Representatives of the Kellogg Co. and Wal-Mart saw firsthand last month how Louisiana rice farmers are using sustainable agricultural practices to produce a crop profitably in an environmentally friendly manner.
The field day at the LSU AgCenter Rice Research Station at Crowley, La., was a follow-up to a planning meeting held in February for a Master Rice Grower program in collaboration with the Louisiana Master Farmer program, Kellogg and Louisiana Rice Mill.
Steve Linscombe, director of the LSU AgCenter Rice Research Station, said the event allowed farmers to demonstrate how they are good stewards of Louisiana’s natural resources.
The field day “was very well received by all participants,” Linscombe said. “It provided an excellent opportunity for Kellogg to obtain a much better understanding of Louisiana rice production and perhaps more importantly, a much greater appreciation of how good our rice producers are at what they do.”
Farmers also benefited from the day, he said. “It also allowed our rice producers to develop a greater appreciation of the justification and overall goals of Kellogg Company’s sustainability effort.”
Kellogg U.S. Morning Foods President David Denholm said he was amazed by what he saw and heard. “We have a real opportunity to help consumers understand the importance of the sustainable agriculture advancements being made here.”
Denholm said Wal-Mart sold 50 million pounds of Kellogg’s Special K cereal that uses rice and 20 million pounds of Kellogg’s Rice Krispies, the rice for which is grown by Louisiana farmers.
“Kellogg is the single most important customer for rice in Louisiana,” said Bill Dore of Louisiana Rice Mill, based in Crowley.
Tres Bailey of Wal-Mart said the corporation has its own sustainability initiative in effect with goals to reduce waste, conserve energy and sell products that are produced sustainably. Wal-Mart will not sell beef that contributes to deforestation of the Amazon rainforest, he said, adding that the examples shown at the field day were impressive.
“You are the model in many cases for the best practices in agriculture,” he told farmers. “The innovations we saw today are fantastic.”
The sustainability movement is not intended to force environmental practices to be used, Bailey said. “This is not meant to be the stick. This is meant to be the carrot approach.”
Wal-Mart also recognizes that food producers have to make a profit. “Without economic viability for farmers, there is no food,” he said.
The field day was the result of months of work and planning, said Diane Holdorf, Kellogg vice president of environmental stewardship. The group had met in February to lay the groundwork for this sustainability effort.
Consumers have become more conscious about buying products with environmentally sound origins, Holdorf said. “They want to know they are doing the right thing.”
At the same time, Holdorf said, feeding the global population of 9 billion people by 2050 will require three times the present natural resources worldwide. Kellogg is well on its way to achieving goals to reduce its environmental impact by 20 percent in 10 years, she said.
Sustainability is not a new concept for rice farming and research, Linscombe told the Kellogg and Wal-Mart representatives.
“This station has been working for the past 102 years toward sustainability,” he said. And some of the greatest progress toward becoming more sustainable has come in the past 20 years.
Kellogg and Wal-Mart representatives toured the Rice Research Station to see how new rice varieties are developed. Linscombe said the station scientists have worked with more than 50 institutions worldwide to develop new rice varieties and farming practices.
Water quality is a concern in rice production, and more use of farming practices such as drill seeding has helped farmers address that issue, Linscombe said. ”Rice does an excellent job of improving water quality.”
LSU AgCenter rice specialist Johnny Saichuk showed the group a rice field farmed by Buck Leonards and Sam Theunissen. The field was drill-seeded, a practice that was revived with the Clearfield rice technology developed at the Rice Research Station.
Drill seeding was once the dominant planting technique in Louisiana, but it was replaced by water seeding with the use of aircraft. Saichuk said drill seeding uses less water and can be used with conservation tillage methods.
LSU AgCenter agronomist Dustin Harrell told the group about the benefits of laser leveling and a new soil test for nitrogen that has the potential to allow farmers to reduce the amount of fertilizer needed for a crop.
Harrell is conducting a trial of the new test on the Zaunbrecher Brothers farm. He said the goal is to obtain the best yield with the least amount of fertilizer.
Jennifer James, an Arkansas farmer and chair of the USA Rice Federation Sustainability Task Force, said sustainability has been an important consideration in agriculture. She said farmers have contributed through checkoff dollars to research that has reduced soil erosion, water usage and fertilizer use while providing an improved environment for waterfowl.
“I’m really proud of all the research checkoff dollars that we have raised,” James said. She said a FieldPrint Calculator computer program will be available for farmers to determine the environmental impacts of their individual operations.
Rice farming creates habitat for ducks and wading birds, said Bob Dew, of Ducks Unlimited. “Rice is very important for waterfowl,” he said. “What’s good for rice is good for ducks.”
He said the Gulf Coast prairie is vital to waterfowl migration. “We winter more ducks here than in any place in North America. Part of that is because of rice fields.”
Rice fields will become even more important for wintering birds as the Louisiana coast erodes, Dew said.
Ernest Girouard, director of the Louisiana Master Farmer program and a retired farmer, explained the requirements to obtain Master Farmer status. He said 124 individuals have earned the certification in Louisiana.
The program has caught the attention of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Girouard said. “The EPA wants this program implemented in the Chesapeake Bay area.”