Fred Zaunbrecher, a rice farmer in Acadia Parish and a member of the Louisiana Rice Research Board, was honored on Dec. 8 as Farmer of the Year at the USA Rice Federation Outlook Conference.
Zaunbrecher, a fifth-generation farmer, was recognized for his farming career and leadership in the rice industry. He graduated from LSU with a master’s degree in agronomy.
He farms rice, crawfish and soybeans on 4,600 acres with his brothers – Paul, Philip and Bill – and he said their commitment to the farm allowed him to participate in organizations including the USA Rice Federation.
He credited his parents and his wife, Candee, for his farming success. “It takes a very special person to live with a farmer,” he said.
His father, Glenn Zaunbrecher, worked at the LSU AgCenter Rice Research Station in Crowley before farming.
Steve Linscombe, director of the Rice Research Station, said the Zaunbrechers are outstanding farmers. “The farming operation of this group of brothers is one of the most progressive in the region,” Linscombe said.
Linscombe said Zaunbrecher is one of the most active rice industry leaders in Louisiana. “He understands that the success of his operation is dependent on the contributions and hard work of all the individuals within his group.”
Also Dec. 8, Hayes rice farmer Paul Johnson and Dustin Harrell, LSU AgCenter agronomist and the next LSU AgCenter rice specialist, were among seven individuals chosen for the Rice Leadership Development Program.
Others chosen for the class are Nicole Creason of Jonesboro, Arkansas; Hudgens Jeter of Stuttgart, Arkansas; Greg Van Dyke of Pleasant Grove, California; Nat McKnight of Cleveland, Mississippi; and Collin Holzhauer of Harrisburg, Arkansas.
A Jennings high school student, Penny Lejeune, was recognized with a $3,000 scholarship for her project in the National Rice Month competition.
Kent McKenzie, a former LSU AgCenter rice breeder at the Rice Research Station, was honored with the Rice Industry Award. He became the director the California Cooperative Rice Research Foundation in 2000, and he has developed several short- and medium-grain varieties for California growers.
Johnny Saichuk, retiring LSU AgCenter rice specialist, gave an overview of the 2014 growing season in Louisiana. He said the south Louisiana second crop was one of the best ever. The good yields are a testimony to the resilience of rice that went through a cold spring, he said.
Saichuk said more farmers are taking advantage of forward contracting because it reduces their risks.
Linscombe reviewed the research efforts by the LSU AgCenter. He said breeding work on the Provisia rice technology project is making progress, with 12 rice lines being grown now at the winter nursery in Puerto Rico. It will allow farmers an alternative to Clearfield technology in the control of red rice. “We think Provisia is going to be a huge step forward.”
Hybrid work at the station continues to advance, he said, with an emphasis on grain quality.
A University of Arkansas economist, Robert Coats, projected that Arkansas farmers will plant 1.3 million acres of rice in 2015, including 250,000 acres of medium-grain. The state grew 1.6 million acres in 2014.
Arkansas is the leading rice producer among the six major rice producing states, accounting for roughly half the rice grown in the U.S.
The incoming governor of Arkansas, Asa Hutchinson, opened the conference. He said American foreign policy should not hurt American farmers, and the Russian grain embargo of the 1980s is a good example of the harm that can be done to farmers.
He said during the past 20 years, rice farmers have decreased their water and energy needs considerably while dramatically increasing their yields and decreasing soil loss.