American rice farmers have a longstanding commitment to protect and preserve natural resources. Over the past 20 years, American rice farmers have increased rice yields by 53% while decreasing land use by 35%, energy use by 38% and water use by 53%—with no GMOs. Read more about our farmers—their stories, their love of the land and the many varieties of rice they grow:
Dow Brantley is a third generation family farmer and a partner of Brantley Farming Company in England, Arkansas. Dow attended the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville where he received a bachelor of science in agricultural, food, and life sciences but before returning to the farm, he worked at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in Washington, DC.
Through his work at USDA, Dow learned the importance of advocacy when it comes to letting decision makers in Washington know how policies they propose effect folks on the farm. He realized then that being a farmer was going to mean more than just planting and harvesting a crop – he also needed to devote time to keeping track of the many rules and regulations farmers must abide by to operate in the United States.
“The U.S. food supply is one of the safest in the world,” says Dow. “We’re held to the highest standards, and consumers here at home and those abroad know they can depend on us to produce a quality product they can feel good about feeding their families. I’ve hosted many tours for farmers from other countries who come here to see how we do things.”
Beyond the regulatory arena, Dow’s advocacy work also extends to international trade. About half the rice produced in the U.S. is shipped overseas so trade agreements are very important to U.S. farmers. In 2015, Dow was appointed to the Agricultural Policy Advisory Committee (APAC), a select group of trade experts who provide advice and information to the government. “Knowing that trade is a top priority for agriculture, I am happy to provide guidance that will benefit U.S. rice being shipped to international customers or donated for food aid to those in need,” says Dow.
Marvin Cochran grows 1,800 acres of long grain rice on the same Mississippi land on which his grandparents farmed in the 1960s. A third-generation farmer, Marvin looks forward to the challenges of each planting season and how wind, rain and temperature can affect his rice crop.
The long grain rice that Marvin grows is the most popular type of rice consumed by Americans. It has a slender kernel, cooks up fluffy and is commonly used in pilafs, salads, sides and casseroles.
Mississippi plants approximately 130,000 acres of rice as part of the 18 billion pounds of rice grown in the U.S. each year. U.S. farmers produce an abundance of short, medium and long grain rice, as well as organic and specialty rices including jasmine, basmati, arborio, red aromatic and black japonica, among others.
Marvin is a proud farmer who encourages consumers to buy domestically grown rice to support U.S. rice farmers and the economy. “I grow my rice in a safe environment with the conservation of natural resources in mind. Rice farming helps create jobs in local communities. Buying domestically grown rice also helps consumers reduce their food miles,” he said. Sustainable farming is important to Marvin, as he has two children whom he hopes will one day continue the family tradition of rice farming.
Missouri’s Bootheel is prime rice country. Just ask Rance Daniels, a farmer whose rice acreage there is around 1,800 acres. His family began growing rice in the late 80s and really started to expand their stake in the crop in the mid-90s, about the time Rance graduated from Arkansas State University with a degree in Agriculture Business and Economics.
After college, Rance returned to the family farm. As his duties there increased so did his urge to travel to rice-producing areas in the United States and around the world to see how others farm rice and to bring back their best practices to his family’s operation. “The opportunity to travel opened my eyes to new ideas and farming methods but it also made me realize the importance of marketing and promotion, what happens to my crop after it leaves my farm, and ways to broaden the appeal of U.S. rice here as well as in overseas markets.”
Rance and his wife, Robin, have three children and so far it looks like their only son is interested in farming and looking forward to getting involved in the family business as he gets older. Rance is excited by the prospect of passing the farm to the next generation. “I can’t think of a better way to make a living: being outdoors and spending time with my family, working hard to keep this land viable so we can keep feeding our hungry world.”
At his Sacramento Valley farm, Sean grows and harvests about 4,200 acres of primarily medium grain Calrose varieties each year. Sean V. Doherty Farms also produces a wide variety of crops, including alfalfa, edible dry beans and sunflower seeds.
The biggest challenge Sean faces is coping with unpredictable weather conditions. Even so, he enjoys being able to mark the seasons with the progress of his crops, sharing the changes and developments with his family and crew. He likes the simplicity and delicious flavor of a plain bowl of Calrose rice, but his favorite rice dish is his wife Melissa’s Cold Rice Salad.
A source of great satisfaction for Sean and his family is the unique wildlife seen every day on the farm—countless birds, including bald eagles, as well as reptiles and large mammals. They have also observed several endangered and threatened species that roam the habitat they provide. Sean says, “It’s a great feeling growing food and providing a home to such a wide range of wildlife.” Sustainability is a family value, as Sean wants his kids to have a chance to continue the farming tradition that has been passed from his grandfather to his father and now to him. “The best chance for that to happen is for me to be a good steward of all that I have,” notes Sean.
Knights Landing, California
Kim Gallagher didn’t always envision herself as a farmer. Sure, she grew up on a farm in the Sacramento Valley but, when she was younger, not a lot of daughters were taking over family farms. Kim studied biology in college and became a science teacher, but then her father got sick and she started spending as much time with him as she could — riding around in trucks, checking on the many crops they grow including rice, almonds, wheat, walnuts, and sunflowers. So in 2009 Kim made a career change: “Since my background was science, farming was a fairly easy transition for me and, like teaching, each year is a new opportunity with different variables.”
Mother Nature is inherently variable but the biggest challenge for California rice farmers is the uncertainty of their water supply. Kim says, “From droughts to floods we seem to experience weather in extremes. We try to conserve what we use through water recycling stations for our rice fields to drip irrigation in row crops and orchards. Water is a precious resource and without a reliable source it makes our job even more precarious.”
American rice farmers share the water they’ve got with migratory birds, fish, and other species as flooded rice fields create habitat for animals to feed on throughout the year. Reverting back to her science teacher mode, Kim explains, “New research is showing just how critical the flooded winter rice fields are to not only waterfowl but to hungry young salmon that feast on the microorganisms that live there. As our world continues to grow we need to find ways to feed humans and the environment. Rice farmers are finding a way to meet that challenge.”
Timothy Gertson’s farming operation in Wharton County, Texas, is called G5 Farms in recognition of the fact that he is the fifth generation in his family to farm rice there. And it looks as if a sixth generation is coming along as Timothy’s three young sons love to go to work with their dad. Knowing that what he does today has implications for that next generation dictates how Timothy farms. “I take a lot of pride in what I produce and how I produce it. I’m aware that my rice is helping to provide sustenance to the world. This is a blessing and a responsibility that I believe distinguishes farmers as the primary caretakers of our environment.”
Timothy has worked for years to improve his land, repairing dilapidated irrigation wells and canals, and using technology to conserve water wherever possible. He’s willing to take risks and try new practices believing growth never comes to an operation with a stagnant mindset. As he says, “New farmers have to be flexible in their agrarian practices to meet a rising food demand with less labor and less natural resources. Sustainability is our mantra.”
There is growing consumer demand, and even expectation, for products that meet a sustainability standard. Luckily the U.S. rice industry has a great story to tell. Over the past 20 years American rice farmers have increased yields by 53 percent while decreasing usage of land, energy, and water, all without the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Rice fields also serve as important habitat for migratory waterfowl in every rice growing state providing a vital environmental service.
Timothy’s story begins and ends with sustainability. As he says, “I now farm land my ancestors farmed and I’m working to not only grow a nutritious and healthy crop, but also to improve the land so that when I turn it over to my children they get it better than I did.”
Buzzwords like “sustainability” and “conservation” may seem au courant to Madison Avenue marketers but for Jennifer James, a fourth generation rice farmer from Arkansas, these concepts are nothing new. “Farmers are the first conservationists,” says James, “and sustainability has carried over in agriculture from generation to generation.”
At her family’s farm in Newport, Arkansas, Jennifer often taps the expertise available from rice research programs at the nearby University of Arkansas. She says, “We follow their recommendations about minimum levels of fertilizer and pesticides, which is better economically and environmentally. Another thing we do here is level our fields so they have very little slope. This helps conserve water. We also make an effort to recycle water with our tail water recovery system and this helps reduce energy costs.”
Whether it is management of natural resources or boosting yields to meet the demands of a hungry planet, research and technology play a key role in the future of farming. People like Jennifer will continue to move the process forward because they know innovation plus conservation is not simply a sales pitch but, for farmers, it’s a legacy.
Creativity may not be the first thing most people think of when they think about farming but Paul Johnson, a rice farmer in Jefferson Davis Parish in southwest Louisiana, sees creativity and ingenuity everywhere he looks on his farm. “It just amazes me how the basic need to supply people with food and the means necessary to do it sparks ideas. Over thousands of years, those ideas have taken on a life of their own and created an industry, especially in the United States, that is a huge economic contributor.”
Louisiana, the third-largest rice-producing state, typically plants about 400,000 acres of long and medium grain rice—yielding 2.7 billion pounds. The Louisiana rice industry contributes $737 million to the state’s economy and employs about thousands of people, including millers, packagers, truckers, and shippers.
To keep that local economy healthy and to compete with imported rice types, the U.S. rice industry relies on the ingenuity of rice research scientists to generate new domestic strains without GMOs to meet the strong demand for varieties suited to today’s popular ethnic cuisines. An aromatic jasmine-type variety called Jazzmen rice, was developed by the Louisiana State University AgCenter nine years ago and today Paul grows 300 acres of the fragrant, flavorful rice on his farm. Two nearby mills, Falcon Rice and Supreme Rice, have been great partners in the commercial production and promotion of the relatively new rice variety.
“There is a strong demand for aromatic rice! And thanks to the creativity and collaboration between Louisiana farmers and researchers, chefs and consumers can buy our home-grown Jazzmen variety and support U.S. farmers and the economy, which we appreciate,” Paul says.
Charley Mathews, a third-generation rice farmer, grows 500 acres of medium grain rice—contributing to the 500,000 acres of rice that California’s Sacramento Valley farms each year. California, the second-largest rice-producing state, grows primarily Japonica-style medium grain rice (including Calrose) and short grain varieties (including Koshihikari). The state also grows many specialty types, such as red, mahogany, black japonica and organic rice. If you eat sushi anywhere in the U.S., you can be assured that you are eating rice grown in America—most often California’s medium or short grain rice.
Charley says he is proud to grow U.S. rice because of its high quality, healthfulness, versatility and value. He’s also pleased that California’s rice fields provide a natural feeding habitat for some 240 species of ducks, geese and shorebirds during their annual fall and winter migrations. “California rice farmers are dedicated to nurturing wildlife, and our rice lands serve as a habitat for species that have become dependent on the environment created by rice fields,” says Charley.
For more information on California rice and recipes from the California Rice Commission, visit www.calrice.org.
Nat McKnight grew up riding tractors and checking on crops — rice, corn, and soybeans — on his family’s farm in Cleveland, Mississippi. But before he started farming there full-time, he worked for several years as an input supplier, traveling throughout the Mississippi Delta selling seed and fertilizer to fellow farmers. “That was the best experience I ever had, seeing firsthand, every day, the high input cost a crop accrues before anybody ever steps foot in a field.”
That’s certainly not the romantic picture most people have of life on a farm but it’s the reality of modern food production. Nat says, “One of the biggest challenges for farmers today is finding a banker who understands the risks involved in agriculture. Most people don’t have a clue how much goes into producing crops that feed the world.”
Out of all the money Americans spend on food, at home and away from home, only 15 cents of every dollar actually goes to farmers. The rest goes for costs beyond the farm on things like wages, supplies, equipment, processing, transportation, and distribution. To stay viable and committed to bringing safe, nutritious food to our tables, farmers like Nat remind us of the old saying: ‘Keep your money at home, support local farmers.’
DeValls Bluff, Arkansas
In late summer and early fall, Arkansas rice farmer Robert Petter spends most of his day cutting rice from the field and maintaining his farming machinery to ensure a successful harvest. One of the most important pieces of equipment for rice harvest is the combine that drives through the field separating the rice grain from the plants’stalk before it’s loaded into trucks. The rice is then transported to a nearby rice mill to begin the milling process.
The 10,000 bushels of rice Robert harvests each day will become part of the 18 billion pounds of high-quality rice grown each year by farmers in Arkansas, California, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Texas . Thanks to this abundance, nearly 85% of the rice that is consumed in the USA is grown here. Arkansas is the leading rice-growing state, with approximately 1.2 million acres of long and medium grain brown and white rice farmed each year.
Four generations of the Petter family have been farming for nearly 100 years and grow more than 800 acres of rice. After harvest Robert’s fields become wintering grounds for birds and waterfowl that feed on the rice and other plant material left behind. Robert is proud of the rice he grows and the wide selection available, which can be identified by USA Rice’s “Grown in the USA” logo. Robert notes that “consumers tell us that they have more confidence in home-grown agriculture because of our high production and quality standards. The logo makes it easy for chefs, operators and consumers to choose U.S.-grown rice. And it’s a great way to show support for local farmers and our economy.”
Robert is a dedicated farmer who can’t imagine doing anything else. “I love being a rice farmer and seeing the results from the first seeds I plant in spring, to the late summer harvest and then enjoying our rice at the family table.”
Linda & L.G. Raun
El Campo, Texas
El Campo, a small town off Texas’ Gulf Coast, is home to rice farmers Linda and L.G. Raun. Rice has always been a part of their lives, with Linda’s great grandfather helping bring the rice industry to Texas and L.G.’s ancestors planting their first crop in 1915. Linda grew up eating rice as part of everyday meals, and throughout 35 years of marriage to L.G. the tradition hasn’t changed. The entire Raun family, including Linda’s brother-in-law and their nieces and nephews, grows 2,000 acres of long grain rice.
Texas is one of six states that grow the nation’s rice supply, producing predominantly long grain rice. The Raun’s also plant organic aromatic jasmine rice, which is marketed regionally under the Lowell Farms label. Linda has a love of the land and is proud to grow U.S. rice for its quality and healthfulness. Now, 100% U.S.-grown rice includes the USA Rice Federation “Grown in the USA” logo on packages. “If chefs or consumers choose any rice with this logo, they can be assured they are purchasing high-quality food that is grown with love and care by their neighbors in the USA,” Linda said.
Stuttgart, Arkansas is known as the duck and rice capital of the world because it’s surrounded by rice fields and reservoirs that serve as way stations for the annual migration of ducks and geese on the Mississippi Flyway. Area rice farmers, like Sidney Robnett, manage and pay for winter-flooded rice habitat that provides more than 35 percent of the all food energy for dabbling ducks wintering in their fields.
In addition to providing for wildlife, Sidney and his fellow Arkansas rice farmers grow food for humans, too! More than 50 percent of the rice produced in the United States is grown in Arkansas, and it’s the state’s number one agricultural export.
Being surrounded by all that affordable, delicious, nutritious rice, Sidney says it’s easy to get tunnel vision. “You work the fields, grow your crop, and after that crop is harvested and hauled to the mill, you’re pretty much done for the year as far as that crop is concerned. But when you stop to think about where that rice is going, or whose life that crop may have an impact on, you realize there’s something really powerful about growing food for people.”
Ryan Sullivan grew up on Florenden Farms, outside Burdette, Arkansas, in the northeast corner of the state, where his family grows rice and soybeans. He got his start farming by helping his dad every summer and after school ever since he can remember, and began farming full time after graduating from Arkansas State University in 2015. He, his dad, his uncle, and his cousin grow 6,800 acres of rice in Arkansas, the country’s number one rice-producing state.
Ryan loves working on his family’s farm and being surrounded by people who care about the products they produce because they want them to be safe for their families, too. “Every farmer I know is planning for their family to be able to carry on the farm in the future, and has spent their life trying to take care of the land and water to conserve it for future generations.”
While they may be conservative when it comes to natural resources, today’s American rice farmers are some of the most progressive people you’ll ever meet. They are constantly working to improve their operations to be the most efficient, sustainable, and environmentally friendly in the whole world. As Ryan says, “When you’re in the grocery store looking for a sustainably sourced product, look no further than U.S.-grown rice.”
Nicole Van Vleck
Yuba City, California
Nicole Montna Van Vleck is a third generation rice farmer who farms with her parents and sister in Sutter County, California. Nicole is the Managing Partner of Montna Farms—a 133-year-old family farm with 2,500 acres of land dedicated to rice. In recent years, Montna Farms has developed a niche for growing premium Japonica-style short grain rice, primarily Koshihikari—a high-quality short grain table rice sold under the brand name Tamamishiki.
Montna Farms is recognized as an industry leader in conservation, working with such organizations as The Nature Conservancy, Audubon, Ducks Unlimited, California Waterfowl and PRBO Conservation Science on habitat preservation. During the winter months when the rice fields are flooded, hundreds of thousands of waterfowl and other species flock to the farm. As Nicole says, wildlife is their “winter crop.” Their land has been dedicated through agricultural easements to maintain its existence as a productive farm and to provide wildlife habitat.
Nicole, her husband, Stan, and her two children say sushi is their family’s favorite rice dish; they typically eat it at least once a week. According to Nicole, “U.S. farmers and ranchers are hardworking and dedicated to providing high quality food to their consumers.” She has a great deal of pride for the domestic agricultural industry and feels that it not only provides jobs in rural areas throughout the U.S. but also cultivates its role as stewards of the land. “We are proud that we provide an environment that maintains valuable resources and habitats,” she says.
Dean Wall started helping out on his family’s farm as a teenager and eventually he and his brother, Steve, took the reins of the operation in northeast Arkansas when their father retired in the mid-90s. The family currently farms about 2,600 acres of rice, soybeans, and corn.
While most people think the unpredictability of the weather is what keeps farmers up at night, Dean says “economics and margins are the biggest challenges for most farmers. We’re always looking for small changes in resources or methodology that can produce greater returns on the considerable investment we have in the crop each year.”
Agriculture is the financial lifeblood of small communities throughout rural America and when farmers are successful so is our economy. The U.S. rice industry provides for 125,000 jobs and contributes $34 billion to the economy, and that’s why Dean likes to remind people that “buying American” should extend to agriculture, too. “My family works hard every day to keep the land and food supply safe and productive but we can only do it with the support of consumers.”
Dean’s favorite rice dish is Cajun gumbo with lots of flavor but he’s just as happy eating plain cooked white rice with a little butter and honey on top.