Rabb accepted the award from LN Farm Director Don Molino at the 15th annual banquet Feb. 23. The event was held at White Oak Plantation in Baton Rouge.
“There’s nothing like cotton farming,” Rabb said. “It’s something my family’s always done and it’s something I just love. I can’t tell you what it’s like to look at that harvest moon over a white field of cotton. I want to thank my parents, who’ve passed on, for teaching me how to farm.”
Rabb, who said he has a cotton bole from his father’s last harvest, competed against Bobby Morris, a sugar grower from West Baton Rouge, and Calhoun dairy producer Charlie Staples.
The LN Farmer of the Year program honors Louisiana’s top agricultural producers. Since 1998 it has recognized Louisiana farmers who produce every commodity, from row crops to livestock to fruits and vegetables. An out-of-state panel of judges, primarily ag economists and ag educators, chooses the winners.
Former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards was this year’s keynote speaker. Edwards, who was raised on a farm in Marksville, spoke openly to the more than 200 guests about his time in federal prison.
“As some of you may have heard, I’ve been away for awhile,” Edwards joked.
The 84-year-old Edwards said during his incarceration he received more than 35,000 letters from friends and supporters, adding the correspondence “helped sustain me while I was there.” He related how his wife, 33-year-old Trina Grimes Scott Edwards, wrote him weekly letters and visited him nearly every weekend during his incarceration at the federal facility in Oakdale.
“My wife is a Republican,” Edwards told the audience. “After all those Democratic campaigns I finally found a use for a Republican. You sleep with them.”
But before a bedrock audience of farmers, ag industry supporters and state officials Edwards told stories of his dayspicking cotton on his father’s 40-acre farm in Avoyelles Parish.
“I picked cotton for a nickel a hundred (pounds),” he said. “During the harvest we’d load the wagon with the cotton from the day before. We’d wake up at 1:30 in the morning and take that wagon eight miles to the gin, where we hoped we could get a 500-pound bale from 800 pounds of lint.”
Speaking fondly of his days on the farm, Edwards said his father, a sharecropper, taught him the value and rewards of hard work. “It’s something I carried with me on the campaign trail all those years,” he said.
Edwards also spoke of his mother, a mid-wife trained by her mother, who he said delivered more than 1,800 children during her lifetime.
“There was rarely a time when I was campaigning that I didn’t meet somebody who told me they were delivered by my mother, or who had someone in their family who my mother helped deliver,” he said. “It was those kinds of connections that made me proud to be a Louisianian.”
The former four-time governor praised the three farmer of the year finalists, telling them he understood the importance of their daily endeavors.
“Unfortunately, when you ask the average fourth grader where milk comes from they’ll say Walmart or Winn Dixie,” Edwards said. “Unfortunately much of the urban community and young people don’t know what goes on on a farm. I want to congratulate the three finalists because you were nominated by your peers. That’s the greatest honor of all, because they know what you’re doing and the value of what you’re doing.”
Edwards talked about his accomplishments as governor, telling the audience the cost of farm inputs, particularly fuel prices, would continue to rise.
“When I was first elected governor, oil was selling for $8 a barrel,” he said.
Edwards said he predicted decades ago that oil would eventually top $100 a barrel because it was a limited resource.
“They thought I was crazy,” he said. “Right now gas is $3.50 a gallon. It’s going to be above $4 a gallon before the end of the year.”