• The Time to Think Irrigation Strategies is Now

    by Deborah Willenborg | Feb 07, 2017
    Mike Sullivan (left) explains the irrigation system
    on his AR rice farm to a team from Kellogg's
    BATON ROUGE, LA – The current drumbeat for rice irrigation is:  “take time to measure and evaluate inputs, including water, because the money spent to hold and move that water can decrease significantly with management upgrades.”  Irrigation strategy can be measured in droplets and dollars, and because producers have more options than ever before, determining how to water rice is more complicated today than it’s ever been.  Fortunately, a lot of information is available to help farmers make that decision.  

    Just last week, at the Conservation Systems Cotton and Rice Conference here, irrigation was the most talked about topic in breakout sessions.  Growers, research institutions, and allied businesses discussed irrigation techniques and shared success stories from the research, technical, and practical side.
    Father and son farming team, Mike and Ryan Sullivan, from Burdette, Arkansas, shared their experience with rowed rice production.  Their family operation has had good results with furrow irrigated rice, with a great data set that facilitated their decision to significantly increase their row rice acreage for this irrigation season.  Row rice production is not a new concept, but as seen throughout the conference, has new-found interest in the mid-south.  

    The greatest water saving technique in mid-south rice production still goes to Alternate Wetting and Drying (AWD) on zero grade fields.  AWD allows irrigation water to subside down to a level of mud, then is reflooded during the growing season.  This technique not only significantly decreases water usage, it also decreases the greenhouse gasses emitted, and can allow access into the carbon market, which could eventually bring additional income to a rice farming entity.

    Another popular topic of discussion throughout the rice sessions was the USA Rice and Ducks Unlimited partnership’s successful acquisition of and implementation of mid-south Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) funding.  The USA Rice and Ducks Unlimited partnership challenges producers to improve their irrigation efficiency, while mitigating some of the risk from deploying change by offering financial assistance for new, continually improving irrigation procedures that will lead to more sustainable rice production.    

    “Although we are fortunate in our county, being right beside the Mississippi River, to not have a water shortage like others do, we still want to be proactive and use the least amount of water we can to grow our rice,” says Ryan Sullivan.  “Ducks Unlimited and USA Rice have been terrific in partnering with all of these new irrigation methods to reduce water usage and greenhouse gases.  The other huge part of this program is holding the rain water for the ducks all winter.  There have been ducks in fields around here that I have never seen them in before, and it’s all because of RCCP.”
  • 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.

  • Sustainable Agriculture Summit Serves Up Challenges and Opportunities

    by Deborah Willenborg | Nov 18, 2016
    Sustainability for the next generation
    ATLANTA, GA – The annual Sustainable Agriculture Summit held here this week, in combination with Field to Market’s fall meetings brought together more than 500 attendees from across the U.S. agricultural supply chain.  Participants ranged from farmers, to input manufacturers and suppliers, to processors and retailers.  The livestock, row crop, and specialty crop sectors were all represented among the Summit’s various panels and breakout sessions where talk of partnerships, success stories, innovations, and new research studies contributed to the excitement that ran throughout the conference.

    USA Rice members and partners ADM, BASF, Bunge, California Rice Commission, Ducks Unlimited, Dow AgroSciences, John Deere, Kellogg, Mars, PepsiCo, Riceland Foods, RiceTec, Syngenta, Mosaic, and Unilever all participated in the two-day event.

    Arkansas rice farmer and USA Rice Sustainability Committee Chair Jennifer James, who also serves as USA Rice’s Field to Market voting member, left the Summit feeling confident about the rice industry’s sustainability work.  James said, “Based on the work the Sustainability Committee has lined up for 2017, we could return to this Summit next year and bring rice into the spotlight as a real power player in the ag industry.  We’re really ramping up our representation in this arena and folks are starting to notice.  Since this meeting last fall, rice has tripled its representation and we’re going to continue to grow as the Sustainability Committee works through our Sustainability Plan.”

    James added, “One thing I’ve learned through our work with other agriculture commodities is that we still have a ways to go as we focus on continuous improvement within the industry.  Results from our recent sustainability survey showed that most of us want to learn more about sustainability because we realize that it’s not going away anytime soon.  The concept of farmers being stewards of their land is no longer a fad, it’s now an expectation when we take our crop to market, and we have to embrace that.”

    The 2016 USA Rice Outlook Conference in Memphis next month will focus on the rice industry’s involvement and success in the evolving conservation and sustainability arena with a series of panels, dialogues, and updates on the USA Rice Sustainability Plan.

  • Conservation and Sustainability - Beyond the Buzz

    by Katie Maher | Nov 16, 2016
    Not that kind of deep dive
    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.

  • USA Rice Launches Sustainability Attitude Survey

    by Deborah Willenborg | Oct 24, 2016
    USA Rice Sustainability Committee
    Chair Jennifer James
    Sustainability-Committee Chair-Jennifer-James
    ARLINGTON, VA – The concept of sustainability is clearly a driving force in our society today, and it’s one that businesses, industries, individuals, and government agencies are trying to get their heads around and define.  In pursuit of a better understanding of what sustainability means to and for the U.S. rice industry, USA Rice is launching a quick online survey that is linked below.

    “Sustainability means different things to different people, and while there are a lot of organizations and interests moving their definition and vision of sustainability forward, we think it’s important to first see if we as an industry are on the same page with each other,” said Jennifer James, an Arkansas rice farmer and chair of the USA Rice Sustainability Committee.  “You need to learn to walk before you can run, and this survey is designed to tell us whether you’re running, walking, flying, or not sure what to do.”

    James said the simple survey consists of just seven questions, all but one of which are multiple choice or true/false.

    “Our survey will take less than 10 minutes, but the insight it provides will be invaluable,” James said.  “I encourage everyone who reads the Daily to take it, and to forward it to friends and family – producers, millers, exporters, merchants, equipment and seed dealers, food company employees, media, and government employees – we want to know what these terms mean to you.”

    The survey can be found here and will be kept live for a limited time.
  • 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
    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 Welcomes New Rice Stewardship Partnership Coordinator

    by Deborah Willenborg | Nov 05, 2015
    We've got a 'Hankins' for sustainability
    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.

  • Mississippi Rice Farmer Named White House ‘Champion of Change’

    by Deborah Willenborg | Oct 27, 2015
    Buddy Allen with wife, Allison, and daughter, Yates
    Buddy-Allen-& Family
    WASHINGTON, DC – Yesterday, Buddy Allen, a rice farmer from Tunica, Mississippi, was lauded as a ‘Champion of Change in Sustainable Agriculture’ at a ceremony at the White House.  Allen was one of twelve champions across all of agriculture recognized for taking steps to improve the sustainability of their operations, and educating others to do the same.  To see an excerpt of the event, go here.

    Allen believes in “practicing what you preach” when it comes to the sustainability arena and spends a lot of time and capital implementing soil and water conservation practices on his rice farm.  In reference to the critical importance of water to farming, Allen said, “Rice is a significant water-using crop which gives us a lot of opportunity to make an impact in conservation and stewardship.  Collectively, we’ve learned how to raise rice in the Deep South with about half the water we used to.  We’ve worked very diligently, and we’re really proud of the partnerships we have with our commodity groups like the [USA] Rice Federation.  ”

    Allen has installed a tailwater recovery system to recycle irrigation water; instituted laser land-leveling to further reduce water use and soil runoff; experimented with using a large number of irrigation practices based on geographic conditions, and installed moisture sensors to help with irrigation efficiency.

    USA Rice President & CEO Betsy Ward said, “Buddy serves as a role model for our industry by leading efforts to implement agricultural practices that benefit soil, air, and water quality.  He is a Rice Leadership alumni, a member of the USA Rice Conservation Committee, and known for being a great steward of the land.  We congratulate him on receiving this acknowledgement from the Obama administration.”