International Rice Leadership Class – Lessons from Great Britain & Spain

Nov 21, 2016
At the U.S. Embassy in London
2016 International Class at US Embassy in London
GREAT BRITAIN & SPAIN -- Earlier this month, the 2016 International Rice Leadership Class traveled to Europe to get an overview of the market for U.S. rice in the UK and to learn about the Spanish rice market.  The class met with a diverse group of industry representatives including importers, exporters, and millers, and U.S. government officials working in London and Madrid.

Members of this year's International Rice Leadership Class are alumni from previous Rice Leadership Development classes and include:  Brandon Bauman, Stuttgart, AR; Wes Long, Benton, AR; Robert Petter, DeValls Bluff, AR; A.J. Sabine, Baton Rouge, LA; and Eric Unkel, Kinder, LA.

The group traveled to Cambridge, England, where Peter Walker, general sales manager with S & B Herba Foods, Ltd., led a mill tour and talked about how they import and market U.S. rice.  In London, the class met with U.S. Agricultural Counselor Stan Phillips, Agricultural Specialist Steve Knight, and Agricultural Marketing Specialist Julie Vasquez-Nicholson who gave an overview of the British rice market.

Next was a session with Iain Forbes of The Garden Marketing and PR firm, USA Rice’s promotion coordinator in Great Britain, who talked in detail about marketing programs used to promote U.S. rice.  He led the group on a tour of various wholesale and retail stores to observe the different ways U.S.-grown rice is packaged and marketed there.

“After the tours and talks in the UK, I believe the consumer market needs a variety of different approaches including a more emotional and personal connection being made between the rice people are eating and where it comes from, said Arkansas rice farmer Robert Petter.

In Madrid, Spain, the group met with U.S. Agricultural Attaché Rachel Bickford and Agricultural Specialist Marta Guerrero where they learned that Spain produces both long grain and medium grain rice but only exports long grain.  

After one day in Madrid, the class boarded a bullet train to Valencia, along the Mediterranean Sea in southern Spain, where they met with Luis Marques Falco, director of Copsemar, a cooperative of rice seed producers that produces 50 percent of the seed rice in Spain.  

"It was interesting to hear how the industry in Spain is so label specific.  For instance, rice produced in Valencia not only has origin listed on the label but also has to have a special seal designating it as a product of Valencia," said rice producer Brandon Bauman.

Next on the schedule was a tour of Arroz Dacsa, the second largest rice mill in Spain, and the final stop was at IVIA-Sueca, the main public institution for rice research in Spain where the group met with Dr. Concha Domingo to discuss their rice research program.

Arkansas rice consultant Wes Long came away from the trip with a new outlook and some words of advice for the U.S. industry.  “The romance the Spanish articulated for their rice was powerful.  Rice was not just a crop but a centerpiece of pride.  In the southern U.S. we seem to think of rice as just another commodity, another revenue stream, and we have chosen to commoditize our harvest rather than celebrate it,” said Long.  “In Spain rice is THE centerpiece of their social gatherings and a source of pride for their countrymen.  The Spanish take a great deal of pleasure in relaxing with friends and family to enjoy a lunch of hearty paella made with locally sourced rice.  It is a good model to learn from.  I wish we in the U.S. could slow down, take more time with friends to enjoy what life has to offer, and really celebrate the fruits of our labor.”

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

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