The Rice Foundation was created as a linkage to industry by Arley Bowling, who served as its first director. Bowling came from the cotton industry and modeled the Foundation after the Cotton Foundation, but on a smaller scale. The Rice Foundation received its tax exempt status in 1986 and began the Rice Leadership Development Program in 1989.
Funding comes from dues, sponsorships, and other sources. Initially, the Foundation was funded by EU Tariff Rated Quota (TRQ) monies, but with those all but gone, it is now mainly supported by industry contributions. Current Colombia TRQ funds are allocated to individual states for research.