Louisiana's sugar-cane farms; A view from the farmhouse
New Iberia, La. — Sugar-cane farmer Daniel Gonsulin, son and grandson of sugar-cane farmers, lives in an attractive, modern stone house on the 1,000-acre farm owned by him and other family members near New Iberia.
The main issue facing US sugar-cane farmers today is ''survival,'' he insists during an interview in his living room. ''On the average, (cane) farmers are breaking even or making a little,'' he says. They are ''not buying Cadillacs,'' he adds.
He resents past press coverage of the lot of the sugar-cane workers. It focused only on the negative and ignored the positive elements of the industry, he argues. ''We (farmers) have been badly represented by the press.''
''There's very little substandard housing'' for workers, he says, before taking this reporter on a partial tour of his farm.
(Mr. Gonsulin denied a request to see the inside of any of the five workers' homes on his property and to talk with the occupants. He also insisted that a photo of the homes not include an old car raised on blocks in front of one of the houses.)
His workers' homes are ''a little better than average,'' he says, adding that he pays his workers $4 an hour plus social security contributions. He also says he gives them rent-free housing, free gas and water, and lends them money, without interest. He estimates they earn more than $5 an hour, with housing included.
He points to some of the tractors and other equipment on the farm. A single-row harvester costs about $90,000; a two-row harvester about $135,000, he says.
The move to mechanical planting was at least partially spurred by the trouble farmers have had in getting labor for the season, he explains.
Farming is his life. ''I love it,'' he says. ''There's nothing like being your own boss.''