The 82nd International Rice Festival will recognize Gerard Frey as the 2018 Farmer of the Year.
Gerard was born and raised in a rural community called Shortbread, northeast of Iota in Acadia Parish. He is a fourth-generation farmer, fourth and youngest child of Sylvester and Helen Reiners Frey. Gerard has one sister Anne and two brothers, Francis and Gilbert.
Married to Dana Clements of Morgan City, they have no children but have an adopted grandson, Brayan Jasso.
At an early age, there was never any doubt of Gerard’s future occupation. He began driving a tractor at the age of six by himself, tilling soil, and hauling rice out during harvest. At nine, he began operating a combine and has never stopped; now, his grandson Brayan is following in his footsteps. Brayan, age nine, is on his second-year driving tractors.
In 1979, Gerard’s senior year of high school, a retired farmer and neighbor offered to rent his farm to Gerard. At 17 years old, Gerard financed 100% of the money needed to purchase equipment and crop expenses from a local banker without a co-signer. This became the first farm that he purchased, still farms, and resides with his family today. Gerard states “Looking back 40 years, why in the world they loaned me this money is beyond me, but I’m sure they looked at my dad, whom was a great farmer and honorable hard-working man and that helped”. Someone asked Gerard years ago why would someone work 80 plus hours a week with all the stress on a farm and you could work elsewhere for 40 hours a week and make more money and no stress? His reply was “It would have to be in your blood for you to understand. From the smell of fresh tilled soil, nature and beauty of crops growing to the fresh harvest smell…. you can’t put a price tag on this”.
Gerard’s first crop consisted of approximately 150 acres of rice and 200 acres of soybeans. It has grown to a high of over 4,500 acres which consisted of rice, soybeans, and crawfish. Health issues fifteen years ago caused him to reduce to some 3,000 acres today which consist of rice, crawfish, and cattle. He raises mostly long grain, Clearfield varieties and approximately 75% is seed rice and no-till planting.
Although rice farming is his passion, at the age of 23, Gerard was elected Mayor Pro-tem for the Town of Iota and became Mayor at 27. While serving as mayor, he received the Most Outstanding Municipal Improvements Award in the state. Through his farming career, Gerard has also received numerous awards including the highest rice yield and quality challenge in the state in 2003 and 2004, State of Louisiana Farmer of the Year in 2005, Acadia Soil and Water Conservation District Farmer of the Year in 2006, Guy Caire Memorial Award for outstanding leadership in the promotion of soil and water conservation in 2015, and the Good Land Use Award for Environmental and Conservation Excellence in 2015.
Gerard felt thru his career he needed to be more diversified for stability therefore he has farmed rice, soybeans, wheat, crawfish, and cattle. After purchasing his first farm, he built grain bins to help assist his farming operation. A crawfish processing plant was then built, which he credits his wife Dana for her managing. At the plant, they process alligator and their own farm-raised crawfish. In addition to the alligator and crawfish, they also process other food products they market from their farm. He also has a commercial and agriculture laser-leveling business along with, excavation, dozer, trucking, rental properties and a real estate company.
Gerard credits his success to God, “Without him you have nothing”, outstanding bankers, the LSU Ag Center, LSU Ag experiment stations, County Agents, and field consultants for their knowledge and leadership, seed distributors, and staff. Last but not least, he credits his parents, sister, brothers, his wife, and his employees that he considers his coworkers. For the past 40 years, Gerard has been involved with several agricultural organization committees and boards which include past president of the Acadia Parish Farm Bureau, standing Secretary Treasure of the Acadia Parish Farm Bureau, chairman of the Acadia Soil and Water Conservation District, member of the Louisiana Rice Growers Association, and the Louisiana Crawfish Growers Association. He has also completed the Master Farmer Program.
Gerard has always been a supporter of the FFA & 4H livestock programs throughout his career and a community supporter to all the churches and schools in the parish. He is also an avid supporter to St. Jude’s Hospitals and the Shriners Hospitals.
Gerard enjoys cooking with friends and family, hunting with his grandson and friends, and listening to country and gospel music.