Day 3 Tour Dispatches: Talking Sugarcane and Crawfish, Then a Resiliency Tour in Lake Charles
March 15, 2023
Day Three of the Scholarship First Tour, the bus, affectionately known as “Research One,” churned through 150 miles, winding through Alexandria, Jeanerette, Crowley, and Lake Charles.
"What struck me most about this day was how many people are already deeply connected with LSU to protect and advance their livelihoods," LSU President William F. Tate IV said.
The (very early) morning started at Lea’s Lunchroom in Lecompte with Chancellor Paul Coreil.
"The grits were outstanding — and I am very picky about grits," President Tate said. "Of course, we also had a slice of pie to enjoy with the sunrise, and got the chance to meet the owners and several other breakfast regulars.
"I love visiting places like Lea’s — they’re linchpins for small communities, and bring out the most interesting people who embody their community."
In Jeanerette, Sen. Bret Allain hosted thre group for a tour of his sugar cane operation, followed by a visit to St. Mary Sugar Co-op.
The cane growers praised the LSU AgCenter’s development of sugar cane varieties as vital to their success, but also shared difficulties facing their $2.6 billion industry, including workforce challenges, difficulty in getting parts, and technological changes that require investment to up-skill workers and retrofit equipment.
Sen. Allain treated the team to lunch at the historic Yellow Bowl, where they were served crawfish in three forms: bisque, fried, and étouffée — a great prelude to our next stop.
At the Lawson Farm in Crowley, President Tate donned hip waders, climbed into a boat, and did a little crawfish farming.
"There’s no better way to understand an industry than to literally get your hands dirty," President Tate said.
The group discussed rice fields, rice varieties, and the research necessary to bolster the growing crawfish industry, and many of the farmers expressed how much they depend on LSU and the LSU AgCenter to protect their crops.
Lake Charles city officials walked the group through neighborhoods left nearly empty after three consecutive direct hits from hurricanes.
LSU professor and state climatologist Barry Keim shared the extent of historic wind speeds and storm surge, and LaHouse director Carol Friedland talked about new, low-cost techniques to better protect homes from hurricane damage.
The group also saw some of the projects LSU architecture and landscape architecture students are working on, including stormwater plans.
"Seeing the devastation first-hand was emotional," President Tate said. "There’s so much work to be done if we are to restore these families’ lives, but it also gave me great hope to see how much work our faculty are putting in to help the community recover."
LSU Board member Lee Mallett hosted a wonderful dinner with LSU friends, including Supervisors Mary Leach Werner and Richard Zuschlag, and other distinguished guests from the Lake Charles area.
"It was my pleasure to meet McNeese president Daryl Burckel and members of his team as well," President Tate said. "Despite long-term storm impacts, challenges with insurers, and concerns about keeping people in the city, the groups I spoke with were bullish about the city’s future."
Overall, the day was illustrative of how people run their businesses and what they see as barriers to success. In every instance, the state’s economic prosperity was tied to talented people, and that aligns with LSU's goals of bringing back those who left the state.
Also, so many individuals work with LSU's scientists and researchers to bolster their success in industry, "it should be relatively easy for us to expand that level of impact and increase our positive influence on the people of Louisiana," President Tate said.