Right now, the next generation of Louisiana sugarcane producers is getting their start as farmers, milling professionals, and researchers. It’s the circle of life in the sugarcane world.
One of these young producers is 24-year-old Lee Hymel of Vacherie, a fourth-generation sugarcane farmer. He has partnered up with his pal, Reed Schexnayder, 26, of Donaldsonville. Lee has made three crops and Reed just completed his first. Together the young men are responsible for 1,700 acres along Bayou Lafourche on Hwy. 308 and Hwy 1. One 220-acre tract is the old Upper 10 Plantation near Raceland. They also farm the 260-acre Utopia land and the 300-acre Merry Plantation under the MHS South (M. Hymel Sons) farming operation.
Right off the bat, Hymel is facing adversity. A 370-acre tract he was renting was taken out of agricultural production for another land use. That’s enough to put any farmer in a bad mood. Hymel recalls his father’s dark days.
“As a kid, I didn’t pay attention to things like bad weather and how it affected the farm,” he said. “I’d ask my dad why he was so grumpy. I’d say, “You’re home, you don’t have to work today,” but he knew he needed to get out in the field.”
What makes the land loss worse is it was the location of his shop and tractor shed which means he must build a new shop. It’s part of the business for a sugarcane farmer.
“The permitting process has been challenging,” he admitted.
Obviously, Hymel knew there was going to weather events, insect pressure and land competition but he’s undaunted.
“My father always told me to do what I love,” Hymel said. “He didn’t push me to come on the farm, but he really could see I wanted to. He jokingly would say, “Go find something else that pays better where you don’t have to work as hard.””
He knows he’s on his own, but his father is keeping a watchful eye.
“My dad checks with me and makes sure we’re getting everything done on time,” he said.
Most of today’s sugarcane farmers believe sugar is in their blood and Hymel is no different.
He grew up in the agricultural tradition. He and his two sisters were in 4-H and showed cows and the family still has 40 head of cattle. His sisters went into other professions (one is a pharmacist and the other a speech pathologist. His mother, Patti, is the daughter of a sugarcane farmer.
The majority of Hymel’s crop is in L 01-299, but even with only three crops under his belt, he recognizes the value of developing new varieties that fit Louisiana’s short growing conditions. He has planted enough of the new Ho 12-615, released in 2019, to expand it on his farm. He notes proudly that his father’s farm is part of an outfield station that serves as a testing site for developing new cane varieties.
“I would like new varieties that produce a lot of sugar, are cold tolerant and stubble longer,” he says with a smile, knowing that’s what every farmer wants.
The cycle of life will continue with Hymel and Schexnayder and they’ll help to keep sugarcane strong for the next generation.
“What I love about farming is working for myself and seeing what I grow,” Hymel said.
Here’s wishing the best of success for the young farmers.