Grower Profile: The Vallot Family
“They’ve seen the Vallots work hard all these years.”
It’s fair to say the Grosse Isle community of Vermilion Parish is the “country” and it’s where the Vallot family has been farming sugarcane for five generations.
Monte Vallot, 57, and his brother Donnie, 64, share equal responsibility and manage the 3,200 acres of Vallot Farms in the area just north of Louisiana Highway 14 between Erath and Abbeville. They own about 400 of those acres. All of their land is in sugarcane; they wouldn’t have it any other way. They never raised cows or horses even though they grew up in a parish that is well-known as cattle country. They didn’t have chickens or pigs either. There’s a reason for that they said.
“Mama was a city lady,” Donnie explained with a grin.
Their mother, Elaine, was from New Orleans and she settled with her husband William Vallot in Vermilion Parish for a rural lifestyle.
“It was a country life,” Donnie said.
It’s also a farming life, a life that comes with a set of challenges, most city dwellers don’t understand. It’s a demanding lifestyle where many sacrifices are made.
“Farming is rough,” Monte declared. “Every year presents a new set of challenges; it depends on the market, it depends on the weather, it depends on the varieties. Lastly, it depends on a team of movers and shakers to produce each crop.”
Hard work, perseverance and integrity are adjectives that can be applied to most Louisiana family farm operations, but they certainly reflect the sterling reputation of the Vallot family.
Monte began his farming career alongside his father William Vallot Sr. and his brother, Gerard Vallot. Gerard passed at the young age of 38 and William asked Donnie to step in to continue operations who was on the road working as a trucker.
“I drove trucks 20 years for a freight company,” Donnie said. “But I couldn’t say no to my daddy.”
It was the right decision for Donnie to return to the farm because his trucking employers soon went out of business.
“My daddy did whatever was necessary to run the farm,” Monte said. “He didn’t believe in doing things half-way. He always told me if I couldn’t do it right, to stop and come get him so he could show me, don’t just keep going. He rarely took a vacation and the farm was his life. His greatest wish was for us to continue his legacy.”
William’s farming career saw everything from a mule to a one-row Thompson whole-stalk sugarcane harvester to a cab tractor to the global positioning system.
“He was so proud of that first cab tractor,” Donnie mentioned. “He was really happy with it.”
When the boys were barely walking, they were exposed to the farming life with the help of their grandfather, Peter “Jackson” Vallot. It had a lasting impression on them.
“He was parked out front of the school yard waiting for us and greeted us by saying, ‘Let’s go peek and see’ (what work was happening in the fields),’” Monte recalled.
Now the two brothers are making room for their sons of the farm. Donnie’s son, Ricardo, 45, has been working in the fields and on the tractor since he was a kid and doesn’t have a specific memory of when he decided to be a farmer.
“I was just always here,” Ricardo said, “The farm was always a fact in my life. I was always involved on the farm. After school, I didn’t have a chance to watch cartoons on TV. The other kids would be talking about them and I didn’t know what was going on.”
Monte’s youngest son, Andrew, barely 22, has finished his formal education at McNeese State University with a degree in ag business. Andrew was operating the harvester and did not get much of a chance to talk with the Sugar News other than to convey that he was excited to be “on the farm” with his father, uncle and first cousin. He feels at home.
When Ricardo was still in high school, he wrote a research paper on Vallot Farms and noted that the farm was 880 acres back in the 1990s. Over the years, slowly and steadily, Monte and Donnie increased their land management holdings and grew it to more than 3,000 acres.
“A lot of farmers on Grosse Isle Road got out of farming but the landlords knew; they’ve seen the Vallots work hard all these years,” Monte said. “I would’ve never dreamed we’d farm at this level”.
The Vallots have been as successful in bringing a good crop as any sugarcane farming operation and were rewarded for their effort when they turned in a record-setting crop in 2018.
“Last season we did 40 tons per acre and some of our landlords thought there might have been a mistake when they saw their check,” Monte said. “This year the industry is running at the 15-year average, so you have to make sure you plan for the lean years.”
The Vallots are always looking to expand their farm but they know there’s a lot of land pressure from real estate developers and home builders. The Grosse Isle community is not far from the Gulf of Mexico and the nearby town of Erath was affected by Hurricane Rita’s 2005 tidal surge. Land that had never flooded was inundated.
“We’re always looking to expand,” Monte said. “Combines and farm equipment are expensive, and you’ve got to have a big crop to pay for them, but there’s land pressure. After any hurricane, there’s pressure for people to want to live above Hwy. 14.”
“There’s 15 acres up for sale right here on Hwy. 338. We’d like to buy it, but the owner is asking more than we would want to pay for farmland. We used to have several fields around here that now have new houses on them.”
The Vallots own their trucks and wagons and harvest their cane for delivery to St. Mary Co-op in Jeanerette, a 90-minute round trip. They have 16 seasonal employees and four full-time guys. Mike Matthews, an employee of 25 years, oversees day to day operations and is an essential key to Vallot Farms’ success.
Donnie says he’ll work another ten years, but Monte is non-committal. One thing is for sure: they want to leave the farm in the best shape possible for their sons. They’re still getting the young men ready to take over, but until then they’ll continue to make all the big farming decisions.
“I never dreamed we’d get this big,” Monte said. “I’m hoping our sons will be able to take over. I’m blessed to have a son who wants to farm. He loves it. Our goal is to leave it in good shape for them. That was my daddy’s wish. We’ve been in it for a long time and I’d like to see it continue.”