By Ross Thibodeaux
MIDLAND, LA -- After a 15 month hiatus, the 2017/2019 Rice Leadership Class reconvened with Session III in California. Having been to a few different parts of California before, the one thing I will never get tired of is the weather there, especially on this trip since it had been raining for almost three weeks straight in Louisiana.
This was my first time to see the state's rice industry and I came away very impressed and a little jealous. I would always hear about how tough California's regulatory environment is, but listening to the men and women who come up with solutions to make life easier on the rice industry really showed how hard the rules are and how to go about solving the problems they face. I could never imagine going through all the red tape of water holds and people coming to test the water out of my field. As a farmer having a chance of your water being taken away really affects how you think about the industry as a whole and making sure you have the right people in the right positions to fight on your behalf.
The staff at the California Rice Commission (CRC) and the local industry hit all the issues either head on or they get ahead of them before there is even an issue. The way the whole industry worked together to solve the straw burning problem was admirable. As we start facing more of the same regulations in the south, the CRC and the California Rice Industry have given us a really good blueprint to follow.
The CRC also is really effective at telling their story and shaping the industry through the media. As more people become further disconnected from agriculture, they need to know that we, as farmers, care about the environment and California is cutting edge when it comes to showing this with their migratory bird programs and now the salmon program. Almost every day there is a post on social media promoting their industry. The farmers are very active in this, which you don't see much of in the South.
When talking to rice farmers and rice industry people in the South the constant word you hear is "yield." The constant word you hear in California is "quality." I was amazed how well the farmers and the mills work together in making sure that they never sacrifice quality. Talking with the people from American Commodity Company (ACC), Farmers Rice Cooperative, and Sun Valley, the goal of their industry is to grow the highest quality rice possible. Yes, they are blessed with fertile land and good weather, which helps both yield and quality, but their concentration on high quality definitely has helped their bottom line. Here in the South, we have taken some steps to improve in regard to quality, and learning from California's industry can only help us be better.
Overall this was a great trip, the food was fantastic! The flight was probably the coolest part, but touring the tree nut industry, and going down to Salinas and seeing the produce operation was also very interesting. As a fellow farmer, I could've spent all day at the two farms we visited, asking them questions, and the vertical integration of the Lundberg farm family was super impressive.
I would like to thank ACC for their sponsorship of this program plus the great dinner they hosted. Also, a thanks goes out to the program's other sponsors, RiceTec, Inc. and John Deere.