The Lacours of Pointe Coupee
George and Catherine Lacour; Gertrude Lacour Hawkins
Pointe Coupee grower George Lacour is essentially a first generation sugarcane farmer. Yes, his family has been in farming for generations in Louisiana but George only began to grow sugarcane commercially in 2002. Nevertheless, the Lacour family has been in Pointe Coupee Parish since 1782 so George has a long farming heritage.
PHOTO: George Lacour and his daughter Catherine taking a break from field activities to have lunch at the Spillway Cafe in Morganza, La.
“My dad was a loan officer but we had a lot of cattle,” George said. “My ancestors were in the cattle business and maybe four or five generations ago we had a sugar mill in Batchelor. Then the (Morganza) Floodway came through in the 1930s where my family’s property was and we all had to move to Morganza because our heritage was underwater.”
George was thrown into the cattle business and land management as a teenager when his father died. He and his sister, Gertrude Lacour Hawkins, make the farming and financial decisions for the farm. George’s 28-year-old daughter, Catherine, recently joined the family business. Catherine decided to make her career in farming four years ago after earning an LSU degree in communications disorders.
“The family was doing a little bit of farming but we were mostly in the cattle business,” George said. “I started about the time when the crash hit the ag economy in the 80s and we struggled along.”
He planted his first bean crop in 1984, followed by corn in ‘85, cotton in ‘88 and cane in ‘02. He knew the key to farming was to grow, but more importantly, to build personal relationships in the agricultural community.
The first relationship is with his sister, Gertrude Lacour Hawkins, who is also his business partner. When their father died, George was 18 and Gert, 17. Had they not been close, they would not have been able to make a go of farming.
“We grew up in this world,” Gert said. “All we have ever known is agriculture and farming. We built what we have together because we work well together.”
Gertrude’s responsibilities are with the book work associated with farming, which is essentially a full time job.
The sister-brother team applied what they knew about working together into building their farm.
“The majority of the land we rent,” he said. “My sister and I developed relationships with the landowners over the years. That’s what it‘s all about, the relationship. The relationship we have with the landowners, the relationship we have with our mill, and the relationship we farmers have with one another. In this industry, you can’t be alone. It takes all of us, whether we’re harvesting or planting. The sugar industry in itself is a relationship. It takes all the cane growers and the beet farmers coming together to keep the sugar program viable.”
George got a backup when Catherine decided to give farming a chance.
“I was going to grad school but I decided to come back to the farm to make sure of what I wanted,” Catherine said. “The farm has always been a part of my life but I never thought too much about it. I learned real quick that it wasn’t just my dad driving around every day for the heck of it. There’s so much to farming and I really enjoy the challenges and the people I get to work with on a daily basis.”
It helps that Catherine loves working with her father.
“It’s great,” Catherine said. “He’s probably one of the best teachers I could ever have.”
With another family member helping manage the logistics of running a 5,000-acre multi-crop farming operation, George can now see a chance to just be the tractor driver he always wanted to be.
“Now I’ve got my daughter,” George said. “It means I get to go home sometimes. She’s got more energy than I ever did. She’s got more details than I ever did. She’s tech savvy. And maybe it means that maybe, one day, I can just be a tractor driver. Having Catherine here with me means there’s always a tomorrow.”
“This is my job,” Catherine said. “It’s my career.”
The Lacours’ 5,000-acre operation straddles La. 1 south of the Morganza Spillway and, in addition to cane, cotton, corn and soybeans, it includes wheat, and crawfish. They’re also invested in a grain elevator in Batchelor and a cotton gin in Lettsworth.
The attraction to the sugarcane business is twofold. One, the market is less volatile. The other is the scientific research attached to Louisiana cane industry. George credits the American Sugar Cane League, LSU AgCenter and the USDA Sugarcane Research Unit coordinated research efforts. Gertrude also works at the LSU Sugarcane Research Farm in St. Gabriel so she is keenly aware of the importance of the research.
PHOTO: Sugarcane research is conducted at the LSU AgCenter Sugarcane Research Farm in St. Gabriel, La., the USDA-ARS Sugarcane Research Unit in Houma, La. and in grower field plots across south Louisiana.
“Other countries are way behind when it comes to developing new varieties,” George said. “Without the League, we would be gone.
“We traveled to Mexico, Panama and Costa Rica and I did a project in St. Croix. There was a gentleman trying to reintroduce sugarcane in St. Croix and it became very apparent that seed production and variety choice is scarce around the globe. Most of them are planting 20 and 30 year old varieties. They have a better climate to grow but it’s because of our research that we can out-yield them with a shorter growing season. The Mexicans don’t have a tenth of the research we have. When you visit their cane farms, it becomes very apparent.
“I wish every cane farmer could travel abroad and really appreciate what we have because it is second to none. Without the League and the research we put into variety development, we would not produce the sugar we produce today in Louisiana.”
With a great farming operation, great sugarcane varieties, great research, a solid trade commodity group supporting sugarcane farmers and his daughter, Catherine, patrolling the fields with him, George may have a future as a tractor driver after all.
PHOTO: George hopes if all goes well his responsibilities will be limited to tractor driving one day.