wife, Catherine, worked in a different capacity after they married in 1962. First, she raised the three children and volunteered in the schools. Then she earned her first degree, a Bachelor of Science from University of Louisiana at Lafayette in 1979. That would have been quite an accomplishment in itself but she pursued her education further and received a Ph.D. in 1991. She worked in the bilingual programs, taught all elementary grade levels and served as principal and elementary supervisor for Iberia Parish. Now retired from the Iberia school system after 38 years, she is active in various volunteer capacities and helped put together the sugarcane industry exhibit at the Bayou Teche Museum on Main Street in New Iberia. Middle son Jarrod followed in her footsteps and became a teacher.
Donald said his sugarcane farming operation in the 1970s was quite a bit different from the farming his grandfather, Adonis, and father, Rufus, did in the 1940s and 1960s.
“Realistically, they could only make 400-500 tons a year with sugarcane,” Donald said. “You had to have other sources of income. When my father fell ill, I was already in sugarcane but took over his dairy herd in 1964. That provided a monthly income.”
The arrival of the sugarcane combine, a machine that could cut sugarcane into billets, dispose of the leaf trash and load the cane into a wagon simultaneously, revolutionized the Louisiana sugarcane business and Donald and his sons found they could easily manage more than 2,000 sugarcane acres.
Today, Juan operates the 2,400 acres Segura Farms holdings while Jaime takes care of an additional 3,000 acres under the S&S Farms banner. Their sugarcane acreage straddles Iberia and St. Mary parishes.
“Sugarcane is the only thing we can grow successfully year after year south of Interstate 10 and Highway 90,” Juan said. “Sure, you can grow soybeans and we would like to grow soybeans, but with the amount of rain we get here and the insect pressure, you couldn’t make a soybean crop every year. After the 30- inch rain we had in August, our cane fields held water for five days and more in some places. That would destroy a cotton or soybean crop. Sugarcane can handle the water.
“We don’t need to irrigate down here. The biggest thing we have to worry about is moving the water off our fields after a big rain.”
Like most sugarcane operations in Louisiana, Segura farming is a family affair. Donald groomed his boys to take over the land stewardship when the time was right. Juan and Jaime are now training their sons and daughters to move into and up the family farming hierarchy. Juan’s son, Jacob, and Jaime’s daughter, Shelby, are learning everything they can about the farming business on the job, as grandfather Donald offers his expertise.
Family patriarch, farmer, public servant? What else is there? Oh, yeah. Softball. Donald is an expert softball pitcher. Because he runs pretty well for a, uh, veteran, he plays outfield and competes in a 75 Years and Over Softball League. Is he any good? Well, his team won a National Softball Tournament a few years ago. If he plays softball as well as he farms sugarcane, he’s an All-Star.
Story and photos by Sam Irwin
Top – Donald Segura stands before an old “soldier” sugarcane harvester. The machine is used to cut cane for the whole stalk method of planting. Driving soldier harvesters is a skill the older farmers are passing down to their younger counterparts.
Middle: Catherine and Donald Segura enjoy their great-grandchildren.
Botton: Donald and his grand-daughter Shelby pose in front of the Avery Island Tabasco factory. The Seguras have been farming the land around the McIlhenny Tabasco plant for generations.
Candy is a big business and we’re glad. This past Halloween Americans spent an all-time high $2.7 billion on Halloween candy alone. That’s $550 million more than was spent on chocolate bars, candy corn, and malt balls just 10 years ago.
In fairness, this increase doesn’t mean that people are buying a lot more candy. It simply means that the candy people are buying costs more. So, how much of this record-setting revenue will be flowing to the sugar farmers that made the sweet treats possible?
Sadly, very little. In fact, they could be making less when you consider that sugar prices are lower today than they were a decade ago…and the decade before that. READ THE STORY
Did Louisiana invent pralines?
The truth is pralines were not invented in New Orleans. The chef of French nobleman Cesar du Plessis-Praslin (pronounced prah-leen) originally made the sugar confection with almonds in the 17th century. The candy treat soon immigrated to Louisiana where Creole women supplemented their income by selling the confection in the streets of New Orleans. The Louisiana praline is a great combination of two state commodities.
Here’s recipe for pralines from our favorite cookbook, From the Sugar Bowl. Marlene Latiolais of Parks developed this recipe using sweetened condensed milk.
1 cup water
3 cups sugar
1 can sweetened condensed milk
2 to 3 cups pecans
Cook first three ingredients in heavy pan, stirring constantly. An easy way to tell when mixture is cooked is to place a small amount in a bowl of cool water. It is cooked when a ball can be formed with this mix in the water.
Next, add pecans (either whole or chopped). The amount of pecans used depends on individual taste. Continue cooking and stirring constantly. Watch for sugar to form on sides of pan as a sign that pralines are ready. Excessive cooking will not allow easy, smooth spooning of the pralines, so special attention should be given as to when it is ready. Spoon out on waxed paper. Yields about two dozen pralines.