Grower Spotlight: Charles Guidry (Erath, Louisiana)

July 4, 2007

The Vietnam veteran from Erath, Louisiana, and his father were slowly increasing the size of the 100-acre farm that Charles’ grandfather started. Jerome, Charles’ young son quickly fell in love with farm life.

The Guidry team was good about keeping costs low, and the prices they received for their crop seemed fair.

Their world was full of promise.

Things would soon change.

Sugar prices fell, input costs skyrocketed, and dozens of sugar mills across the state closed their doors never to reopen.

Times were tough, but the Guidry family was tough, too. And for a little while, things started to look up when Jerome came back to run part of the farm and help keep the Guidry family business alive.

Then on Sept. 26, 2005, the unthinkable happened.

Hurricane Rita flattened the Guidry farm. Sugarcane fields ready for harvest turned into lakes of murky salt water. Farm equipment was ruined. Both Jerome and Charles lost their homes. And more than half the year’s crop was destroyed.

The family waited and waited for federal disaster assistance to come to their aid, but the bureaucratic red tape was thick and their banker’s patience was wearing thin.

Charles and Jerome were faced with a tough decision. Either they sell the farm Willie Guidry started nearly a century earlier, or Charles had to forego his retirement plans and dip deep into personal savings.

Charles chose the latter, and the once bright-eyed farmer suddenly looked a little worn down. But as Charles likes to say, “Tough times don’t last, tough people do.”

This year has been more promising.

The 2007 sugar crop has a lot of potential, federal disaster assistance finally arrived, and the House of Representatives just passed a farm bill with a safety net that could help keep sugar producers like Guidry in business.

The farm bill now heads to the Senate, where Charles hopes the much-needed good news will continue.