By Chuck Cannon, Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation
NEW ORLEANS, LA. — “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”
That was the motto Stephen Simoneaux said he used to win the Young Farmers & Ranchers Discussion Meet at the 96th Annual Louisiana Farm Bureau Convention here at the Marriott Hotel June 21.
“It took a while, but I finally won,” the 32-year-old lifelong farmer said while standing in front of the grand prize — a 2018 John Deere Gator 4X2.
Simoneaux, who is a fifth-generation family farmer from Plattenville in Assumption Parish, said it took “five or six stabs, I’m not really sure,” before he won the contest.
“It took a lot of work and perseverance, and a lot of study time and research, but it was worth it,” Simoneaux said, a broad smile spread across his face.
Simoneaux farms about 1,400 acres of sugarcane with his father, Rodney, and lives close to the farm he grew up on.
“I went to LSU and got and Agronomy degree, and after that I came back to the farm and haven’t left,” he said.
Simoneaux is a proponent of family farms. He said that is the type of environment where he wants to raise kids.
“Family farms are a lot of hard work, but it’s worth it,” he said. “It’s a great way to raise a family and how I want my kids to grow up.”
At the end of the day, Simoneaux said farming is rewarding work.
“It’s not perfect every day — no job is — it’s hard with long hours and you wonder why you do it sometimes, but it’s a good job to be in,” he said.
Simoneaux said he’s concerned about the lack of young farmers today.
“One thing I’ve seen is that a lot of older farmers are discouraging their kids from being farmers,” he said. “They tell their kids there are a lot of ups and downs and there are other jobs that are easier.”
Simoneaux said actual farming is not the only job prospect for someone who wants to enter the agriculture field.
“We rely on engineers, scientists, chemists and other consultants,” he said.
The Discussion Meet winner did admit it’s difficult for a young person to get into farming.
“To get into farming you need help, whether it’s lending or land or equipment, at the beginning,” Simoneaux said. “For a young person to get in (farming) you often have to have been on a family farm, or be under a mentor that is willing to work with you and let you buy out over time.
“It’s really tough financially, he added. “To get into a large-scale operation, you almost have to work for somebody and put your time in with them, and maybe they’d be willing to help you out.”
Simoneaux said he realizes the advantage he’s had by growing up on a family farm and events like the Discussion Meet have helped him be a better advocate for the farming industry.
“I’ve definitely seen — and have had people tell me — that I’ve gotten better (at the Discussion Meet) over the years,” he said. “I’ve met a lot of great people, and my confidence in public speaking has improved. Having to research multiple topics helped me learn about areas that I might not have known about.”
As for advice for those who will enter future Discussion Meets, Simoneaux starts with three words — don’t give up.
“I got discouraged a couple of times when I thought I did pretty good but didn’t win,” he said. “But just don’t give up. Do all you can to improve yourself and increase your knowledge of agriculture. I took the LSU Ag Leadership class, and they teach you speaking skills. At the end of the day, it’s worth it. The prize package and the information I learned was worth it. The first time was tough, but it got better each year.”