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:
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.
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.
As third-generation rice producer Jimmy Hoppe nurtures his crop in a small parish in Louisiana, he is also making history. Jimmy is among the first rice farmers to harvest a new aromatic jasmine-type variety, named Jazzman rice, to chefs and consumers. Jimmy plants 300 acres of rice, including 80 acres of Jazzman, which will increase significantly this year due to strong demand for innovative varieties suited to today’s popular ethnic cuisines.
A typical day begins at 6:00 a.m., unloading grain from the previous evening’s harvest at the local co-op before heading to the fields to cut rice. When the harvest is over, Jimmy’s rice fields are flooded for a second crop production which attracts migrating birds and waterfowl who feed on rice as they travel the “Mississippi Flyway” going south.
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 crop becomes part of the 18 billion pounds of U.S. rice, which is consumed in America as well as distributed to more than 100 countries—making the U.S. the world’s fifth-largest exporter.
Jazzman rice is marketed by Jazzmen Rice, LLC in colorful, distinctive packaging that features legendary Louisiana jazz musician Louis Armstrong and is available from Falcon Rice Mill and its Cajun Country brand. “I am very proud that Louisiana farmers have brought Jazzman rice to chefs and consumers. There is a strong demand for aromatic rice, and now foodservice operators can buy domestic aromatic rice as they support U.S. farmers and the economy, which we appreciate,” Jimmy said.
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.
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.
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.
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.”