The 2007 USA Rice Leadership Development Class visited the LSU AgCenter’s Rice Research Station recently on its tour of the Louisiana and Texas rice industry.

One of the class members, Jessica Lundberg of Chico, Calif., said the research station was a highlight of the weeklong session.

“I certainly appreciate the work that goes on here,” said Lundberg, manager of the plant nursery for the 70-year-old Lundberg Family Farms in California’s Sacramento Valley. “This is the origin of our industry.”

The class heard an overview of the station’s research projects from LSU AgCenter regional director Steve Linscombe, a rice breeder whose current duties in southwestern Louisiana also include serving as the Rice Research Station’s director.

“I continue to be impressed with the caliber of people in the leadership class,” Linscombe said. “This tells me the rice industry will be well served in the future.”

Other participants in this year’s class are Eric Unkel of Kinder, La.; John Fred Denison of Iowa, La., Trent Dabbs of Stuttgart, Ark., Eric Leonard of Corning, Ark., Shelley Smith of Boyle, Miss., and Jennifer Wells of Memphis, Tenn.

The leadership program gives future agricultural leaders the chance to learn about all aspects of the rice industry and to develop their leadership skills.

A committee of agribusiness leaders evaluates the applications, reviews letters of recommendation and conducts personal interviews with the finalists. Candidates must be age 25-45 at the time of application and derive their primary livelihood from some aspect of the rice industry.

John Deere Co. and Syngenta Crop Protection Inc. sponsor the program through a grant to the Rice Foundation. The USA Rice Federation administers the program.

The weeklong tour was anything but a vacation — with a tightly scheduled itinerary for the participants.

“We keep them pretty busy,” said Chuck Wilson, who runs the rice leadership program.

Also during the Louisiana visit, the group toured Farmer’s Rice Mill in Lake Charles, the Louisiana Bag Co. plant in Crowley, the crawfish and rice farm of the Durand brothers in St. Martin Parish, a barge company at the Port of New Orleans and a genetics lab in Metairie.

They also watched water leveling on the farm of Christian Richard in Vermilion Parish and heard a briefing on the Louisiana Master Farmer Program from Ernest Girouard, LSU AgCenter area conservation planning agent and chairman of the Rice Foundation.

The week started in Texas where participants visited rice farms, the Doguet Rice Mill in Beaumont, and the Riviana rice plant and Anheuser-Busch brewery, both in Houston.

Wilson said the students also receive personal development training to improve their abilities and skills in areas such as public speaking.

The next tour in June will take the participants to the Arkansas rice-growing region, the John Deere plant in Moline, Ill., and the Chicago Board of Trade.