The Louisiana delta region is a vast wetland and swamp wildlife sanctuary, barely disturbed by human contact. This began in ancient times with natural flooding of the Mississippi River and sediment buildup of rich alluvial soils deposited in the region as a result of erosion throughout the Wisconsin glaciation period 10,000 years ago. The natural flooding that occurred on the Mississippi River and other rivers throughout the region left natural levees, or “ridges” as they are locally known, that were settled by our ancestors. The first farms in the early 1800s were smaller tracts located near these natural levees. Naturally, the largest levee was along the Mississippi River and after World War II the development of roadways on top of these levee systems opened more opportunity for farmers to access more agricultural areas. In 1950, areas outside and between the levee systems, known as valleys, were largely undeveloped. Beginning in the 1960s, development of these areas prospered with the removal of trees and habitats to create agricultural farmland. Some of these areas over time proved to be inefficient for farming and have now been returned to native habitat lands through federal and state restoration programs.
The Louisiana Delta Plantation began in 1964 when the Morrison family from the Nebraska/Kansas region purchased a tract of land from the Barton family of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The family cleared and developed the first purchase of 60,000 acres for farming. By 1965, this area was in rough agriculture production. Continued development of drainage ditches, levees, and flume systems allowed the LDP to regulate water flow on and off of the property to increase agricultural productivity. With the purchase of the Mississiana Properties and an additional 8,000 acre tract from Prudential in 1978, the Morrison family owned 96,000 acres, making it one of the largest single-owner row crop agricultural farms in the United States. By 1979, almost all of the property was in agricultural production, but much of the lowland area proved to be inefficient for crop production. In the late 1990s, projects began to return much of the lowland areas to native wetland and wildlife habitats. By the mid 2000s, many of the projects were completed resulting in some of the best waterfowl and wildlife habitats in Louisiana.
Simultaneous to the Morrison family acquisitions, the state of Louisiana and the U.S. Federal Government were acquiring and planning major habitat projects in the same region. The state of Louisiana also purchased 60,000 acres from the Barton family that borders the LDP and established the Dewey Wills Wildlife Management Area that still exists as one of the state’s premier WMA’s today. During this same time, the federal government began a water control project on Catahoula Lake in order to implement habitat management for waterfowl on this 60,000-acre, naturally shallow lake. Construction of the diversion canal that drains Catahoula Lake into Black River and drainage structures that assist in the drainage of the LDP were all part of a master plan to manage the region for agriculture, water control, waterfowl and upland wildlife.
Brothers Ron & Michael Johnson, raised in Chicot State Park, Louisiana’s largest state park, learned valuable lessons at an early age from their father about respecting and valuing the land. Ron and Michael’s grandfather, Edious Johnson, was the first caretaker and superintendent of Chicot State Park and paved the way for his son, Dudley Johnson, to later assume the role as the park superintendent. Dudley Johnson passed on his ideas and ethics of land stewardship to his sons as they grew and began their path of education toward becoming engineers. Ron, the elder brother, earned his petroleum engineering degree. He spent years with a major oil company before making the choice to become a farmer in order to spend more time with his family. Having spent the last 40 years as a farmer, Ron has developed a wealth of knowledge of the Louisiana delta region and agricultural operations. Michael’s education in mechanical engineering led him to a different path and eventually into ownership of an oil and gas exploration company in Corpus Christi, Texas. Ron’s experience with the oil industry and farming soon convinced Michael to consider investing in land to diversify his company assets. In 2005, when some of the Louisiana Delta Plantation property became available, Michael agreed to the initial purchase of 30,000 acres of agricultural land as an investment opportunity and for a chance to work closer with his brother, Ron.
Upon learning about the increased property value when recreation land is associated with agricultural land, the Johnson’s purchased another 8,000 acres known as the “Honey Brake” Wetlands Reserve Project (WRP) track, an additional 800 acres of farmland, and eventually additional property on Larto Lake bringing the total owned by LDP to approximately 40,000 acres, which were all part of the original Louisiana Delta Plantation. The WRP land was contracted out to Ducks Unlimited for development of water control structures to support waterfowl, making it the largest Ducks Unlimited waterfowl project in the country. The purchase of LDP also included the 75 leased duck blinds on the property that required significant management. To further develop income from these leased blinds and other valuable recreation resources on the property, Ron Johnson hired Drew Keeth as the LDP recreation manager. Ron knew Drew as a young boy and became reacquainted with him in recent years. The vision of Honey Brake as it is branded today was slowly born. There was no initial master plan, but rather the idea began to materialize as Ron, Michael and Drew began to realize the potential and diversity that the LDP offered as a viable recreation program.
As one of the top-rated duck hunting lodges in the world, Honey Brake draws hunters from around the globe during waterfowl season. To complement waterfowl hunting, Honey Brake has developed into a multifaceted recreational program which includes the 13,000 square foot Lodge with three connected duplex cabins, Honey Brake Gun Club with its 15 station sporting clays range, five stands and duck flush stations, and Honey Brake Pro Shop and Canvasback Conference Center to support the gun club and other recreational activities. Construction is currently underway for the addition of The Camp, which will house 200 beds for summer camps and large group events. An abundance of waterfowl and other bird species provide ample opportunity to support a strong bird watching market. The pristine complex of Larto Lake and its connected system of bayous to Saline Lake offers excellent opportunities for a strong aquatics program and exceptional fishing sources.
The current owners have a true love for this land. They are committed to making this property the best it can be, hopefully for the enjoyment of many generations. Together, the initiative of private, state, and federal efforts created a diverse region for farming, wildlife habitat, and outdoor recreation of this central Louisiana region that is truly a geographical “Hope Diamond.”