Denny Lanaux has been farming sugar cane up river from New Orleans, Louisiana, his entire career. He was born into a farming family and for the last 41 years has been the owner of Big D Farms, which has 4,000 acres of cane as well as some soybeans. He says it’s what he was born to do.

Over the years, Denny has seen changes in how sugar cane is farmed, but he’s quick to point out that in some ways it’s evolved very little. When it comes to integrating technology into sugar cane farming, there have been some successes but it certainly isn’t simple.

For example, he has watched as farmers try to find the right way to integrate automation into sugar cane fields but says it can be a challenge. Mechanical planters for whole stalk planting have been around for decades but were never perfected due to mother nature. Cane varieties were either too brittle or bad weather would knock down the crop making the cane difficult to cut.

More recently, some farmers have changed from whole stalk planting to billet planting. What, you ask, is billet planting? Instead of planting a 6-8-foot-tall stalk of cane, a harvester cuts it into 24-30-inch sections or “billets.” This allows mechanical planters to plant the cane with consistency under any condition. When it works, billet planting allows a farmer to plant three times faster than normal with fewer people. However, the mechanical harvesters and planters frequently damage the billets. So, while modern approaches can help in the field and reduce labor and costs, sticking with old-school techniques can mean better results.

One thing that’s always held true for Denny is the important role farmers play in the lives of people every day. He remembers when he was young and read about how people used to spend all day trying to hunt or farm produce and enough food to take care of their families, maybe even contribute to their community. “Today we don’t even think about where food comes from, we just drive up to a window and get what we want,” said Denny.

While most folks may not know a farmer or understand the importance of farming to their daily life, Denny knows there is still an appreciation for the idea of farming. He says that people get the clichés, like “working dawn ’til dusk.” It is hard work, but for Denny farming brings deep satisfaction in providing food for his family and for many others. It’s what he loves.

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