Progressive Down the Bayou
Leonce J. Carmouche Jr. of Belle Rose doesn’t know exactly how long his family has been growing sugarcane in Assumption Parish but it’s a long time. He’s not really too concerned about genealogy. What’s on his mind is harvesting his sugarcane fields as quickly and efficiently as possible.
“I don’t know the whole ancestry, but we’ve been in this country 200 years,” Carmouche explained. “On my paternal grandfather’s side, they settled here when Spain owned Louisiana. I don’t know if they raised sugarcane the whole time, but my family has been growing sugarcane for sure for the last 100 years. What I do know is you have to do volume to stay in this business.”
PHOTO: L. J. Carmouche
Carmouche’s volume is 2,800 acres. He keeps 600 in seedcane and fallow land and about 2,100 acres goes to the sugar mill.
The 61-year-old producer farms in the Belle Rose community with his two sons, Benji, 35, and Lenny, 33. Their operation is called Carmouche Planting Company, Inc.
Carmouche goes by L. J. He was named after his father, Leonce James Carmouche. Everyone that knew Carmouche’s dad called him “Boo,” a familiar moniker for residents of south Louisiana where nicknames like T-Boy, T-Man and BéBé are common. Carmouche didn’t have a chance to learn from or even know Boo as his father died when he was just 16 months old. He was mentored by his uncle, Fred Kern.
“He was also my godfather,” Carmouche said. The role of godfather or parrain, is very important in places like Belle Rose. No doubt Uncle Fred played a big role in Carmouche’s upbringing as he is the man who taught Carmouche all about farming.
Carmouche has been farming since he finished high school in 1975 and has the gray hair to go along with his experience but don’t let the gray fool you. He’s every bit the progressive farmer a Louisiana sugarcane farmer needs to be if they want to continue in the sugarcane business.
“I consider myself a progressive farmer,” Carmouche said. “We started laser leveling years ago before anybody hardly had ever done this. And we were among the first ones to go to the combine.”
The sugarcane harvester combine fairly revolutionized the Louisiana sugarcane industry as it could chop cane into smaller billets, remove leafy material and load the chopped cane into a cart simultaneously. It meant a big new investment in equipment but one that Carmouche was willing to make.
“I could see that combines were the future because of the technology,” he said. “That was in 1996. We were the first big group to start cutting with the combine. Some of the Gravois family were also using the combine at that time and it took off from 1996 and on.”
His sons are continuing the progressive tradition. Lenny has a degree in agronomy from Louisiana State University and Benji is keenly interested in the science behind agriculture. The sons were behind the idea of growing a test plot of sunn hemp (Crotalaria juncea L.) a reedy cover crop that has the potential to increase organic matter and nitrogen in sandy soils. The Carmouches hosted a portion of the Assumption Parish LSU AgCenter Sugarcane Field Day earlier this summer at the hemp plot not far from their shop off Cosa Natural Road. Dr. Paul White of the United States Department of Agriculture is working with them on the experiment.
PHOTO: The sunn hemp researched and planted by the Carmouches.
“We haven’t put much back into this soil so we’re trying to regenerate the field with organic matter and nutrients,” Carmouche said. “We’re trying to improve the tilling of the soil and improve the nitrogen so it can act as a ‘starter’ fertilizer. But it was my sons who researched this idea. We’ll be running some soil tests but the cane we planted behind it looks beautiful.”
Carmouche feels fortunate his two sons have chosen the farming profession and that makes him happy.
“It’s a feeling I can’t explain that my sons want to follow in my footstep,” he said. “I told them all about the bad things that can happen, with the weather and all but they wanted to farm and I’m glad they’re here with me.
“One of my sons has four kids,” Carmouche said. “They’ve been on the tractors and when they get big enough and if they want, we’ll find room for them too.”
Not that Carmouche is counting the years or even generations, but with his sons alongside him on the tractors, trucks and combines, the Carmouche family will farm into the next generation and possibly beyond.
PHOTO: Lenny, Benji and L. J. Carmouche pose for a high yield award at the 2017 Assumption Parish LSU AgCenter Sugarcane Field Day.
Story and photos by Sam Irwin.