Toppin’ Cotton

Story Shannon Bardwell | Photographs Luisa Porter

Albert “Chunky” Frugé was a Louisiana rice farmer and the grandpa of Matt Brignac. One day Chunky took his 10-year-old grandson to the rice fields to flag the crop duster. In those days a man stood at each end of a row with flags. The men would pace the same number of steps down the field to give the pilot his bearings. That was the day Matt’s dreams took flight.

At 17, with little money to his name, Matt left home for Georgia, where he made a deal with the owner of a flight school. In exchange for working, Matt would get flight lessons. He had never been in a plane.

“I did just about everything from feeding the man’s cows to working on the planes doing maintenance. The guys that were paying finished in six months, but it took me a year and a half. I wouldn’t trade it though, I learned a heck of lot more than they did, and when I finished school I was debt free.”

The job Matt thought he’d have when he graduated didn’t pan out so he took any flying job he could, including scouting pipelines. One day he got a call from a classmate about a crop dusting job in Glen Allan, which later led to a call from Floyd Lowry who needed a crop duster pilot in Columbus.

Photographed by Luisa Porter.

Photographed by Luisa Porter.

While Floyd, who would become Matt’s mentor, operated the flying service and farmed a couple of thousand acres, the young Matt fell in right behind. Pretty soon Floyd and Matt were partnering on buying and leasing land for row crops, corn, soybeans and cotton. In time Matt would be farming his own 700 acres. Then in 2009 Floyd sold Matt the crop dusting business, now Brignac Flying Service. The farming operations continued.

By 2012, in an effort to better service area farmers, Floyd and Matt partnered again to form a second flying service, F & M Flying Service, adding two more planes and two more pilots, Keith Poeschl and Rick Lot.

Along the way Matt married a girl from back home in Louisiana. Heather and Matt have a son, Miles. “Yep, we’re coon-asses,” Matt says jokingly. While 4-year-old Miles points out equipment around the hanger Matt comments, “It’s a good life for a boy — planes and tractors.”

A hard worker, Matt is quick to praise those who’ve helped him, “My family and Floyd’s family are family,” he explains. “And we owe a lot to those guys out there.” Matt points to the pilots and workers, Eugene, Rolins, Bubba and Ken. At the hanger that day Matt and Floyd are serving the crew barbecue “family style.”

“Then of course there’s Miz Dell, Mr. Floyd’s wife, and Heather. They keep our world turning on the book side of things.” 

Whether plowing dirt or spraying crops, driving tractors or flying planes, cooking barbecue or boiling up crawfish, there’s no doubt Matt Brignac, the 10-year-old dreamer, has found himself flying in high cotton.