Richard Fontenot, a rice farmer in Evangeline Parish has been recognized as the 2016 Rice Farmer of the Year by the USA Rice Federation and Rice Farming Magazine at the USA Rice Outlook Conference in Memphis, Tenn.
A fourth-generation farmer, Richard operates R&N Farms in Evangeline Parish with his brother, Neal. Their operation has 1,500 acres of rice, as well as soybeans and crawfish near Ville Platte. Richard is the 2000 recipient of the Louisiana Farm Bureau Young Farmer and Rancher Achievement Award, as well as the 2008 Louisiana Farmer of the Year.
“I’m very honored to be recognized by the industry in this respect,” Fontenot said. “I’ve had a lot of leaders in front of me that have provided opportunities for me to be here today, so this is a team award for all of the various affiliations that I’ve had the blessing to be with.”
Fontenot includes his family as part of that team effort. His wife, Rhonda, along with their son, Lance, are an integral part of the operation.
“The thing that I love about agriculture, it’s family-based and constantly evolving,” Fontenot said. “I feel very fortunate to be part of a fourth-generation operation and I hope maybe one day it’ll turn into a fifth and maybe even a sixth.”
Fontenot said the award comes after he and many farmers in the state have had numerous difficulties, but hopes it signals better times ahead.
“It was a challenging year,” he said. “We’ve had excessive rains, extreme droughts and then excessive rains again, so hopefully 2017 will be a little more accommodating.”
With rice demand steadily rising across the globe, Fontenot said he feels being involved in the rice industry makes a contribution beyond his farm.
“Rice is a staple in most third-world countries and in all countries for that matter,” Fontenot said. “We compete against a world market and we export 70 percent of what we grow right here in Louisiana. We feed a lot of people.”
“With the population growth in 50 years, we almost have to double our production to keep the world fed,” he added. “That’s a pretty big challenge. Technology and production systems are in place to help enhance that, I’d like to be a part of it.”
One of the innovative strategies Richard and Neal employ on R&N Farms is water conservation through various CSP and EQUIP practices which not only reduce the amount of water used on the farm but also help manage nutrient and soil uses.
“If we don’t conserve our resources today, the next generation will not have it to use it,” he added. “It is essential that we preserve all of our resources that we can. If I want my son to come on this land and have good productive agronomic land to farm, I have to do everything I can to protect it today. Whether it’s water use, agronomic nutritional uses and applications, no-till productions and soil erosion control, it takes a whole array of conservation efforts as it relates to the production system here.”
Fontenot is currently the Louisiana Farm Bureau’s 3rd Vice President and secretary-treasurer for the Louisiana Rice Research Board.