Jeffery Sylvester of Ville Platte will be honored as Rice Farmer of the Year during the 79th International Rice Festival Oct. 15-18, according to Troy Perry, festival president.
Sylvester was born in December 1958. As a young boy, he started his agricultural education and career in the family dairy. As a teenager, he worked hard in his dad’s field along with his brothers, growing rice, soybeans, and crawfish.
He graduated from high school in 1977, and attended USL until 1980, when his dad offered him a piece of land to farm on his own.
Seven years later at the age of 28, Sylvester formed a partnership with two of his brothers and they began farming 900 acres of rice, crawfish, and soybeans. Ten years after that the partnership was honored as the Parish Conservation Farm of the Year, through (at that time), the local soil conservation service, now the NRCS office.
This partnership continues today in their 29th year, with the cultivation of 5,500 acres of rice, crawfish, and soybeans.
That type of continued alliance in agriculture production, takes an extreme amount of effort, dedication, and especially cooperation, on each partner.
Agriculture, to our nominee, is not only career, it’s a lifestyle for Sylvester. Farming in his family has now entered its fourth generation. It provides a family environment that allows him to cultivate and instill discipline and responsibility in himself as well as in his family.
Agriculture allows him to express creativity and innovation in production and management decisions and to produce a product that is the cornerstone of our nation, while protecting and nurturing the environment for generations to come.
Sylvester says agriculture is the key to our country’s success and survival. He has put into place many EQUIP practices on the farm, including precision land leveling, drainage structures, weirs, and irrigation pipelines, and also erosion control structures on most of the farm’s acreage.
During the winter months, he also holds water in the rice fields for water fowl to winter in a program called “Operation Quackback.”
Sylvester’s desire to constantly learn and improve with new agricultural technologies, led to his cooperation with the LSU AgCenter in several programs. He has participated in the LSU Rice Research Verification program with Dr. Johnny Saichuk for four years. He has also participated in the Soybean Verification program in the past with two different soybean specialists.
Sylvester has planted early soybean test plots for the Asian Soybean Rust detection program to assist in monitoring the potential presence and progression of this disease. Their farmland has always had an open door policy to any and all AgCenter programs, as well as other agency programs, such as Ducks Unlimited, NRCS, and the La. Dept. of Agriculture.
Another goal Sylvester has worked toward is to become an advocate and trusted spokesman for the rice industry and agriculture, whether it is working and developing skills for himself and others within his field, or promoting various business or commodity issues, not just locally but on a regional and national level as well.
While in his 20s, Sylvester was a member of the Louisiana Young Farmers and Ranchers. In 1994, at the age of 35, he was selected to attend the LSU Agricultural Leadership Program, and graduated from that program in 1996. A few months later, he was selected to participate in the USA Rice Leadership program.
Since then he has served in a leadership role for several organizations. He has become a regional contact person for issues and has been involved with state and national issues and in policy development. He has served on the local Parish Water Conservation Board. He was on the board for the local Farmer’s Co-Op for six years (1991-1997), and the Louisiana Soybean Board for four years.
Sylvester served on the Louisiana Rice Council for four years from 1998-2002. He has served as president of his parish Rice Growers for the past 15 years and has been an officer for Louisiana Rice Growers for the past 10 years, first as secretary-treasurer, then as vice-president, and he is beginning his second year as president of Louisiana Rice Growers.
In 2012 he helped to start the Cenla Rice Growers Association, even hosting their first meeting in his outdoor kitchen. Also in 2012, USA Rice selected him to be a member of the International Rice Leadership Team traveling to Brazil and Uruguay.
As Louisiana Rice Grower’s President he recently returned from the 2015 Government Affairs Conference in Washington, D.C., meeting with our Senators and Congressmen. He is also a founding member of Louisiana Rice PAC and serves on that board.
Sylvester has been married for 34 years, and has six children and three grandchildren. He and his family attend Sacred Heart Catholic Church.
In addition his children all attend or attended the Catholic school affiliated with the Church, where he has also served on the board of directors in the past.
He has always been an advocate of promoting and developing leadership in youth, through several different programs. He is known to many students of local parish schools as “Coach,” having been a volunteer coach of elementary basketball for 25 years, baseball for six years and elementary football for four years.
For many years Sylvester has promoted rice and the rice industry locally through the parish 4-H program. He has sponsored awards and assisted in judging the 4-H Rice Poster and the 4-H Rice Cookery contests. He has also assisted the 4-H Jr. Leadership club by donating sacks of crawfish to be raffled off for Jr. Leadership fundraisers, as well as a guest speaker at 4-H Jr. Leadership officer training meetings.
Spending time with his family when not busy on the farm is one of his favorite past times. In addition to this he enjoys family time spent duck hunting, and following LSU football, basketball, and baseball.
Sylvester was nominated by the Evangeline Parish Rice Growers Association as “a man who we feel depicts, represents, and stands for all the qualities and values of an all-American rice farmer, a devoted family man of God and a steward of the land.”
The International Rice Festival will honor Sylvester at the Honoree Social and Queen’s Ball to be held Sept. 19 at the Rice Festival Building.