Up until several years ago, I had spent my life on a cotton farm or in the supporting cotton industry. The most that I knew about rice was that it grew in standing water and that it was good in sushi and Cajun cooking – two of my favorite food genres.
I had on occasion driven through the smoke of burning rice stubble, but I had never even stood in a rice field. My lack of rice knowledge was not because I didn't care, it was just because I hadn't been exposed to the crop.
That has changed in the last 10 years or so. My absorption of rice knowledge began when I started interacting with cotton farmers who grew rice or farmed in the vicinity of rice producing areas of Texas and California.
A little over two years ago I stood in a row rice field in northeast Arkansas and my focus really changed. I learned more about water applications, nutrient management and rice hybrids in one afternoon than I had in all the years prior.
Hours spent with growers in Arkansas, Missouri and Mississippi have added to my base of information – a fishpond in Mississippi converted to a rice field, a transition to row rice from levee irrigation in Arkansas, traditional levee irrigated rice in Arkansas saving water by cascading it into lower holding paddies.
A couple of rice growers have excitedly told me about the migration of waterfowl through their fields and their efforts to keep their paddies available to the migrating birds. One grower even told me he hasn't hunted in years but wanted to keep ducks coming his way for hunters who did show up in his area.
I recently attended the USA Rice Outlook conference. Growers understand that their sustainable practices are important to the industry and the future of their farming operation. Two USDA officials noted that the future of rice is bright, not just on the sustainability level but in research and in trade potential.
USA Rice Chairman Bobby Hanks has said that the industry has endured some extreme weather, a raft of unfair trade practices and more than a year of the pandemic, but that the industry is resilient and he is proud of its track record.
It might sound like I'm blowing a little sunshine here, but it's great to see that the industry is pushing forward in a positive way, given the hurdles of the last two years.
I've spent too much time sitting in meetings where the outlook for a particular commodity was a bit on the grim side. I don't like that focus and want to know how, regardless of the forecast, we can move on through the crisis.
It seems to me that rice is moving in that positive direction, working through the struggles, and charging forward. As a rice industry novice, I like that direction.