Friday, August 10, 2018

Food writers and restaurant chains visit Louisiana rice country

CROWLEY – Representatives of the food industry got a first-hand look at the Louisiana rice industry from field to the table recently (Aug. 7-8).

The visit was sponsored by USA Rice. They toured the Zaunbrecher Brothers farm, and the Supreme and Falcon rice mills in Crowley.

The group included writers from the trade magazines Restaurant Business and Prepared Food; and representatives from the P.F. Chang restaurant chain, the Roti Modern Mediterranean restaurant chain, and Bloomin’ Brands, a restaurant corporation with 1,500 locations with restaurants such as  Outback, Carrabba’s, Bonefish Grill, and Fleming’s.

Michael Klein, USA Rice vice president of domestic promotion, said it’s important to help the food industry learn that rice is grown and milled in the U.S. with high-quality standards, and to help give rice more prominence on menus and recipes.

“We’d like to get rice moved from the side of the plate to the center of the plate,” Klein said.

He said similar tours have been done in Arkansas and California.

“We’ve learned that although chefs are generally more knowledgeable about food than consumers, they still don’t really know how and where we grow rice and what it takes to get it to their kitchens,” Klein said.  “They really enjoy going on the full journey from farm to fork and they leave with a much better appreciation of our industry.”

He said this is the third year for this program, and strong partnerships have been developed with restaurant chains who have come back from the tours and started offering more U.S.-grown rice on their menus. “Some have even switched their rice sourcing from imported to domestic or started calling out U.S.-grown rice on their menus and in their restaurants.”

Klein said the tour includes a discussion about farm sustainability practices and food safety standards and the entire process. “But when we take chefs and foodservice experts out and show them with their own two eyes what we are talking about, it is a much more meaningful and lasting experience.” 


Thursday, December 14, 2017

Shreveport high school student Olivia Davis won second-place in the National Rice Month  Scholarship Contest as part of National Rice Month in September.

Her award-winning video was shown at the 2017 USA Rice Outlook Conference in San Antonio, Texas, Dec. 11-14.

For her second-place selection, Olivia will receive a $3,000 scholarship. 

You can view Olivia's video here:

It's not too early to start thinking about next year's scholarship competition, so start stay tuned for information.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Promotion Can Take Different Forms

By John Owen

Our promotion of sustainably-grown U.S. rice takes many forms: from radio campaigns and retail displays, to packaging and building food service relationships.  One rather unique promotion program undertaken here in Louisiana is the brain child of Thornwell’s Kevin and Shirley Berken, and ornithologists Donna Dittman and Steve Cardiff.

Almost a decade ago, Kevin realized, through the education of Dittman and Cardiff, that his fields were home to an elusive little bird called a yellow rail.  His rice fields, like mine, and yours, are home to lots of critters – below and above the water line – but the yellow rail is special.  It’s secretive, small, and as a result, on many birders’ bucket list.

It’s also a bird that could be at risk of becoming threatened or endangered.  And out of all this, the gang of four saw an opportunity.

Kevin and Shirley began opening their farm to birders and yellow rail enthusiasts and the Yellow Rails & Rice Festival was born.  And continues to grow to this day.

Birders ride the Berken combine at the Yellow Rails and Rice Festival in 2011.

Just a few weeks ago about 120 birders from 30 states and four countries descended on Thornwell and Jennings and the surrounding area for their shot at checking this bird off their list.

And like the more than 1,200 people who have come before them, they were not disappointed: they all saw yellow rails!

But along the way, something special happened that perhaps they didn’t expect.  They learned a lot about rice. 

Kevin talked to them about rice production, farming, cooking, and the challenges the U.S. rice industry face.  The Falcon Rice Mill in Crowley opened their doors to the birders too to show them what it takes to get rice from the field to their plates.

The birders left southwest Louisiana with a newfound appreciation for what we do, and that’s important, because as we all know, Americans are pretty far removed from the source of their food.  And with that distance comes misunderstanding and misconceptions, and those can lead to bad policies and decisions.

A slogan, coined by bird enthusiast and blogger Paul Baicich says a lot about the partnership between birders and the rice industry: “Save a bird – buy rice!”  He even makes t-shirts with that slogan – and they sell well.  As they should.

The underlying message the festival organizers deliver is that if you care about wildlife and want to ensure they have the critical habitat they need, you should do what you can to support the U.S. rice industry because providing habitat is one of the things we do better than any other crop.

It’s a powerful message and one that is driven home by Kevin letting these birders ride his combine and explore his rice fields looking for their little winged friends.  And it pays dividends.

Let’s face it, we need all the friends we can find, and the conservation and naturalist community are a respected and vocal group.  Having them willing and able to speak up for U.S. rice, whether with legislators or with their wallets at the grocery store, is very valuable.

I’m thankful Kevin opened his farm to the birders and that he keeps doing it.  He stands before them, lecturing them about what we do and taking all their questions – the easy and the difficult.  He represents us well, and in so doing, he creates new ambassadors for us.  And like the old shampoo commercial went, “if they tell two friends, and they tell two friends…”  We’ll be in, you should pardon the expression, the catbird seat.
Read this excellent article from USA Rice about this year's Yellow Rails and Rice Festival here:

Friday, October 13, 2017

Centennial Celebration for Farmers Rice Mill

By Kane Webb, USA Rice

LAKE CHARLES, LA -- The 100th anniversary celebration for Farmers Rice Milling Company was held Wednesday at the newly expanded packaging and distribution facility here.  More than 450 people attended the event including employees, partners, producers, customers, and local dignitaries.

A ribbon cutting ceremony to inaugurate the newly completed 55,000-square-foot expansion at the facility kicked off the celebration.  Next, Nanette Noland, Farmers Rice Milling Company president, welcomed guests and presented the company history before recognizing long-time employees with 20+ years of service.  "This 100 years has been possible because of all of your hard work, sacrifices, and dedication to not only your own families, but to ours as well," said Noland.

The company's $13.4-million expansion began back in 2013 to modernize the rice mill and boost processing speed and volume, allowing the mill to be more competitive and tap into new markets throughout the world.

"Farmers Rice Milling Company has a long history of buying rice from Louisiana farmers, which is the heart and soul of our business," said Ann Stone, CEO of Farmers Rice Mill.  "We are looking forward to continuing our tradition of innovation, quality, and excellence for the next 100 years."

Farmers Rice Milling processes and mills rough rice at the Lake Charles facility, and then packages and distributes clean rice to customers from the site.  The mill sells rice to national and international customers as far away as Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East, and has the capacity to process more than 800 million pounds of rice per year.

"A hundred years in business is significant and means Farmers Rice Milling Company has established a reputation for quality and fairness for Louisiana rice farmers," said local producer Jackie Loewer, who attended the celebration.  "They are a vital part of the rice industry in this area."

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Make a video and win a $3,000 scholarship.

The National Rice Month Scholarship Contest is here!
Create awareness and promote U.S.-grown rice, National Rice Month, and the importance of rice to your state via video — and earn scholarship money in the process.
Three scholarship prizes, sponsored by Dow AgroSciences, totaling $8,500 will be awarded.  The grand-prize winner will receive a $4,000 scholarship and a trip with a chaperone this December to the awards ceremony at the 2017 USA Rice Outlook Conference in San Antonio, Texas.  The second-place winner will receive a $3,000 scholarship, and third-place $1,500
It’s easy to participate!  Make a video about rice production, healthy eating, sustainability … the list goes on!  You can also conduct promotion activities in your community and showcase your work in a video. Go here to view last year’s winners and spark your imagination.
Entries must be received by October 31, 2017.  Winners will be notified by November 20, 2017.