Don Groth, LSU AgCenter plant pathologist, received the Rice Industry Award at the annual USA Rice Outlook Conference. In addition, Ernest Girouard, coordinator of the Louisiana Master Farmer Program, received the Distinguished Conservation Achievement Award. Both men were recognized on Dec. 10 at the conference organized by the USA Rice Federation.

Groth told the USA Rice membership that his work would not be possible without the support of county agents, research associates, farmers and his wife, Babs. “Without them over the years, I wouldn’t have accomplished much.”

He said working with other researchers helps advance science and assists agricultural producers.

Girouard said rice fields maintained by farmers are providing an important wildlife habitat. “No other commodity can provide that.”

Also receiving a conservation award was California rice farmer Al Montna.

Steve Linscombe, director of the LSU AgCenter Rice Research Station, said both men have provided farmers with considerable assistance. “Dr. Groth has aided producers in their fight against rice diseases, helping them obtain new fungicides and advising them on disease strategies. He keeps the LSU AgCenter in the forefront of rice research nationally and internationally.”

Linscombe said Girouard has become a proponent of proactive conservation measures under the Master Farmer Program. “Currently, he is working to finish details on the Master Rice Grower Program that dovetails with the Master Farmer Program. These are nationally recognized programs that demonstrate the LSU AgCenter is on the cutting edge of balancing the work of producing food and protecting the environment.”

The awards are sponsored by Rice Farming magazine, Horizon Ag and the USA Rice Federation.

Also honored was a Jefferson Davis Parish student, Paige Granger, of Hathaway, who won a $4,000 scholarship for her rice campaign. She is the daughter of Glenda and Randy Granger and a student at Hathaway High School. She works on a rice farm run by her uncle, Ricky Crochet. She plans to use the money for her agriculture education at McNeese State University.

Granger said her campaign involved numerous activities, including an essay, promoting rice at schools, a photo contest and talking with home economics classes.

“She did as much as you can do to put out the word,” her mother said. “It was all done the month of September, and she had projects every day.”

The scholarship program is sponsored by USA Rice Federation and Dow AgroScience.

Rice farmer John Compton of Jefferson Davis Parish was one of seven men chosen for the USA Rice Leadership Class. The class will tour the U.S. rice growing regions and visit several agriculture facilities, including the AgCenter Rice Station. This is the twenty-forth class, all led by Chuck Wilson, of Arkansas, who was recognized for his 35 years of work with the program.

The issue of quality was a major topic at the conference. Speakers identified chalkiness in rice as a concern that has drawn the attention of key buyers in Mexico and Central America.

Jonathon Hobbs, representing the grain shipper Russell Marine, said chalky rice isn’t as fluffy and it tends to clump. “Nicaragua by far is the most sensitive to this.”

He said Nicaraguans have preferred U.S. rice. “However, in the past two years, the quality and appearance have really gone downhill.”

Hobbs said some Nicaraguan buyers are purchasing rice from Uruguay, now considered superior in quality.

Marvin Lehrer, USA Rice trade representative, said Mexico, the largest market for U.S. rice, is not as stringent as Nicaragua. But, he said, Mexican rice buyers have the option of buying from Pakistan, Vietnam and Uruguay.

Linscombe said chalk is determined by genetics and environment, adding that weather can play a role in how starch cells are formed in a rice grain.

Linscombe said American rice is generally high in quality, but it is made inferior when lesser quality rice is comingled with superior rice.

The LSU AgCenter has been participating with a quality task force conducting a quality study with other universities. Rice has been grown at six Southern locations over two planting dates, including the Rice Research Station at Crowley, then milled by the Louisiana Rice Mill at Crowley for evaluation across the United States. Rice grown in Missouri had the highest quality score, followed by the Crowley location. At the bottom was Mississippi.

Anna McClung, USDA rice breeder working on the task force, said weather data will be reviewed to see why different locations affect quality.

Johnny Saichuk, LSU AgCenter rice specialist, gave an overview of the year’s rice crop and the verification field project. He said blast disease devastated many fields.

Linscombe gave a talk on ongoing projects at the Rice Station, including hybrid development, development of new Clearfield lines and varieties, rice breeding for increase protein levels, and salt stress. He also discussed a project aimed at controlling red rice outcrossing and volunteer hybrids using soybeans and fallow years.

Several experts predicted the current farm bill will be given an extension. Reece Langley, USA Rice government liaison, said a new farm bill could be included in a budget agreement, but the longer the budget debate continues, the more likely the current farm bill will be continued for one year. He said crop insurance proposals in the farm bill include compensation for farmers who have extra costs of harvesting downed or lodged rice.

Mike Salassi, LSU AgCenter economist, played a key role in establishing the losses farmers suffer from downed rice.

Joe Outlaw, Texas A&M economist, said the U.S. House of Representatives’ farm bill proposal is more favorable to rice farmers than the U.S. Senate version.

Jim Wiesemeyer, senior vice president, Informa Economics, also said it’s likely that the current farm bill will be extended.