New Leadership Program Agenda Includes Tours Through Rice Country in Mississippi and Missouri

Author Garrett Williams
Aug 09, 2021
Garrett Williams was raised in the delta region of southeast Missouri and got his start in rice working with a local crop consultant.  He has a degree in Plant Science/Agronomy from Arkansas State University and worked for Horizon Ag, LLC marketing herbicide tolerant rice varieties before joining Producers Rice Mill as a rice sales manager.  Garrett lives in Stuttgart, Arkansas, with his wife and two daughters.    

STUTTGART, AR -- Historically, the second session of the Rice Leadership and Development Program starts out at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange in Chicago and John Deere headquarters in Moline, Illinois.  However, with COVID-19 protocols still in place at those two businesses, a curveball was thrown to Dr. Steve Linscombe, the program director, that he proceeded to hit for a home run by rearranging an alternative schedule that proved to be equally action-packed.

The first night we attended a Missouri leadership alumni dinner at Elk Chute Lodge in the Missouri bootheel where the food, lodging, and fellowship were fantastic.  I got my start in the rice industry scouting rice in that immediate area, and it was nice to spend time visiting with folks who I’ve known for a while.  

Monday morning, we met farmers and millers, David and Mike Martin, who explained how they manage their different businesses at their operation in Bernie.  Next, we traveled across Crowley’s Ridge for a visit with Zack Tanner at Tanner Seed Farms.  I grew up just a few miles from his headquarters and was fortunate enough in my days with Horizon Ag to work with Zack almost daily.  He is one of the best producers I know and he shared a wealth of seed production knowledge with our group.  We then traveled south for a farm tour with producer Rance Daniels.  We had dinner that night in Memphis with Dr. Louis Rodrigue who manages the southern business unit for Helena Agri-Enterprises.  

On day two, we traversed the Mississippi Delta from north to south with Dr. Jason Bond as our tour guide.  We started out at Curtis Berry’s farm in Tunica, where we had a great discussion and farm tour before heading to Shelby Air Service to meet with Ike Brunetti and his crew.  They showcased the newest ag aviation technologies and finished the visit off with a flight demonstration.  We also met with Austin Davis at his family’s operation – they have a great looking rice crop!  Our final stop was at the Delta Research and Extension Center (DREC) in Stoneville where Dr. Bond gave us a station tour and Kenner Patton gave a presentation on the history of the DREC.  We attended another alumni event that evening at the Delta Council with the leadership program alumni from Mississippi.  

Wednesday morning, Randy Frazier took us through a leadership training session encouraging us to think of different ways to be better leaders in all aspects of our lives.  USA Rice staff Josh Hankins and Lydia Holmes, and Kelly Robbins, executive director of Arkansas Rice, spent the afternoon explaining all that their respective organizations do for the U.S. rice industry.  That evening we met up with leadership alumni Robb Dedman, Mark Isbell, Wes Long, and Joel Stevens in Stuttgart for dinner and a tour of Rich-N-Tone, the new duck call shop here.  It’s always fun to show off the rice and waterfowl history of Stuttgart to people who are not familiar with it.  

Breakfast on Thursday was at the Isbell farm hosted by alum Jeremy Jones and his wife.  Mark Isbell and Jeremy took us on a farm tour, and then Chris Isbell conducted a saké tasting with wine made from rice on their farm.  I punched the clock at our next stop, Producers Rice Mill since that’s where I work.  Our CEO, Keith Glover, gave a presentation on the history of Producers and we toured Producers’ parboil mill.  We also toured Riceland Foods which is right across the street in Stuttgart.  At Five Oaks Duck Lodge, Dr. Ronnie Helms talked about the private research projects he’s working on and then Bill Dunklin gave us a tour of the waterfowl habitat areas on the property.  We met up with Arkansas alumni at a dinner that night sponsored by Producers, Riceland, and Five Oaks.

Our last day was spent touring first, the Museum of the Arkansas Grand Prairie, with exhibits covering the history of rice production and waterfowl in this area along with the Arkansas Waterfowl Hall of Fame, and finally, the University of Arkansas Rice Research Station with Drs. Jarrod Hardke and Xueyan Sha.  

Despite the initial schedule juggling, this was a well thought out session with lots to learn and ways to improve – which is something the Rice Leadership and Development Program emphasizes.  I’m grateful to be a part of our outstanding group of classmates, and would like to extend a thank you to American Commodity Company, John Deere, and RiceTec for sponsoring the program.

Leadership applications and recommendations for the next class are being accepted now through September 10, 2021.  For more information, please contact Steve Linscombe, program director.