Years ago, when I became editor of Rice Farming magazine, I knew I had a lot to learn in order to do a good job of communicating the mission of “profitable production strategies” to our readership. The best way to do this was to get out in the field, get familiar with the crop and ask questions.
Dr. Johnny Saichuk, who was the Louisiana Extension rice specialist, was kind enough to take a greenhorn ag journalist to visit successful rice farms in his state. One of the places we visited was David LaCour’s rice operation in Vermilion Parish. I learned a lot from Johnny and David that day, but one thing that made a real impression on me was the “wildlife” that I saw from the cab of the truck as we drove along a narrow levee road with a large drainage ditch to the side of it.
I was terrified when I saw the abundance of alligators sunning themselves on the ditch bank. I had seen the occasional small gator in the lakes near my home, but never anything this prolific! I had visions of the truck falling into the water where we would all be eaten alive. I think Johnny and David got a good laugh out of it, but I have to admit, I was glad when we got back to the farm shop.
Through the years, Johnny continued to keep me abreast of the latest innovations in rice farming practices and introduce me to innovative farmers like David, who shared their knowledge and helped further my rice education. Dr. Saichuk is retiring in January, and others in the industry shared some thoughts about him that I would like to share with you now.
His Texas colleague, Dr. Mo Way, says, “Johnny’s verification trials have had a huge impact on Louisiana rice farmers. They can observe firsthand the results of various management practices that he coordinates and investigates. Johnny is one of the best communicators I know. His presentations are clear, informative and humorous, and he is an excellent photographer.”
Dr. Dustin Harrell, who will take over the rice specialist position, notes that Johnny has a wealth of knowledge about all aspects of rice production and the rice industry.
“He also has an easy-going personality, which makes him a joy to be around,” Harrell says. “To me, Johnny was a colleague, a mentor and most of all a friend. To the rice industry, he is a legend!”
Louisiana rice farmer, Fred Zaunbrecher, says he and Johnny first met at USL (now the University of Louisiana at Lafayette) as teacher and student.
“‘Johnny,’ which took me a while to say because, to me, he was always ‘Dr. Saichuk,’ has served Louisiana and the rice industry with pride, dignity and an unwavering pursuit to provide the Louisiana rice farmer with the tools they needed to stay above the curve and remain competitive in a global market. I am honored to call him a true friend.”
Johnny, or Dr. Saichuk, on behalf of the entire rice industry, we thank you for your professional and personal contributions throughout your career and hope that you thoroughly enjoy the next chapter of your life with family and friends. You will be missed.