• Conservation Programs Take a Hit in Trump Budget

    by Deborah Willenborg | May 24, 2017
    Working wetlands work
    Conservation-Programs-Take-a-Hit,-pintail-mallards
    WASHINGTON, DC – President Trump’s $4.1 trillion budget has received a rough reception from the agriculture community since it appears to gut programs important to his core ag-based constituency and leans disproportionately heavily on agriculture to find “savings.”  As the onion is further peeled, more draconian cuts to conservation programs are coming to light.

    For Fiscal Year 2018, the budget proposes $766 million for Conservation Operations, the account that funds conservation planning and technical assistance.  That is nearly $100 million less than FY17 and significantly below historic norms for the program.

    In addition, the budget proposes cuts to FY18 mandatory farm bill conservation programs which include an authorized level of $1.4 billion for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) – a $350 million cut from what was authorized in the Farm Bill.

    The budget proposal also has legislative proposals that would cut more than $5 billion over ten years in a “conservation streamlining initiative.”  The budget certainly picks winner and losers with EQIP receiving a $250 million bump and the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) getting a $450 million annual increase.  The losers are the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) – no new sign ups; the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) – eliminated; and a few cuts to the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP).  In addition, there is a new Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) for conservation programs of $500,000 down from the current $900,000.

    “While the proposed increase in funding for EQIP is warranted, the proposal appears to pay for the increase by scaling CSP down and eliminating RCPP, both of which are important programs for rice production and the habitat rice farms provide for migrating waterfowl,” said Louisiana rice farmer Jeff Durand, who also co-chairs the USA Rice-Ducks Unlimited Rice Stewardship Partnership.

    “The Administration says they are attempting to better target conservation funding, but what they’re really doing is arbitrarily gutting programs that work - for both the environment - specifically for wildlife habitat and water quality - and for growers who are facing staggeringly tough times and use these programs to pursue sustainability goals,” said ​USA Rice President & CEO Betsy Ward.
  • Rice, Ducks, and Friends Awarded $15 Million in 2017 RCPP Funding

    by Michael Klein | Dec 21, 2016
    Planning on putting it to good use
    GA-Rice, Ducks, and Friends Take a $X Million-Sweep of 2017 RCPP Funding-161221

    WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) announced the list of 80+ projects to be funded through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) for 2017.

    USA Rice, through its USA Rice-Ducks Unlimited Rice Stewardship Partnership, was awarded funding for two projects bringing $15 million to the Mid-South and Gulf Coast’s rice-growing regions. The NRCS funds, along with $15+ million in financial and in-kind support of 45 companies and organizations, will help producers implement a variety of conservation practices on their operations through the NRCS-led Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and supplement a reservoir construction for irrigation water in Texas.

    USA Rice took the lead for the Mid-South Graduated Water Stewardship Program, which was awarded $7 million to be used for rice-specific EQIP and CSP contracts in Arkansas, Mississippi, Missouri, and Central and Northeast Louisiana. The second project, is led by the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA), and was awarded $8 million to supplement the building of a conservation reservoir in Eagle Lake, Texas to provide water for irrigation and flooded water bird habitat across 50,000 acres of ricelands and includes a small amount set aside for CSP contracts for Texas rice farmers.

    USA Rice and Ducks Unlimited currently deploy more than 15 field staff to work on rice conservation projects, namely the implementation of the 2015 RCPP project, Sustaining the Future of Rice, across all six major rice-growing states. The Partnership is in the process of completing the $10 million-project with hundreds of rice farmers expected to sign EQIP and CSP contracts throughout the three-year life of its funding.

    Louisiana rice farmer and co-chair of the Rice Stewardship Partnership, Jeff Durand, shared his obvious excitement about the announcement, “The notification that our proposals were awarded is just thrilling, the news of this funding could really not have come at a better time,” he emphasized. “As producers we’re dealing with an ongoing streak of low commodity prices and luckily, the wide suite of practices available through EQIP and CSP will, in most cases, improve our bottom lines and add to our overall sustainability as an industry.”

    USA Rice President and CEO, Betsy Ward, was equally pleased, “We’re proud of our continued, strong relationship with Ducks Unlimited, LCRA, and NRCS as well as our many other contributing partners on these RCPP projects,” she said.

    These sentiments were echoed by outgoing NRCS Chief Jason Weller at the USA Rice Outlook Conference earlier this month when he said, “I am so proud of the partnership NRCS has with the rice industry…for your commitment to being partners with us to invest in conservation and really be national leaders in production agriculture….I commend the rice industry for your leadership and your partnership through our programs and standing up for what’s right for farmers, for families, for rural communities, but also what’s right for American conservation.”

    “Rice and ducks have a unique relationship, they play vital roles in the ecosystems throughout the U.S. and we fully embrace the motto ‘what’s good for rice is good for ducks.’ And so it comes as no surprise to us that our Partnership’s proven success will be bringing record levels of conservation funding solely to rice farmers over the next couple of years as the projects are implemented,” Ward added.

    The success of the USA Rice-Ducks Unlimited Rice Stewardship Partnership would not be possible without the help from financial and in-kind partners. Rice Stewardship financial contributors include the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Walmart Foundation, the Mosaic Company Foundation, Chevron U.S.A., Freeport-McMoRan Foundation, Irene W. and C.B. Pennington Foundation, RiceTec, BASF, American Rice, Inc. - Riviana Foods, Inc., Delta Plastics, Wells Fargo, Farmers Rice Milling Company, Horizon Ag, Turner's Creek & Bombay Hook Farms, MacDon Industries, Dow AgroSciences, and other major Ducks Unlimited sponsors.

  • National Indicators Report: U.S. Rice Bolsters Sustainability Claims

    by Michael Klein | Dec 16, 2016
    She told you so
    Jennifer James

    WASHINGTON, D.C. – Last week, Field to Market published their highly anticipated 2016 National Indicators Report outlining improvements made to on-farm sustainability metrics made from 1980 through this year.

    The Report evaluates ten crops using eight environmental indicators: biodiversity, energy use, greenhouse gas emissions, irrigation water use, land use, soil carbon, soil conservation, and water quality. Rice has been one of the original crops analyzed since the Report was first published ten years ago and has seen vast improvements over the 35-year period of the study.

    During the last ten years of the study, the largest accomplishment has been increased soil conservation with substantially less soil erosion taking place on rice farming operations.

    The Report states, “On a per-acre basis, rice consistently demonstrates the lowest per-acre soil erosion of all six crops examined.” The claim is backed by the highly adopted use of flood irrigation and land-leveling practices employed by the industry. Energy reduction and greenhouse gas emissions seen on rice farms are also credited to productivity gains by the industry according to the Report.

    Jennifer James, Arkansas rice farmer, chair of the USA Rice Sustainability Committee, and USA Rice Board Member for Field to Market shared her thoughts on the Report. “While the scores for rice within the various metrics has fluctuated over the years, we have not stopped improving overall from where we were in 1980. We can’t look at a snapshot of our records to determine where we are for the long-haul, it’s important to look at the big picture to see just how far we’ve come,” she said.

    James added, “This Report is great for us to show to our buyers and export markets but it’s nothing we didn’t already know. U.S. rice farmers are sustainable and we know that, this is just another tool in our toolbox to help us tell our story and prove our point.”

    The full report and rice's specific analysis is located on the Field to Market website.

  • 2016 USA Rice Outlook Conference Highlights

    by Michael Klein | Dec 14, 2016
    It was the place to be
    Outlook-Memphis logo no text 

    MEMPHIS, TN – Welcoming everyone to the 2016 USA Rice Outlook Conference last week, host-state representative and Mississippi rice farmer Kirk Satterfield explained, “The conference has grown so much and is still growing that we had to move to Memphis to find a venue big enough to accommodate all the attendees and exhibits.  We certainly appreciate the level of participation.”

    USA Rice Chairman Brian King echoed that sentiment:  “It’s encouraging to see so many in the industry come out - it shows we’re on the right track and offering good value to our customers.  Attendance this year was close to 800 and I attribute that statistic to excellent programming - from exciting keynote speakers like NASA Astronaut Michael Massimino, Ambassador to Iraq Stuart Jones, and crowd-favorite 2017 Miss America Savvy Shields - to the new Innovation Stage, centrally located in the Exhibit Hall that was bursting at the seams with 59 exhibitors.”

    “Moving the New Products & Technology seminar to the Innovation Stage concept in the middle of the Exhibit Hall fostered more interaction between members and exhibitors,” said USA Rice President & CEO Betsy Ward.  “We really appreciate all of our exhibitors and sponsors for their support and are always looking for ways to help them promote their products and services.”

    Ward also said the Annual Rice Awards Luncheon was a conference highlight.  “Attendees heard moving speeches from the award winners, got to meet the 2017/19 Rice Leadership Development Program class, and see the winning entry in the first ever National Rice Month Scholarship video contest,” she said.

    Between traditional program offerings like state outlook and rice research reports from all six major rice-producing states, USA Rice showcased several videos, including the P.F. Chang’s Farm-to-Wok video featuring Arkansas rice farmers Jennifer James and Dow Brantley that captures the artistry of rice farming and tells the story of the U.S.-grown grain.

    This year’s conference included two panels focusing on conservation and sustainability practices in the rice industry that was moderated by outgoing Chief of the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Jason Weller who spoke eloquently about the importance of industries telling their stories. (click here to see his full remarks)

    “In my view, production agriculture is sustainable agriculture, full stop,” Chief Weller said in touching closing remarks.  “You guys need to stand up and be proud of what you do, you need to advocate for what you do, and you need to do it in a way that connects with people who aren’t familiar with production agriculture.”

    Weller said he figured this would be his last public appearance as NRCS Chief, at least before a commodity group, and he had the date circled on his calendar for some time.

    “I am so proud of the partnership NRCS has with the rice industry and I wanted to be here personally to thank you all for your commitment to being partners with us to invest in conservation and really be national leaders – not just regional or local leaders – but national leaders in production agriculture."

    “Add up all the good information from the sessions and exhibits, plus getting to see an astronaut and Miss America in the same conference, and you’re getting your money’s worth,” concluded Satterfield.

    The Outlook conference is the largest annual rice-specific gathering in North America and is an educational service of USA Rice.  Next year’s conference is scheduled for December 10-12 in San Antonio, Texas.

  • Ducks Unlimited Snags Rice Industry’s Conservation Awards

    by Deborah Willenborg | Dec 09, 2016
    DU award winners receive well-deserved recognition
    GA.w-DU-Conservation-Awards-at-Outlook-161209
    MEMPHIS, TN – Yesterday, the rice industry’s ever growing role in the conservation and sustainability sphere was spotlighted during the annual awards luncheon of this year’s USA Rice Outlook Conference.

    Dr. Scott Manley, director of conservation innovation for Ducks Unlimited (DU) was the recipient of USA Rice’s 2016 Distinguished Conservation Achievement Award.  Manley works out of the DU Southern Regional Office in Jackson, Mississippi, where he oversees staff for the organization that who work directly on the National Rice Regional Conservation Partnership Project (RCPP) project.

    Leo LaGrande, California rice farmer and chairman of the USA Rice Farmers Conservation Committee, said, “Scott was one of the architects behind bringing together USA Rice and DU to form the Rice Stewardship Partnership and as the son-in-law of a rice farming family and an avid waterfowl hunter, he has long been familiar with the synergistic benefits that rice and ducks provide for one another.”

    LaGrande added, “Scott has worked hard to make the partnership successful and is often joked about as a joint employee for both organizations.”

    The praise didn’t end there for DU as USA Rice presented a special award, the 2016 USA Rice Conservation Communications Award, to the Ducks Unlimited Communications Team that works closely with Manley on the Rice Stewardship Partnership’s outreach and education efforts.

    Award recipients include: Karen Almand, Graphic Designer; Clay Baird, Video Productions; Katie Burke, Heritage Center Curator; Andi Cooper, Southern Region Communications Specialist; and Greg Taras, Communications Productions.

    LaGrande highlighted the DU team’s credentials, saying, “Part of the challenge that our industry faces within the realm of conservation and sustainability is our effectiveness at telling our story in a way that connects with consumers and the general public.  This DU communications team has truly excelled at producing top-notch, professional resources that can be used by our sponsors, our farmers, and the media and they’ve been able to tout our successes in immeasurable ways.”

    This year marked the seventh time USA Rice has presented its Distinguished Conservation Achievement Award and the first time that a Conservation Communications Award has been given.

  • Conservation and Sustainability - Beyond the Buzz

    by Katie Maher | Nov 16, 2016
    Not that kind of deep dive
    DeepSeaDivers
    ARLINGTON, VA -- Marketers and trend watchers constantly tell us that today's customers are demanding more information about what they are eating and also how their food is being produced, and they use buzzwords like conservation and sustainability to push this agenda.  At next month's USA Rice Outlook Conference in Memphis, attendees will be able to take a deep dive into this conversation with a two-part panel that will examine both practical, on-farm conservation practices and in-market sustainability trends.  No matter where in the rice supply chain attendees are, they will not want to miss this valuable session that immediately follows the Annual Rice Awards Luncheon.
     
    The sessions will be moderated by USDA’S Chief of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Jason Weller, whose leadership and vision of partner-driven conservation on private working lands has enabled the USA Rice-Ducks Unlimited Stewardship Partnership program to flourish.  Part one is all about water conservation.  Expert panelists, including Dr. Michele Reba, research hydrologist, and Dr. Joe Massey, research agronomist, both with USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS); Trey Cooke, executive director of Delta F.A.R.M.; and Michael Sullivan, NRCS State Conservationist for Arkansas, tackle important topics such as field design and resulting water quantity, irrigation methods, and existing technology all designed to help the rice farmer use water as efficiently as possible.  They'll also talk about programs that offer farmers assistance for making land and technology improvements.

    Part two is a discussion on sustainability.  It means different things to different people, but no matter what it means to you, if you are in the rice business, you won't want to miss this session.  Panelists Mary Grady, director of business development with Winrock International's American Carbon Registry; Amy Braun, sustainability director with Kellogg Company; Rod Snyder, president of Field to Market; and Jennifer James, Arkansas rice farmer and chair of the USA Rice Sustainability Committee will talk about the United Nations Paris Agreement and its impact on the average U.S. rice farmer.  The panel also will cover sustainable food sourcing, Field to Market's Field Print Calculator that seeks to quantify the environmental benefits of rice farming, and the USA Rice Sustainability Plan, and what this industry-wide, multi-sector plan means for your company or operation.
     
    It's not too late to get in on the conversation, although the original hotel block at the Sheraton is sold out.  Rooms are available at the Crowne Plaza Memphis Downtown Hotel across the street and you can make a reservation by calling 1-866-310-1173 and asking for the special USA Rice rate of $140.  If you have any questions or issues, contact Jeanette Davis at jdavis@usarice.com or 703-236-1447.
     
    The USA Rice Outlook Conference is the largest conference in North America dedicated specifically to rice.  This year's conference will be held in Memphis, December 7-9.



  • NRCS Hits ‘Go’ On Revamped Conservation Stewardship Program

    by Deborah Willenborg | Nov 14, 2016
    Jeff Durand
    Jeff-Durand
    WASHINGTON, DC – The USDA’s largest conservation program, the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) has been “under construction” since the 2014 Farm Bill was signed into law nearly three years ago until the new version was released earlier today.

    The CSP provides landowners the opportunity to build on existing conservation efforts while strengthening their operation overall.  CSP helps landowners meet their environmental goals by addressing specific priority concerns within the span of the five-year contract.  Successful contracts are eligible to be renewed for an additional five years following their completion to maximize the environmental benefits to the land.  The CSP is made up of a combination of conservation practices and enhancements that go above and beyond the minimum standards and help to elevate the level of effectiveness.

    The 2014 Farm Bill instructed USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to revamp the CSP, particularly removing the complexity that made applying, rewarding, and maintaining contracts difficult for staff and landowners.  After collecting industry comments on the CSP draft rule, NRCS returned to the drawing board to develop and pilot test the new program until receiving the green light to begin training field staff this summer.  According to NRCS Chief Jason Weller, “[The new CSP] provides even more opportunities for conservation and greater flexibility at the local level to prioritize resource concerns and conservation approaches.  State and locally customized CSP tools will improve the customer experience during application evaluations.”

    In conjunction with the national roll-out of the revamped CSP, the USA Rice-Ducks Unlimited’s Rice Stewardship Partnership is beginning the second phase of the National Rice Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) project.  Earlier this year, the Partnership organized the signing of more than 200 Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) contracts for rice growers across the six rice-growing states.  The second portion of the project entails enrolling 120,000 acres of ricelands under the CSP in the same six states.

    Partnership co-chair and Louisiana rice farmer Jeff Durand said, “CSP contracts have historically been sought after by rice growers as astute stewards of their land but we’ve had a difficult time understanding the application process and what we as farmers get out of the enhancements we’ve selected to implement.”

    Durand added, “It’s exciting for rice farmers to not only have a clearer understanding of how applications are prioritized to be funded but also to have funds set-aside specifically for ricelands to help provide growers an opportunity to implement some of the more costly enhancements.”

    Applications will be accepted beginning today through ​December 30, 2016 at your local NRCS offices.  More information can be found here.
  • Yellow Rails and Rice Festival Delivers for Birders

    by Deborah Willenborg | Nov 07, 2016
    Need that picture of you
    2016-YRR-Festival
    THORNWELL, LA – One hundred and twenty-seven bird enthusiasts from 27 states, and Australia and Canada gathered here in the Yellow Rail Capital of the World November 1-5 for the eighth annual Yellow Rails and Rice Festival.  The festival brings birders together with rice growers to highlight the role of Louisiana’s working wetlands in bird conservation while providing participants a unique venue to view the elusive Yellow Rail.

    On Thursday enthusiasm quickly turned to frustration when festival organizer and rice farmer Kevin Berken’s combine suffered major mechanical damage during a preliminary pass around the field.  Harvest operations were temporarily suspended until neighboring farmer Paul Johnson, a member of the 2015 Rice Leadership Development program, came to the rescue with a backup combine.  Despite the delay, patience paid off as 30 Yellow Rails were sighted that day.

    Although the Yellow Rail is fairly widespread it is rarely seen so bird enthusiasts welcome the opportunity to catch sight of the migrating Rails as they arrive in southern Louisiana at the same time the ratoon rice crop is being harvested.

    Berken said, “What started out as a two-day event in 2009 has grown as folks take advantage of being in the heart of Cajun Country in Louisiana’s southwest prairie region.  It’s an area known for rich history and culture, not to mention mouth-watering regional cuisine, and this festival has added great birding to the list of local attractions.”

    USA Rice is one of 50 organizations that sponsor the festival.  The Louisiana Rice Growers Association provided gift bags of Louisiana-grown rice to festival participants. 

  • Rice Stewardship Partnership Report: Sky’s the Limit for Conservation Success

    by Deborah Willenborg | Sep 16, 2016
    ​Conservation is a family affair for the Daniels of MO
    Rance-Daniels-&-Family
    ARLINGTON, VA -- The U.S. rice industry stands out among other commodities in a number of ways but most recently, the industry’s achievements in conservation and sustainability have been in the limelight.

    Keeping with the theme of September National Rice Month, earlier this month the USA Rice-Ducks Unlimited Rice Stewardship Partnership published their first Annual Report to highlight some of the Partnership’s many accomplishments during 2016.  The 28-page booklet showcases what the Partnership has done during the first year of implementing the $10 million of funding for the National Rice Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) administered by the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).  Halfway through the life of the project, the Partnership has more than tripled its staff and signed more than 200 conservation program contracts across the six rice-growing states.

    Missouri rice farmer and USA Rice member Rance Daniels was one of three farmers featured in the report.  Daniels shared his enthusiasm for the Partnership’s involvement in the NRCS program saying, “RCPP is great, and we’re seeing so many companies and people wanting to get involved with what we’re doing, but I think the sky is the limit as to what we can accomplish for both groups, for working lands conservation, and waterfowl habitat.”

    Partnership co-chairs Jeff Durand and Al Montna included an update from their perspective and said they are optimistic, like Daniels, that the Partnership will continue to grow as partners, staff, and funding further develop.

    “The momentum initially surrounding the USA Rice-Ducks Unlimited Rice Stewardship Partnership has certainly grown.  New opportunities for collaboration continue to develop. What’s good for rice is good for ducks, and working wetlands are equally good for people,” said co-chairs Durand and Montna.

    The Rice Stewardship Partnership is made possible by funders, including:  USDA-NRCS; National Fish and Wildlife Foundation; Walmart Foundation; the Mosaic Company Foundation; Chevron U.S.A.; Freeport-McMoRan Foundation; Irene W. and C.B. Pennington Foundation; RiceTec; BASF; American Rice, Inc. – Riviana Foods, Inc.; Wells Fargo; Farmers Rice Milling Company; Horizon Ag; Turner’s Creek & Bombay Hook Farms; and MacDon Industries.

    The Rice Stewardship Partnership 2016 Annual Report can be found online.
  • Crawford Bill: SAM Reporting Requirements for Farmers Could be DUNS(O)

    by Deborah Willenborg | Aug 29, 2016
    CA rice farmer Leo LaGrande
    CA Rice Farmer Leo-LaGrande
    WASHINGTON, DC – Earlier this summer, House Committee on Agriculture Members Rick Crawford (R-AR) and Ann Kuster (D-NH) introduced H.R. 5451, a bill that would exempt farmers from the unnecessary reporting requirements for voluntary conservation programs.

    Currently, farmers and landowners participating in voluntary conservation programs through the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) are required to maintain a Data Universal Numbering System (DUNS) number and register each year for the federal government’s System for Award Management (SAM).  This practice is burdensome, time consuming, and costly.

    Leo LaGrande, a California rice farmer and chairman of the USA Rice Farmers Conservation Committee, shared his views on the process, “It’s a practice that’s good in theory, to provide oversight of federal spending, but in reality the SAM and DUNS requirements disincentivize voluntary conservation.”

    “The registration systems for SAM and DUNS are complex and were designed to hold military defense contractors with billion dollar government contracts accountable for the funds they receive, not to police a farmer with a small cost-share contract with NRCS,” said LaGrande.  “Not only does the registration process take up valuable time for growers every year, but after registering, their contact information is put in a public database and they’re flooded with solicitations via phone, email, and mail.”

    LaGrande concluded, “USA Rice is encouraged by Congressman Crawford’s legislation and supports any efforts to improve the locally-led, voluntary, and incentive-based approach to private land conservation.  Exempting us from these regulations will help to keep rice farmers at the forefront as stewards of the land.”

    A companion bill to H.R. 5451 is expected to be introduced later this session in the Senate.
  • Walmart Foundation Throws Support to Conservation of Ricelands

    by Deborah Willenborg | Aug 08, 2016
    Supporting stewardship
    Walmart-sign
    MEMPHIS, TN – More rice producers will have the opportunity to increase sustainability and profitability on their farms thanks to a grant from the Walmart Foundation.  The grant supports work through the USA Rice and Ducks Unlimited Rice Stewardship Partnership.

    “We are thrilled to announce a $1 million grant from the Walmart Foundation for our Rice Stewardship work in the Mississippi Alluvial Valley and along the Gulf Coast,” said DU Senior Director of Development Chris Cole.

    In late 2014, USA Rice and DU secured a $10 million award from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) through its Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). The majority of the RCPP award is dedicated to financial assistance for producers who implement conservation practices on their lands through Farm Bill programs.

    “The Stewardship Partnership is the delivery mechanism to provide in-person conservation technical assistance to the tremendous number of rice farmers interested in participating in the programs,” said Josh Hankins, USA Rice stewardship partnership coordinator.  “Only a small percentage of the RCPP award is dedicated to fund staffing for this role so we’re continuing to seek additional, outside funding to better provide the support needed on the ground to rice growers interested in implementing suites of conservation practices on their farms.”
     
    There are also no RCPP funds to promote conservation efforts to a broader, historically underserved population or to scale conservation practices beyond those currently funded by scarce federal dollars.  These are the two areas where the Walmart Foundation’s grant will have the most impact.

    Walmart Foundation funding will be used primarily for technical assistance to and training for farm owners, operators, and workers.  Conservation projects on ricelands will also improve rural economies by using locally sourced contractors and supplies.

    “The challenge here is to conserve three critical natural resources in North America:  working ricelands, water, and wetland wildlife.  The support of groups like the Walmart Foundation is critical to our ability to make this level of change happen,” Hankins said.

    Rice Stewardship funders include the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Walmart Foundation, the Mosaic Company Foundation, Chevron U.S.A., Freeport-McMoRan Foundation, Irene W. and C.B. Pennington Foundation, RiceTec, BASF, American Rice, Inc. – Riviana Foods, Inc., Wells Fargo, Farmers Rice Milling Company, Horizon Ag, Turner’s Creek & Bombay Hook Farms, and MacDon Industries.
  • Rice Stewardship Partnership Growing Exponentially

    by Deborah Willenborg | May 06, 2016
    Riceland's Trevor Freemyer
    Ricelands Trevor-Freemyer
    MEMPHIS, TN – This week, more than 30 people associated with the implementation process of the National Rice Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) project and working under the umbrella of the Rice Stewardship Partnership convened here at the Ducks Unlimited (DU) headquarters.

    Staff representing USA Rice, DU, and USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) spent a day and a half engaging in more than 20 presentations encompassing NRCS training, technical conservation education, and increasing the Stewardship Partnership program coordination. Several of the Partnership’s key partners were also in attendance to provide insight on how the National Rice RCPP project is working and how to best synchronize efforts to increase the implementation of conservation across the rice landscape.

    One of the partners in attendance was USA Rice member, Trevor Freemyer, sustainability coordinator for Riceland Foods.  Freemyer addressed the group saying, “Riceland Foods is glad to be a part of this successful Rice Stewardship Partnership effort and it’s been exciting to listen to what all of the staff in the field, working with rice farmers across the Mid-South and California have to say.”

    He added, “It’s also been enlightening to hear from the NRCS staff here about the technical side of implementing all of these rice-friendly conservation practices.  It’s much more complex than I anticipated and definitely gives you a greater appreciation for the work their staff does behind the scenes on a daily basis.”

    USA Rice is continuing to work with DU, NRCS, and other partners to develop sustainable conservation programs designed to address the unique needs of rice farmers and increase the financial assistance provided for implementation of those practices.
  • New Conservation Stewardship Program Finalized

    by Lee Brinckley | Mar 10, 2016
    NRCS Chief Jason Weller (left) and Jeff Durand
    NRCS Jason-Weller-& Jeff-Durand
    WASHINGTON, DC – Earlier today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) published its final Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) rule in the Federal Register.

    The CSP was updated following the guidelines set by Congress in the 2014 Farm Bill and after reviewing nearly 500 comments on the Interim Rule, the agency is finally ready to put the new rule into effect.  

    CSP is known as the USDA’s largest conservation program by acreage.  Since its inception in the 2008 Farm Bill it has provided financial assistance on more than 70 million acres of working lands.  The program has been utilized by U.S. rice farmers since it was first introduced and provides a number of enhancements that work particularly well on rice-growing operations.  

    USA Rice submitted comments to NRCS regarding the Interim Rule asking for payment equity for using existing versus new conservation practices and more transparency in the ranking process for CSP applications. The final rule did this by removing the much-criticized and complex Conservation Measurement Tool and using a public set of ranking criteria similar to the process used by EQIP.  

    Jeff Durand, Louisiana rice farmer and co-chair of the USA Rice Ducks Unlimited Stewardship Partnership, shared his thoughts, “Conservation definitely comes at a cost but CSP gives us as rice farmers the opportunity to cost-share some of the expenses for implementation and maintenance of enhancements and practices that keep our industry sustainable.”

    Durand added, “Earlier this year, USA Rice and Ducks Unlimited put together the Rice Growers’ Conservation Handbook that outlines the CSP and EQIP practices that are most commonly used by rice farmers and provides some additional background information on the programs.”

    Last month, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced $150 million available to enroll 10 million new acres in CSP for Fiscal Year 2016.  Applications are due to local NRCS offices by March 31. Vilsack said of the CSP, “[It is one of the most] popular programs with producers because it results in real change on the ground by boosting soil and air quality, conserving clean water, and enhancing wildlife habitat.”

    The Stewardship Partnership’s Sustaining the Future of Rice project through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program will also offer the opportunity for rice farmers to sign-up for CSP later this year in all six rice-growing states.


  • Texas Now Accepting National Rice RCPP EQIP Applications

    by Lee Brinckley | Mar 01, 2016
    Ken Danklefs
    Ken Danklefs
    TEMPLE, TX – The USA Rice and Ducks Unlimited (DU) conservation and sustainability project, Sustaining the Future of Rice, takes a big step forward today with the announcement that the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Texas has begun accepting Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) applications for the project.

    The National Rice Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) project, funded by NRCS, was awarded $10 million in 2015 and is coordinated by USA Rice, Ducks Unlimited, and more than forty additional partners and sponsors.  

    The goal is to implement targeted conservation practices on working ricelands in all six rice-growing states using the EQIP and the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP).  The targeted application of practices aims to address three related natural resource opportunities in rice:  water quantity, water quality, and wetland habitat.

    Texas is the fifth rice-growing state to accept EQIP applications through the Rice Stewardship Partnership’s RCPP project.

    Ken Danklefs, rice farmer and Texas representative for USA Rice on the Stewardship Partnership shared his enthusiasm, “The Stewardship Partnership is bringing Texas $1 million to be used toward implementing CSP and EQIP contracts.  Houston-based American Rice, Inc. graciously contributed an additional $50,000 to supplement USA Rice’s efforts in Texas and that support from millers says a lot about our industry.”

    Danklefs added, “I’m encouraging our rice farmers to submit EQIP applications under the National Rice project.  Water quantity is the top concern and practices such as underground pipelines on groundwater wells are high priority, followed by irrigation land levelling, water control structures, and renovation of irrigation pumping plants.  If you’re planning on doing some of these practices on your operation already or you’re on the fence about it, this is a perfect opportunity to get some help from the industry and USDA.”

    Applications will be accepted through March 18 at local NRCS offices in the following Texas counties:  Brazoria, Calhoun, Chambers, Colorado, Fort Bend, Jackson, Jefferson, Lavaca, Liberty, Matagorda, Waller, and Wharton.

  • Missouri Hosts First Rice Conservation Field Day

    by Lee Brinckley | Feb 04, 2016
    Packed in
    MO-Hosts-First-Rice-Conservation-Field-Day 
    PORTAGEVILLE, MO – Yesterday morning, more than 50 rice farmers and conservation professionals gathered at the Delta Fisher Research Center in Portageville, Missouri, for the first ever Southeast Missouri Rice Conservation Field Day.  

    The Field Day was organized by USA Rice and Ducks Unlimited to provide outreach to rice farmers in the Missouri Bootheel for their National Rice Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) project, Sustaining the Future of Rice.  The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Missouri in conjunction with the University of Missouri’s Fisher Delta Research Center handled most of the local outreach and planning for the event.

    Participants had an opportunity to hear presentations on behalf of the Missouri NRCS State Conservationist’s office, NRCS headquarters in Washington, Ducks Unlimited, and a legislative update from USA Rice Vice President of Government Affairs Ben Mosely.  

    Mosely told the crowd, “It is great to get so many people together with positive common goals and share our respective visions for the RCPP and the USA Rice-Ducks Unlimited Stewardship Partnership.  USA Rice looks forward to continuing to build relationships in the Bootheel and deliver additional funding to the Missouri rice industry.”

    Blake Gerard, Missouri rice farmer and chairman of the USA Rice Farmers also attended the event, and said, “I was thrilled to see how receptive my friends and neighbors were towards this Field Day, and it was imperative that conservation staff were in the room and able to answer specific, technical questions for folks.”

    Gerard concluded, “Our region needs to be implementing as many conservation practices as possible as preventative measures in today’s environmentally sensitive society.  This project is bringing the incentive right to our front door to make sure we continue to responsibly care for our land.”

    Applications for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program portion of the National Rice RCPP project are due to Missouri and Louisiana NRCS offices by November 20.

  • USA Rice Announces Conservation Achievement Award

    by Lee Brinckley | Dec 14, 2015
    Leo LeGrande and honoree Kevin Norton
    comm-conservation-award-winner-kevin-norton-151214
    NEW ORLEANS, LA — USA Rice presented the sixth annual USA Rice Distinguished Conservation Achievement Award to Kevin Norton, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) state conservationist for Louisiana.  Leo LaGrande, chairman of the USA Rice Farmers’ Conservation Committee, presented the award to Norton during the annual Rice Awards luncheon held here last Friday, during the 2015 USA Rice Outlook Conference.  

    “Since being named Louisiana’s state conservationist in 2007, Kevin has worked as a champion for the rice industry and encouraged the adoption of innovative practices to further conservation benefits beyond NRCS standards,” LeGrande said.  “Just this year he submitted a number of new Conservation Stewardship Program practices that are designed specifically for use on ricelands.”

    LeGrande added, “Among fellow state conservationists, Kevin has been recognized as a strong leader.  Recently he spent 29 months detailed to the Senate Agriculture Committee to develop the Conservation Title of the 2014 Farm Bill and personally helped design the Regional Conservation Partnership Program.”

    When accepting the award, Norton said, “As a public servant, there is no greater or more humbling honor than to be recognized by your customers.  And this is really special to me because rice is special to me.”
  • Missouri Hosts First Rice Conservation Field Day

    by Deborah Willenborg | Nov 13, 2015
    Packed in
    MO-Hosts-First-Rice-Conservation-Field-Day 
    PORTAGEVILLE, MO – Yesterday morning, more than 50 rice farmers and conservation professionals gathered at the Delta Fisher Research Center in Portageville, Missouri, for the first ever Southeast Missouri Rice Conservation Field Day.  

    The Field Day was organized by USA Rice and Ducks Unlimited to provide outreach to rice farmers in the Missouri Bootheel for their National Rice Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) project, Sustaining the Future of Rice.  The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Missouri in conjunction with the University of Missouri’s Fisher Delta Research Center handled most of the local outreach and planning for the event.

    Participants had an opportunity to hear presentations on behalf of the Missouri NRCS State Conservationist’s office, NRCS headquarters in Washington, Ducks Unlimited, and a legislative update from USA Rice Vice President of Government Affairs Ben Mosely.  

    Mosely told the crowd, “It is great to get so many people together with positive common goals and share our respective visions for the RCPP and the USA Rice-Ducks Unlimited Stewardship Partnership.  USA Rice looks forward to continuing to build relationships in the Bootheel and deliver additional funding to the Missouri rice industry.”

    Blake Gerard, Missouri rice farmer and chairman of the USA Rice Farmers also attended the event, and said, “I was thrilled to see how receptive my friends and neighbors were towards this Field Day, and it was imperative that conservation staff were in the room and able to answer specific, technical questions for folks.”

    Gerard concluded, “Our region needs to be implementing as many conservation practices as possible as preventative measures in today’s environmentally sensitive society.  This project is bringing the incentive right to our front door to make sure we continue to responsibly care for our land.”

    Applications for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program portion of the National Rice RCPP project are due to Missouri and Louisiana NRCS offices by November 20.

  • In Arkansas and Mississippi, EQIP Aplenty

    by Deborah Willenborg | Nov 06, 2015
    Well EQIP-ed
    Combine in Mud
    ARLINGTON, VA – USA Rice along with Ducks Unlimited and more than 40 other partners are celebrating their most recent milestone as part of the Sustaining the Future of Rice project and the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP).  The Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), one of two programs utilized by the project, collected a total of 334 applications when the sign-up period closed last month in Arkansas and Mississippi.  

    The other conservation program used within the project is the NRCS Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP).

    The project includes implementation of conservation practices on working ricelands in the six primary rice-growing states using a $10 million investment from the NRCS and $6.8 million in private funds.

    USA Rice Vice President of Government Affairs Ben Mosely said, “These numbers have far exceeded our expectations and we’re confident that with a deep pool of applicants in both states we’ll be able to fund projects on the most environmentally sensitive rice-growing acres for the most effective results possible.”

    Applicants selected in this round of funding will be notified in early 2016 so they can begin implementing practices immediately.  

    The EQIP sign-up period for Louisiana and Missouri is open until Friday, November 20.  Sign-up in California and Texas is anticipated to begin later this winter and CSP sign-ups in all six states will happen late in 2016.

    Farmers in Louisiana and Missouri interested in learning more about EQIP and submitting an application should consult their local county or parish NRCS offices prior to the submission deadline.
  • USA Rice Welcomes New Rice Stewardship Partnership Coordinator

    by Deborah Willenborg | Nov 05, 2015
    We've got a 'Hankins' for sustainability
    Josh-Hankins 
    ARLINGTON, VA – Conservation and sustainability are more than buzz words for the U.S. rice industry and to underscore that commitment to these principles USA Rice has hired Josh Hankins as the new Rice Stewardship Partnership Coordinator.  The coordinator position is funded using technical assistance money provided through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) grant that USA Rice and Ducks Unlimited received earlier this year.   
     
    Josh is headquartered in Arkansas and will lead efforts to deliver on-the-ground conservation initiatives, assisting rice producers with increased on-farm energy and nutrient use efficiencies, water and soil conservation, and wildlife management.  He will work in close collaboration with the Arkansas Rice Federation and DU’s southern region Director of Conservation Programs located in Jackson, Mississippi.
     
    Josh has wide ranging work experience in the fields of agriculture, finance, and medicine.  He is the founder and owner of Absolute Wildlife, Inc., a company that specializes in nuisance wildlife control, and he also owns a real estate investment company.
     
    Josh, his wife, Emily, and their two daughters live in Little Rock.

  • Yellow Rails and Rice Festival – A Festival Like No Other

    by Deborah Willenborg | Nov 03, 2015
    Photo credit: John Schwarz
    Yellow Rail in flight, John Schwarz
    JENNINGS, LA – One hundred and forty-five bird enthusiasts from 27 states and Canada gathered here Wednesday through Sunday for the seventh annual Yellow Rails and Rice Festival (YR&R).  The festival brings birders together with rice farmers to highlight the role of Louisiana’s working wetlands in bird conservation while providing participants a unique venue to view the Yellow Rail.

    Although the Yellow Rail is fairly widespread it is rarely seen so bird enthusiasts welcome the opportunity to catch sight of the migrating Rails as they arrive in southern Louisiana at the same time the ratoon rice crop is being harvested.

    Donna Dittman, a founder of YR&R, said, “Although we designed this festival with fun in mind, its primary goal is to bring birders and farmers together to emphasize the value our area’s working wetlands have for wildlife.”

    USA Rice is one of 50 organizations that sponsor the festival.  The Louisiana Rice Growers Association and Hoppe Farms provided gift bags of Louisiana-grown rice to festival participants.