The LSU AgCenter and the Kellogg Co. are working together on a project to enhance the sustainability of Louisiana rice production destined for use by the company.

“For the past several years, we’ve been hearing interest from various groups about the idea of improving sustainability of rice producers,” said Steve Linscombe, director of the LSU AgCenter Rice Research Station.

Linscombe is a member of a USA Rice Federation task force formed two years ago to study sustainability, and he has been meeting with Kellogg representatives for the past year.

“From Kellogg’s perspective, this is not just a U.S. initiative,” Linscombe said. Sustainability is based on the principle of meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

Work is under way for a pilot program for Louisiana rice producers with the preliminary designation as the Louisiana Master Rice Grower Program, he said. Kellogg executives met with rice farmers at the Rice Station on Feb. 8.

A field day is scheduled for June 21 for Kellogg representatives and farmers who grow rice used by the company. In addition, invitations have been extended to attract other large corporations, such as Walmart.

“We are using the field day to showcase smart rice production but also to use it as an opportunity to make them aware of how rice is grown,” Linscombe said.

A USA Rice Federation study examined the sustainability of American rice farming and concluded that farmers are on the right path.

“I think what this has shown is that we’re doing a pretty good job, and we have made significant improvements over the past 20 years,” Linscombe said.

For example, he said, land-leveling is conserving water, and drill-seeding has resulted in water quality improvements. Smaller amounts of pesticides are now used to grow a crop.

“The bottom line in this is anything we do, we need to keep rice production profitable,” Linscombe said. “Because if it’s not, we won’t have any rice production, sustainable or unsustainable.”

Farmer Charles Reiners of Acadia Parish, La., said before the meeting he had concerns that a company might be dictating stringent measures required of growers.

“I went in skeptical about what they were going to present,” Reiners said. “We went in there thinking that guidelines have already been set.”

Kellogg's support

It was refreshing that Kellogg representatives showed a willingness to work with farmers, he said. “I was impressed with their openness to discussion.”

The message from Kellogg was that farmers are operating on a sustainable basis, said Bobby Hanks, chief executive officer of Louisiana Rice Mill. “It’s more of an effort to document what farmers have been doing for the past 20 years,” he said of the proposed program.

The initiative encourages farmers to think progressively and consider making improvements that could cut costs or increase yields, Hanks said. Consumers could be making choices based on environmental practices, and the worst thing that could be done is to ignore the sustainability issue.

“It’s awareness that the issue of sustainability is out there, and we need to understand how it can affect our industry,” Hanks said. “It may ultimately fizzle out and not be a consumer concern, but the worst thing is to be blindsided.”

Diane Holdorf, Kellogg vice president for environmental stewardship, health and safety, said she was encouraged by farmers’ reactions to the meeting. “The majority of farmers were receptive to the program and expressed interest in participating in it in the future. They felt it provided information that was both relevant and useful.”

Kellogg has a history of environmental awareness, Holdorf said. “In fact, the first box of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes was packaged in 100 percent recycled paperboard in 1906.”

The Master Grower concept will continue that tradition, she said, by raising awareness of rice farming sustainability and the effects of rice farming practices adopted during the past 20 years.

“In particular, it offers us the opportunity to work directly with our growers and explore the growing practices feasible for local farmers to continue improving their sustainable agriculture practices,” Holdorf said. “It has the potential to provide opportunities to decrease their input without sacrificing output, while also helping to improve the environment , which benefits everyone.”