Berken has been farming for 15 years. He is a member of the Jeff Davis Parish Rice Growers Association (past president) and the Southwest Louisiana Rice Advisory Committee.
Among the other organizations Berken is involved and holds positions in are: the chairman and co-founder of the Louisiana Rice Political Action Committee; the chairman of the Louisiana Rice Promotion Board; a member of the Louisiana Rice Grower’s Association; the Louisiana Farm Bureau; as well as many other farming related organizations.
Berken is a 1979 graduate of St. Maria Goretti Catholic School in Lake Arthur and also earned a Bachelor of Science (Agriculture/Business) from McNeese State University in 2003. At McNeese, he was also a member of Delta Tau Alpha Agricultural Honor Society.
“Having grown up on a farm, my path was almost chosen for me,” said Berken. “However, after graduating from McNeese State University and then coming back to the farm for a couple of years, I was unsure of this path and chose instead to move to San Diego, California to pursue a career in real estate.”
“While in San Diego I met and married my beautiful wife of twenty years, Shirley,” he continued. “We have one son, Adam, our ‘miracle’ child and a true blessing from the Lord Almighty in 1997.”
After several years in the real estate field and moving up to sales manager for a Century 21 office with over 100 agents, Berken chose to come back home and continue his real estate career. Upon returning home, however, his father was diagnosed with cancer. He didn’t have an income prior to getting his real estate license so he decided to farm during his first year back.
“Well when I tilled that first soil of 1996 I was hooked,” he said. “My farming blood took over and I never looked back.”
Berken chose to be in production agriculture because of the rewards he received by ‘reaping what he had sown’ and because of the freedom and mobility that the farming life gave him.
“I was able to get involved with my son’s education and sports activities, my community and the future of the rice industry,” he said.
Initially, Berken farmed 300 acres of rice and 500 acres of soybeans. He purchased his father’s equipment which consisted of no four-wheel drive tractors and no equipment less than six-years-old. Since the lower part of Jeff Davis Parish is prone to flooding and makes soybean farming a risky proposition, he quickly realized that rice farming would be his safest option.
“Today I farm approximately 1,300 acres of rice, 500 acres of soybeans and 200 acres of wheat,” he said.
Berken’s plans for the future are to maintain his current operation size so that he can continue to use one combine to increase his efficiency by utilizing minimum and no-till farming practices and to be able to be an effective advocate for the rice industry by continuing to be involved in the rice leadership community as well as bridging the gap between farmers and conservationists.
“I would like to achieve this by building on the recent success of our ‘Yellow Rail and Rice Festival,’” said Berken. “At these events, in which we have had approximately 150 participants each year from around the world come to southwest Louisiana to see the elusive yellow rail while riding on a combine harvesting our second crop rice. This allows me to speak with people that know nothing about rice farming and share with them the benefits of the rice habitat for many different wildlife species.”
Berken says the biggest challenge to rice farming and agriculture is to bring the public’s perception of farming back into the realm of reality.
“As each generation moves away from the farm, the importance of our mission, food and fiber independence, becomes more difficult and therefore it becomes more important to get our message out to those that make the decisions that could affect our livelihood and our country’s safety,” he said. “We must bring to the American people the continued necessity of being able to feed ourselves and not go the way of the energy industry and become reliant on foreign sources for our food.”
“It is said that if you do what you love you never work a day in your life,” concluded Berken. “I have finally found something that I love doing and even though I’ve had some very difficult days I still don’t think of it as work.”