By Deborah Willenborg
The 2016 USA Rice Outlook Conference got underway in Memphis Wednesday night with an opening reception in the exhibit hall and a fundraising dinner for the USA Rice Political Action Committee. And Thursday's General Session, moderated by Don Molino, opened with a host state welcome from Mississippi rice farmer Kirk Satterfield followed by keynote speakers Shelly Van Treek with Kellogg Company and former NASA Astronaut Michael Massimino.
Van Treek, the global chief procurement officer for Kellogg, said the company's core business driver is climate smart agriculture and helping farmers improve yields in the face of climate challenges. "Sustainable agriculture is at the heart of what we do," Van Treek said. "Climate change is a core business driver so enabling and fueling growth for us means using fewer natural resources." She talked about the importance of rice in manufacturing different Kellogg products, including the ubiquitous Rice Krispies, but also the more than 180 flavors of Pringles chips!
Massimino thanked the rice industry for producing a great tasting already dehydrated food that's easy to eat in zero gravity. He said food, real food, was important to the space program not just for its nutritional value but also the psychological element. "Thank you for what you do, growing food for all of us to eat - that by the way, we love eating in space," said Massimino. He shared video of a crewmate grabbing a bite out of a burrito as it floated by in space and talked about making rice pilaf as one of his favorite meals on the Space Shuttle.
The early morning schedule included the debut of the Innovation Stage centrally located in the Exhibit Hall. "The new Innovation Stage was a big hit and showcased the latest and greatest technology has to offer the industry," said USA Rice President & CEO Betsy Ward. "We really appreciate all of our exhibitors and sponsors for their support and knew the change in venue would move their messages front and center."
Ward said the Annual Rice Awards Luncheon was a conference highlight. "Attendees met the National Rice Month Scholarship winner, Heaven McKinley, and saw her award winning video. They heard moving speeches from the Rice Award winners, got to meet the 2017/19 Rice Leadership Development Program class, and reconnected with people in the industry that they may not have seen since the year before," she said.
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.