Joseph Broussard, pioneer rice grower and miller, son of Eloi and Mary Azema (Hebert) Broussard, was born on December 18, 1866, in the home of his maternal grandparents on Hillebrandt Bayou in the site that is now Beaumont, Texas. Mary Hebert's father had moved to Texas from Louisiana in 1842. After Eloi Broussard's early death, Mary married Lovan Hamshire, and the young Broussard was reared on the family ranch near the site of present Hamshire, Texas. After three years' schooling in Galveston, Broussard worked cattle and delivered mail on horseback in the lower Taylor's Bayou area of Jefferson County. When a post office was established in 1885, he became its first postmaster and named it La Belle for his fiancée, Mary Belle Bordages. They were married in 1889 and moved to Beaumont, where Broussard bought one-third interest in a gristmill. In 1892 he converted the gristmill to a rice mill, which, as Beaumont Rice Mills, became the first commercially successful rice mill in Texas. The mill continued in operation in the late 1980s under the founder's grandson.
Less than 1,500 acres was planted with rice in Texas in 1892. To foster rice production, in 1898 Broussard cofounded the Beaumont Irrigation Company, whose initial canal led to the formation of the Lower Neches Valley Authority. The system is now capable of irrigating 50,000 acres of rice while supplying the area's industrial requirements for water. At the time of Broussard's death, acres planted with rice in Texas annually reached well over 400,000, and production had spread to twenty-three counties. Through family landholdings and the advancement of credit to farmers, the mill, under Broussard's management, farmed some 10,000 acres of rice in peak years. On this acreage rice growing was rotated with cattle raising, a lifelong interest of Broussard.
From 1907 to 1918 Broussard was president of the Rice Millers' and Dealers' Association, forerunner of the present Rice Millers' Association of America. In 1909, when the industry faced a financial crisis, Broussard was a member of a two-man team that successfully marketed American rice in Europe. In 1950 the International Rice Festival at Crowley, Louisiana, was dedicated to him. As an exemplary Catholic, Broussard was knighted in 1938 by Pope Pius XI.
On October 6, 1956, he died. He was survived by his wife and nine children. Two new varieties of rice, developed at the China, Texas, Rice-Pasture Experiment Station and planted worldwide, were named Bella Patna and LaBelle in honor of the rice pioneer's widow and in recognition of his continuous support of the station's research programs. See also RICE CULTURE.