Posts Tagged ‘Sugar’

The Waiting Game

One lesson we have learned is that the world does not work on the same time schedule as a farmer.  They don’t get to work until 8, at least, and leave by 5, if even that late. They never work on Saturdays or Sundays or any day that might be perceived to be a holiday.

You cannot call an attorney at six in the morning with a question because they are not at work.  They are probably not even awake.

Don’t even think about getting anything done at the courthouse on a Friday evening.  It’s locked tighter than a drum and completely empty.

We have had to wait for lawyers and bankers and candlestick makers.  Well, not the candlestick makers but plenty of other people.  The legal process is incredibly slow, even though the attorneys frequently reminded us that the proceedings were expedited because everyone knows how badly we needed to be in the fields.

Add in Easter and people went on vacation.  Our main FSA guy – whom is one of my favorite people in this process – is off every other Friday with flex time.

Just getting signed copies of the approved motions allowing us to go back to work took weeks, as in multiple weeks, to go through.

It always seemed like people needed stuff from us immediately but then we had to hurry up and wait.  We spent a great deal of time waiting, watching the cane and the weeds grow taller.

The weed scientist in Wilson was dying to kill some weeds.  The cane farmer in him was dying to fertilize the cane before it grew too tall for the machine to properly spread the mixture.

The bookkeeper in me (and the common sense in him) held tightly to the reins.  We just could not spend nearly a hundred thousand dollars to fertilize a crop without a lease or a loan.

And so we waited.

The Parade of Lawyers

Neither of us has ever spent this much time or money in a court house or with lawyers and we have both been divorced!

We started with one lawyer:  Wilson’s sister.  She has traditionally done all of the farm’s legal work, mostly just leases.

Then the parent farm needed a bankruptcy lawyer, and actually hired a team of two great lawyers, each with his own specialty.  One is the fighter and in his element in the court room.  He is the big-picture guy who sees the whole forest at once.  The other is the details guy, the numbers man, the one who sees each individual tree.

Tally so far:  three lawyers.

The bank that held the farm’s last several farm loans and is the largest creditor in the case brought along their own lawyer.  (Note:  his firm has since been fired.  Hmmm)

Cue the Fourth Laywer.

When it came time to discuss the equipment lease between Frank Martin Farms and Wilson Judice Farms, the general consensus was that Wilson might need his own lawyer, one not at all biased towards any other party.  While his sister is incredible at compartmentalizing her business and personal lives, we were all so very emotionally invested in this process that even she thought we needed outside help, just to be prudent.

Thus, Lawyer #5.

The land that is owned by the sugar mill and the group of local families and was farmed by FMF will be farmed by WJF so they were an integral part of the Chapter 12 proceedings.  They hired one lawyer together and he also worked on their new leases with WJF.

Lawyer #6.

We have gone with Wilson’s sister to the Tax Assessor’s office to research land owners and exact property descriptions.  We have been in our parish FSA office to certify acres for WJF.  We have been to the Clerk of Court’s office to file all of the paperwork necessary for the loans.  All of these are in our parish courthouse.  Between the lawyers’ offices and the courthouse, I’m pretty sure we should be able to pick up a paycheck there on Friday.  We’ve done that much work there.

Pictures of “Progress”

The Old St. Mary Parish Courthouse

The “New” St. Mary Parish Courthouse

Who Works for Whom?

When we first began talking about splitting the farm in two, there was nearly a revolt among the employees. The guys began choosing sides, like kids on a playground.

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The wise words of a certain USDA employee that we met in Michigan came to mind: why not form a labor company? I’ve worked for contract and staffing companies before so I have a general idea of how they work, but I had a great deal of research to do before we could even consider it.

We then birthed yet another company: Judice Agricultural Services, LLC.

JAS is technically owned by Wilson’s farm, but will pretty much be my baby. It is a pass-through company, designed to make no profit. All of the employees will work for JAS, myself included. Our technical description is a farming labor contracting and bookkeeping company. I’m the bookkeeping portion.

JAS will pay all of the utilities for the farms and bill them out to the two other companies along with all of the labor expenses. I really think it will help keep things straight and a little less confusing. It will mean more work for me, but I hope it will work out.

So, as I like to tell the guys, everyone works for me! (Insert power trip here.)


Forming a Farm

Say that title out loud, quickly. Not easy, right!

We knew that the possibility of Wilson Judice Farms existed back in January so we created the corporation as a legal entity.

In March, when Wilson’s dad and cousin met with the attorney and filed for the Chapter 12, we began to set the wheels of this new company into motion. We opened a checking account and it was both thrilling and terrifying to see checks that say “Wilson Judice Farms, Inc.” in the top left corner. I can sign a business check? Crazy!

Wilson’s half of the farm consisted of nearly a dozen tracts of land, each with a different landowner. He began contacting those owners, getting Letters of Intent from them and preparing them for the leases that were to follow soon.

Of course, a monkey wrench was then thrown into the gears. Some of the details on those leases meant that Wilson would have to purchase the root stock of the cane on some of those tracts of land from Frank Martin Farms. Because we do not have that kind of money in savings and no lending institution will finance something that could die in the next freeze and then be useless, something had to change.

We swapped out land with the old farm.

Those Letters of Intent and the time spent contacting landowners all had to be undone. Well, not quite all of them. In the swap, he got to keep two of the tracts. The other two, which make up the majority of the land Wilson will farm, are owned by the sugar mill and a group of local families.

WJF will not be a stand-alone business. It just cannot happen that quickly. We’ve talked on this blog before about the amount of specialized and expensive equipment necessary to grow and harvest sugarcane. We will continue to work with FMF every single day. Part of their Chapter 12 plan is to lease all of their equipment to WJF, to use it all together.

The Farm Service Agency has a program where it loans $300,000 to new farmers and ranchers to invest in their agricultural future. They offer a very low interest rate for this one-time-only program. Wilson plans to use that money to buy a couple of tractors that would be useful to both farms. There is no need to duplicate the equipment since we will all be working so closely together and an infusion of new equipment will lower the repair costs for everyone.

With the equipment all figured out, that just left a million other details to plan and make work. One of the major questions was labor.

Current Update:

Yesterday was the first of the 2012 Corn Days. It was time to pick the first round of sweet corn from the garden. I managed to get a few pictures of Wilson in the corn patch before the rain sent me back inside.

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Feast Day of Saint Isidore

Today was the feast day ofSt.Isidore, the patron Saint of Farmers.  We celebrated in a big way:  by closing on our very first crop loan as Wilson Judice Farms, Inc.

Several months of hard work, uncertainty, fear, dread, elation, panic, and countless other emotions and actions have led to this point and we want to share with you the whole story.  The are no doubt other young farmers going through some of the same things we went through and we want to share with them the light at the end of the tunnel.

There are also people out there that were completely unaware of the investment it takes to run a farm, especially a sugarcane farm.  For them, we want to share and open their eyes.  We are always learning from other people, gathering a little information here and a little knowledge there to apply them where we need.  We hope you can do the same.

Over the next couple of weeks, we will tell our story in its entirety.  As it is quite a long and detailed tale, no reader would make it to the end of that long, drawn out post.  We will be posting a bit of it each day until we reach the present.

Along the way, we plan to interject the current events from the farm and try to catch you up with the progress of the crop.  We have exciting news to share about how well the crop is doing in spite of the farmers’ inability to enter it for months at a time.  We need to tell you about the fertilizing process and show you a video of it.  We need to update you on the kids as I am sure they have grown a couple of inches since we last wrote!

But today we want to leave you with hope.  When we have had doubts and fears, we have tried to drive them away with hope.

Oh God, who taught Adam the simple art of tilling the soil,

and who through Jesus Christ, the true vine,

revealed Yourself the husbandman of our souls,

deign, we pray, through the merits of Belssed Isidore,

to instill into our hearts a horror of sin and a love of prayer,

so that, working the soil in the sweat of our brow,

we may enjoy eternal happiness in heaven.

Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

and

Oh God, Source and Giver of all things,

Who manifests Your infinite majesty, power, and goodness in the earth about us,

we give You honor and glory.

 

For the sun and rain,

for the manifold of fruits of our fields,

for the increase of our herds and flocks we thank You.

For the enrichment of our souls with divine grace, we are grateful.

 

Supreme Lord of the harvest,

graciously accept us and the fruits of our toil,

in union with Christ Your Son,

as atonement for our sins,

for the growth of Your Church,

for peace and charity in our homes,

for salvation to all.  Amen.

 

Source of both prayers:  Novena in Honor of St. Isidore:  Patron of Farmers by National Catholic Rural Life Conference.

Should Sugar be Regulated like Alcohol?

If you’ve ever read our blog before, you know our answer to this question right away.  We grow sugarcane.  We like to bake with sugar.  We love sugar!  Of course we don’t think that sugar should be regulated by the government like alcohol and tobacco!  But why?

The Fight Against Sugar

This latest war against sugar was initiated by the University of California San Francisco and alleges that sugar is “toxic beyond its calories” and should be regulated by the government like alcohol and tobacco.  While that makes for fantastic headlines, when you read further into their report, you will find that they are actually waging a war against “added sugars” not sugars that are naturally occurring in our diets.

The distinction between “added sugars” and cane or beet sugar is important for two reasons:  chemical make-up and manufacturer’s intent.

Added Sugars versus Real Sugars

Sugar is a very specific substance grown naturally in either sugar cane or sugar beets and consists of one molecule each of glucose and fructose.  The fiber in real sugar helps your body to digest it naturally, actually delaying the absorption of the sugar so the liver has a chance to catch up.  The body should absorb sugar slowly so that the pancreas doesn’t have to make as much insulin.  The body was designed knowing how to digest and absorb naturally occurring sugars.  The only scientifically proven side effect of sugar intake is tooth decay so we do suggest that you brush your teeth twice daily, as recommended by the American Dental Association.

So called “added sugars” are not really sugars after-all.  They are generally a manufactured substance known as High Fructose Corn Syrup or HFCS.  As the name implies, the Fructose part of HFCS is in higher proportion to the glucose.  This is a huge difference because of the way the two compounds are digested:  Fructose in the liver and Glucose in the Pancreas by the release of insulin.  The liver is not designed to break down the fructose without fiber and there is evidence that this process is what leads to a condition called metabolic syndrome.  Metabolic syndrome is a fancy way of saying that a person has high insulin levels.  You may have heard of some of these metabolic syndrome conditions:  Type 2 Diabetes, Obesity, Hypertension, lipid problems, Heart Disease, Fatty Liver Disease, and Polycystic Ovarian Disease.

I am not here to say that High Fructose Corn Syrup causes these diseases, either, though.

What?  Isn’t that what the previous paragraph just said?  Nope.  What generally causes those conditions is over-consumption.  People do not get fat because they eat High Fructose Corn Syrup, Cane Sugar, or Beet Sugar.  People get fat because they eat too much food and because they do not move their bodies enough.  You’ve seen the pictures; I am not the picture of healthy eating.  But I’m also not blaming the government for allowing me to buy these products.

As a side note, there is no such thing as “Corn Sugar.”  The term “Corn Sugar” is a misleading term implying that the substance is Real Sugar that comes from Corn.  I think we’ve proven that it is something else entirely.

Manufacturer’s Intent

Why do people grow sugarcane and sugar beets?  Quite simply, people have a natural sweet tooth.  Just as any other crop is grown because someone wants to eat (or wear) it, sugar is grown because people like it.  Imagine life without cookies!  Yuck!

So why do the manufacturers of foods containing High Fructose Corn Syrup add that specific chemical to their products?  There are two main reasons for this:  HFCS increases the shelf life of manufactured goods and it is far cheaper than Real Sugar.

Wait.  That complicated chemical compound is cheaper than naturally occurring sugar?  How is that?  This news may shock you.  It may anger you.  But it is true.

The United States Government pays farmers to grow the corn that is turned into HFCS.  Seriously.  Your government is paying for this chemical and now these people are proposing that they regulate and tax the final product?

Think about that for a moment.  The government pays for a product that they then want to charge you taxes to buy.

Because High Fructose Corn Syrup is cheaper to purchase than sugar, it has become more prevalent in many of today’s most “villianized” products including soft drinks.  When you see Mexican Coke or Throwback Pepsi, those are made with Real Sugar, not HFCS.  The same goes for Kosher Coke.

So Why Aren’t We Regulating Sugar?

This answer is so much simpler.  Sugar is a naturally occurring substance that has only one medical side effect (tooth decay, remember?).  It does not alter one’s state of mind, is not addictive, and is only 15 calories per teaspoon.

Why aren’t we regulating High Fructose Corn Syrup?  Besides the government’s intimate financial involvement with the product, regulating HFCS consumption would mean regulating a large percentage of the products in most grocery stores.  When you picture your local market, think about the items that are along the edges of the building:  produce, meat, seafood, and dairy.  Those items generally (but not always) do not contain HFCS.  Then think about the products in the middle:  all of those processed items with shelf lives that extend years.  How did they get those long shelf lives?  High Fructose Corn Syrup.

So Let’s Just Regulate High Fructose Corn Syrup!

It’s not that easy either.  Look at the labels on your favorite processed foods.  Do you see where it says how many grams of HFCS are in there?  No?  Oh yeah, that is because all sweeteners (natural and not) are combined on nutrition labels and called “Sugars.”

Perhaps the more appropriate legislation would not be to add a blanket assessment and regulations on all sweeteners but to properly label the ingredients of all food products.  Rather than lump sugar and High Fructose Corn Syrup into one category called “sugars,” why not give the consumers the choice?

Final Thought

I’m pretty sure Grandma’s Homemade Chocolate Chip Cookies were made with Real Sugar.  Should we regulate Grandma?

Winds of Change

When I first started helping my mother-in-law with the books for the farm, I was blown away by how differently things ran from other places that I had worked.  I had been a payroll clerk, Accounts Payable clerk, and bookkeeper for other companies before, from a small construction company to an international contracting company.  This “family farm” thing was very different!

Have you ever heard the story about the monkeys and the bananas?  The basic premise is that you have four monkeys in a room and put a bunch of bananas in the corner. When one monkey goes over to eat the bananas, all of them are sprayed with water.  This happens over and over until you then replace one of the monkeys with a new monkey.  When the new monkey goes towards the bananas, the other monkeys stop him so they aren’t sprayed.  One by one you replace each of the monkeys until you have four monkeys who have never been sprayed with water but refuse to go near the bananas.  Basically, they don’t know why they don’t eat the bananas; it is just the way it has always been.

That’s how our farm has run for the past 60+ years, the way it always was.  As a new wife, new daughter-in-law, new employee, and generally new blood, I was discouraged from rocking the boat, even from asking the questions that concerned me.  My mother-in-law has said before that she felt the same way when she went to work for her new husband’s mother.

Things are beginning to change, though.  Some changes are good, some are not, and some are just plain scary!  Stay tuned…

Back in the swing of things…Sort of.

If you have been keeping up with Dana and I lately you know that we just returned from an amazing trip to Honolulu, Hawaii. We now have to get back into the swing of things.

For me that means getting out into the fields to determine what work soil conditions will permit us to perform and a whole lot of shop work. That is the nature of the beast on a sugarcane farm. When you spend three months harvesting it takes some time to repair and maintain equipment that was a little neglected during harvest.

Shop work is not my favorite type of work on the farm. I became a farmer because I love being outdoors in the field. But like I said there is always plenty of shop work to be done. We don’t do any major engine overhauls or specialty work such as air conditioner work ourselves but we do a fair bit of the other maintenance including welding and fabrication.

This year is a bit unusual in that were able to get most of our fallow field work done during harvest due to the dry conditions. We are still tiding up a few field that are now fallow getting them ready either to be leveled or redrawing the rows to prepare for bean planting.

This time of year is also busy with meetings. Dana and I have the Louisiana Farm Bureau Young Farmer and Rancher leadership conference this weekend followed in another couple of weeks by the American Farm Bureau Young Farmer and Rancher Leadership Conference.

I also have several meetings coming up in February and the early spring is usually full of informational meeting conducted by the LSU extension service and USDA.

The last couple of months of winter are always interesting and filled with anticipation for me. Spring is my favorite time of year I love to see the sugarcane start to grow and I love planting the spring garden. I already have tomatoes started in the green house Dana and the kids bought me for Christmas. This is why I do what I do. I love to grow things plants, animals, and even our four kids.

Until next time,

Wilson

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Post-Grinding Projects

Now that the harvest is over, it is time for us to catch up on everything that we just did not have time to complete over the past few months.

For Wilson, this means assembling the greenhouse he got for Christmas, putting up a new deer stand and actually using it, straightening the sheds, and trying to restock the freezer (aka “hunting”).

For me, it means sorting through the kids’ clothes and toys while the boys are all celebrating the holidays with their other families. I also need to update everyone’s iPods, iPads, iPhones, and other iType equipment.

We are also getting ready for a big trip: Wilsonwon theLouisianaFarm Bureau Young Farmers & Ranchers Discussion Meet last July. Part of the prize package is a trip to compete for the national title at the American Farm Bureau Annual Convention inHonolulu,Hawaii!

As exciting as that is – and it is very exciting! – we do have a great deal of prep work to do. Our To-Do List for this week included trying on all of the clothes we plan to wear on the trip. This includes business suits forWilsonand bathing suits for me, among other resort-style clothing. The packing list (also on the To-Do List) is getting longer, but I’m fairly certain we will be able to fly with just one checked bag each and that was the goal.

Ten days and counting!

Aloha,

Dana

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Wilson in his new Greenhouse!

The End of Grinding

Today marks the end of grinding season for this year. Our entire crop has been harvested and, as my Mama always says, “it’s lookin flat around here.”

Without the ten-foot tall stalks in the way, we can see for miles around the house and farm. The highway that runs nearby seems so much louder without that buffer.

The last week of grinding is hectic and unpredictable. The past few weeks have been like that, in fact. The mill gets with the growers to determine what each has left to cut and tries to finish everyone on the same day.

Some farmers consistently over-estimate (whether intentionally or not) the amount of cane they have left. Then WHOOPSIE! They are out of cane! Sorry!

This leaves the mill without enough cane to grind for the rest of the predetermined days. They call up the rest of us and have us haul in more loads.

There is a fine line for the mill managers to walk. They have to process a minimum amount of cane daily to justify staying open, but they don’t want to take in too much and risk it spoiling on the ground or not take in as much as possible overall.

So we spend the last few days of grinding dancing to whatever tune the mill has to play to make the logistics work. Sometimes it’s a slow waltz, sometimes it’s a quick-stepped salsa! Either way, we are just relieved when the dance ends.

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