Agriculture: Backbone of Louisiana Economy
In Washington, Ronnie Anderson is recognized as the leader of one of Louisiana’s largest and most influential organizations — the Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation.
But at his place in East Feliciana Parish just north of Zachary, Anderson looks like just another cow hand, as he herds cattle, drives them into holding pens, and then helps vaccinate, tag, and castrate the calves.
For Anderson, this land and this business are about more than money or politics. His family has poured themselves into this land for nearly 100 years. This is a way of life, a hard life but one that Ronnie Anderson and his wife Vivian know and love. Their farmhouse was built in 1880, and his grandfather bought the place in 1918. Since then, the Andersons have been cattlemen.
Farmers comprise only about 1 percent of the population, but the Louisiana Farm Bureau has more than 160,000 members, in large part because of its insurance program, which allows the Farm Bureau to reach out far beyond farmers.
Today it’s hard for small cattlemen to afford employees, and the cattlemen around Ethel pool their efforts and help one another with vaccinations and on other special occasions. Last week was Ronnie Anderson’s turn, and his fellow cattlemen were there to help with his herd. There was no shortage of good-natured banter, and Anderson got more than his share of the kidding, especially with the newspaper there to photograph everything.
It’s not easy to manhandle a 300-pound calf through the chute. They tend to want to make an impossible turn and go backwards through the chute or turn themselves upside down.
One can only imagine the scene if the young bulls had known the fate awaiting them at the end of the chute. After the newspaper ladies arrived, everything went well until one of them noticed Stacy Zion flinging something on the ground. “Oh my God!” one of the ladies said. “Is that what I think it is?” she asked. It was! Just then, two more landed right in front of the ladies. “Oh no!” they screamed, at which point a small dog arrived out of nowhere and gobbled up the delicacies!
“That’s a stray,” Ronnie Anderson smiled.
The chutes were widened to allow the full grown cows and bulls to go down the row and get vaccinated. But these fellows had been through the chute before and some resisted to the utmost! For Anderson, dealing with an uncooperative politician is a piece of cake, compared to a 2,000-pound bull!
Ronnie Anderson met his wife Vivian Norsworthy when they were just babies. They even had baby pictures together! Their mothers worked together at East Louisiana State Hospital, and their fathers were both dairy farmers.
Ronnie went to LSU and hoped to become a vet, but there were only 18 slots allocated to the entire state, and he never got into vet school. Instead, he came back from LSU ran the family’s dairy farm with his father. Then later he and Vivian’s brother, Jimmy Norsworthy, combined their operations to form 100 Cedars Dairy, which ended up being the last dairy farm in West Feliciana, before selling to Lily Creamery and later Borden’s.
Early in his career as a cattleman, Ronnie Anderson became active in the Farm Bureau and was elected president of the Farm Bureau chapter for East and West Feliciana parishes. Not long after that, he was chosen to represent that area on the Farm Bureau’s state Board of Directors. The face of the Farm Bureau and one of the most respected leaders in Louisiana was Jimmy Graugnard of St. James Parish, who served as state Farm Bureau president for 26 years. In 1989, Graugnard retired, and Ronnie Anderson sought the position and was elected. Now more than 26 years later, Anderson has become the longest serving president in Farm Bureau history.
The Farm Bureau was founded in 1919 to help bring better roads, electrification, and open markets to farmers. Today those goals are still important but Anderson focuses on promoting international trade for Louisiana farmers and keeping the heavy hand of the federal government off the backs of farmers. One of the worst offenders is the EPA.
Vivian Anderson, a retired teacher, takes Ronnie’s accomplishments in stride and focuses on creating a warm environment in their historic home and being involved with their two children and six grandchildren.
Among their many interests, the couple raises Labrador retrievers, including the World Champion, Beau’s Last Black Magic.
Agriculture is big business in Louisiana, and the Farm Bureau and Ronnie Anderson take their commitment to Louisiana farmers seriously. But he still finds time to run 100 head of cattle and stay close to the soil, just as his father and grandfather did.