SW Louisiana farm family continues and expands the conservation practices that previous generations started.
• By Amy Robertson Fuselier •
Located in Louisiana’s Acadia and Vermilion parishes is Simon Farms, a multi-generational family farm known far and wide for their dedication to conservation. This close-knit family has a passion for soil health and a thirst for knowledge about ways to improve their agricultural production.
The Simon farming legacy began years ago with Glenn Simon’s grandfather and father who loved farming. In fact, Glenn recalls that his dad wanted to talk about farming all the time.
“Dad liked the land more than he did most people,” Glenn laughed. All joking aside, “My dad was very passionate about farming and the land; because of Dad’s hard work and perseverance, we have what we have today.”
Glenn is the first to say that he has taken what his dad started, spread his wings to grow the business, and now Glenn’s two sons (Lucas and Wes) are working to take the operation to the next level.
“But, we would not be where we are today without my dad,” Glenn said, smiling.
Today Simon Farms has grown to about 9,000 acres that includes 4,100 of rice, 3,100 of beans and 1,200 acres of crawfish with the balance of the land in pasture. With 70% of their land in Acadia Parish, the Simons have established a successful partnership with the Acadia Soil and Water Conservation District and the Natural Resources Conservation Service field office in Crowley.
“The technical and financial assistance that we’ve received from NRCS has helped us utilize technology in a way that conserves our natural resources,” Glenn said. Over the years, the Simons have worked closely with Kody Meaux, district conservationist in the Crowley field office.
“I really love working with the Simon family,” Meaux said. “They are so interested in learning new information and improving their operation. I know I can share the latest articles about innovations in conservation and they will run with it!”
Early adopters of technology
Using technology has been integral in the success of Simon Farms.
Glenn recalled, “Our operation has evolved since I started 42 years ago after graduating from college. Changing with the times is so significant, I’ve observed over the years, those who are not willing to embrace change and adapt are no longer in business. That shows you how critical technology has been and still is to our farming operation.”
Over the years, Simon Farms has used multiple programs with NRCS including the Environment Quality Incentives Program, Conservation Stewardship Program and conservation technical assistance. In addition, they’ve used the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Water Act Section 319 Program offered through the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry’s Office of Soil and Water Conservation.
Precision land leveling, just one of the many conservation measures used, has made a huge difference by requiring less water to flood the fields. The Simons also have embraced grid soil sampling, which allows them to create maps showing variations in soil type and nutrients. Initially, the information was used to write a variable-rate prescription for nitrogen.
More recently, they’ve expanded to include variable-rate applications for potassium and potash, placing more of the nutrients where they’re needed and less where there already are sufficient levels. Although the practice is common in the Midwest, it is relatively rare in Southwest Louisiana, Meaux said.
The family applies all of its nitrogen preflood and pulls in-season tissue sampling to determine nutrient levels in their crops and whether they need a top-dressing.
“We are doing the best we can to produce more grain on the same acre with less water, less fertilizer and less diesel burned,” Wes Simon said. It is a whole-farm approach to conservation, conserving water and disturbing the soil as little as possible.
On the level
A great deal of work was put into leveling the rice fields. When crawfish season rolled around and the traditional paddle boats created ruts in the newly leveled fields, Lucas — who oversees all the crawfish fields — knew something had to change. And it did.
The Simons started using airboats — not the run-of-the-mill kind, but a newly designed airboat. “We purchased the hull of the boat, then we retrofitted it for crawfishing,” Glenn said.
The seat is low and on the side, you drive with your feet, so hands are free to grab the cages and put in bait. Wes added, “The airboats have helped us become more so much more efficient. Now when crawfishing season is over, we don’t have to go in the fields and repair the soil; there is no disturbance so there is nothing to repair.”
Investing in soil health
Glenn and Wes agreed that soil health is one of the most important aspects of farming and is key to the longevity and success of their farm. Their plans include working with NRCS and the Environmental Quality Incentive Program to incorporate cover crops along with the no-till practice they currently use.
The cover crop is planted in the summer after the crawfish ponds are drained for the season. But finding plant varieties that will grow well during Louisiana’s hot, humid summer is a challenge, Meaux said.
He said they believe they’ve found a few and plan to try a blend of about four species, such as sun hemp, cow peas and warm-season legumes, to see how they perform. The cover will be no-till drilled into the undisturbed field, much like previous cash crops have been.
Some of the Simons’ fields have not seen a disk for four to five years, he said. “They’re pretty much shelving the disk,” Meaux said.
“We will continue to focus on conservation, making sure we are energy efficient, and using only the water we need for a successful crop and maximizing soil health,” Wes said.
“When we pass the torch to the next generation, we want a good flame and not just a flicker, so the next farming generation will be able to succeed,” Glenn said. “What my dad did for me I’m extremely grateful, and I know that my boys are grateful for what I’ve passed on to them, Now it’s our job to make sure we have put conservation measures in place that will ensure soil health for the generations that follow us.”
“We will be long gone one day, but this soil will still be here,” Wes said. “Hopefully, the work that we’ve done. And with the conservation measures we have put into place with the help of NRCS and the Acadia SWCD, the soil will continue to provide food for our family, state and nation.”
Amy Robertson Fuselier is state public affairs specialist for NRCS Louisiana. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.