Rice Leadership Class Session One: The Gulf Coast

Mar 28, 2016
Touring RiceTec, Inc.
HOUSTON, TX and NEW ORLEANS, LA – Traditionally the Rice Leadership Development program’s first session occurs in the spring and begins with a tour through rice-producing areas of the Gulf Coast.  Stops in Texas and Louisiana include examination of rice production, milling, marketing, research, and other aspects of the U.S. rice industry.  

Session I is also the class icebreaker as it’s the first time members spend quality together since the announcement of their selection at the USA Rice Outlook Conference a few months before.  

On day one of the inaugural session earlier this month, class member Michael Bosworth, a rice farmer from Olivehurst, California, said, “From the outset, we appear to have a really strong group and we’re eager to get to know each other and start taking advantage of the unique opportunities the Leadership Class presents.”

In addition to Bosworth, class members are:  Imran Khan, Chico, California; Allen McLain, Abbeville, Louisiana; Sidney Robnett, Stuttgart, Arkansas; Brandon Truax, Gillett, Arkansas; Sunny Bottoms, Dumas, Arkansas, with Horizon Ag; and Kris Riggs, Jonesboro, Arkansas, with Anheuser-Busch.

In Texas the class visited Riviana Foods; RiceTec, Inc.; the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA); Doguet Rice Milling Company; Rice Belt Warehouse, the state’s largest storage facility; and several rice farms.

Rice farmer Imran Khan was struck by the differences in farming practices in the south because “coming from California, with our specific cultural practices and varieties we plant, it’s been eye-opening to see the same crop done in a different way.”

What impressed Sunny Bottoms most during the Texas leg of the session was “the reservoir being constructed by the LCRA near Lane City, Texas.  Being from Arkansas I’ve never had to worry that much about water availability, although it is a growing concern, and our issues are typically with groundwater availability, not surface water and urban sprawl.”

Bottoms continued, “[The reservoir] is a massive undertaking:  5 miles in perimeter and 42 feet high.  We learned about many of the issues that had to be taken into consideration before building something of this magnitude; for instance, the seep wall that was being constructed underground before the levee could be built on top of it.  They were able to use the native soils at the site for much of the construction and only had to bring in some key ingredients.”     

During their three-day visit to Louisiana, the class met with Farmers Rice Milling Company and toured the bioenergy plant that supplies the company’s electricity.  At the South Louisiana Rail facility in Lacassine, the group met Mark Pousson, an alumnus of the program, and toured their state-of-the-art rail facility.  Following a tour of the bagging facility at Crowley’s JohnPac, Inc., the group met with Dr. Steve Linscombe from the Louisiana State University Rice Research Station, also an alumnus, to review the latest rice research information.  

“One of the great things about this Leadership Program is seeing aspects of our industry that are important but we just don’t think about, like JohnPac manufacturing bags for the rice industry,” said rice farmer Sidney Robnett.

Bottoms agreed, saying, “This was one of those industries I hadn’t thought about before, and, of course, seeing how JohnPac makes their own fabric and weaves and inks the bags was neat.  But the thing that stuck in my mind the most was how every decision we make as an industry affects all sectors either positively or negatively.  So when we lose export markets, it hurts the bag industry as well because they are making a product that much of our export rice is shipped in.”

Kris Riggs, with Anheuser-Busch, was fascinated by the Zaunbrecher Brothers family farming operation in Duson, Louisiana, and “the additional crawfish crop they are growing along with rice because diversification is starting to play an integral part in agriculture.”

The final stop on the tour was New Orleans, where class members met with the Russell Marine Group to learn about river and barge logistics, toured a mid-stream barge/ship loading unit, and met with Eurofins, to learn about DNA and GMO testing in rice.  (Click here to see a short video of bulk rice loading onto a barge.)

At the conclusion of the week-long session, Bottoms weighed in on the overall experience, saying, “Being able to talk with the other class members when we’re traveling around, the conversations with other growers and industry people who have completely different backgrounds and different experiences, you learn a lot from other passionate people in the same industry.”

The Rice Leadership Development Program is sponsored by John Deere Company, RiceTec, Inc., and American Commodity Company through The Rice Foundation and is managed by USA Rice.

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