Jerry Savoie, 61, had been weighing his business and Pro Stock Motorcycle racing options for some time. But it struck him at 4:30 one morning recently as he sat on his sofa, planning the day ahead, that’s he’s working harder with his alligator farm there in Cut Off, La., and making less money.
He raises the reptiles primarily for their skins and meat but says every part of the alligator is used in some fashion. Moreover, he releases 12 percent of what hatches on his farm back into the wild in an effort to preserve the species.
“I was thinking before I picked up [alligator] eggs this summer, I should have just raced, because right now I’ve got half of a crop plus a whole crop. So I got one-and-a-half crops from the last two years, and here we pick up eggs again this summer and we have no sales. I haven’t made a sale since March.”
All the major brands of high fashion, his clients, he said, have halted their segment of the supply chain. He said, “I mean, just think about it, nobody’s shopping, nobody’s doing anything. All the stores were closed. Most of them are still closed. So therefore, they’re not making shoes, they’re not making purses, they’re not making watches. When you walk in Vegas and you see all those watches with those alligator straps, that’s all coming from Louisiana [originally] and Switzerland – and if they’re not selling watches there, they are not making more watches or watch straps. The tanner isn’t tanning more skins. Therefore, the farmer doesn’t have any sales. It’s like a big circle. At my age, with the money I got in the bank, I’m like, ‘I should just quit and take that money.’ But I don’t think it’s human nature to take a fully blown business and shut it down completely. I think maybe leasing it later on would have been an option.
“I should have stepped back,” Savoie said, the weight of the current health-economic-political situation written on his face. “My daddy died at 70, so it got me thinking about it the other day. Maybe I should have just stepped back some, because what’s happening right now is the farm costs me a minimum of $400,000 a month to run.”
Yes, he has a helicopter and 15 airboats to search the LaFourche Parish bayous, and he has salaries to cover. But he said, “It’s a lot of everything. My feed bill is $25,000 every seven days. So basically $125,000 a month. My natural gas bill is $100,000 a month. Then employees and pickup trucks. I’ve got eight pickup trucks and insurance and all my boats, four to five tractors. We’re busy. So it cost me about $400,000 a month.
“But I don’t owe anyone any money. We don’t have any notes. But the alligator farm itself is one big note, because you got to keep everything running. You can’t just not feed them,” Savoie said. “I’ve been blessed in certain ways, but in some ways I’ve boxed myself in to something that is really hard to get out of to sell, because not just anybody can raise alligators.”
His race team has been just as erratic lately. In 2018, he and Steve Johnson decided to race together, then parted ways after just one race. He had talked about stepping aside last year and brought on Karen Stoffer. She finished fourth in the standings as his teammate last year, but she opted out of this season.
“I was going to try to make last year my last year, but after what happened at the end of the season and we ran so well . . .” Savoie said of his series runner-up performance. “We had some new things happening this year, and we’ve only had one race, so we haven’t really been able to show what we’ve been working on. But I felt really confident that we could win a championship.
“I’m going to be honest with you. I don’t know if I make the whole season this year, because this is a screwed-up mess,” he said. “Without fans here, it’s not fun. I mean, it’s boring. It’s fun to go race down the track, but you spend a whole weekend at the track doing nothing. Without the fans, there’s nothing. It’s not fun. You have nobody to share it with.”
Watching a baseball game drove home the point for Savoie: “I was flipping the channels the other night – and I’m not watching sports anymore. I’m done. I saw a baseball game. Then a guy hits the ball and the [fake] crowd is cheering [via an audio track] and I thought, ‘That is the biggest crock of bull—-.’”