We visited with Dick Ottis at Rice Belt Warehouse Inc., the largest rice drying and storage facility in El Campo, Texas. An interesting aspect of Rice Belt Warehouse is they are able to identity-preserve all of the rice that comes to their facility. Rice Belt was designed to handle large quantities of rice, but due to the above-mentioned drought and urban sprawl, the company is now focused on providing a quality product by using its space wisely and keeping like varieties of rice separate.

Quality research comes to mind when you consider the great strides that RiceTec Inc. is accomplishing in the field of hybrid rice development. We had the great experience of touring their accommodating and very modern corporate headquarters, which include a state-of-the-art research lab. RiceTec Inc. is advanced in its seed rice research operation, while only having a portion of the worldwide market. This is another example of high-quality product rising to the top.

When Mike Doguet started milling rice in Beaumont, Texas, he knew the size of his facility and the quantity of rice milled there couldn’t compare to his nearby competitors. Nevertheless, Doguet has done extremely well in the rice business by providing a high-quality package rice product. In addition, Doguet Rice Mill handles around 10,000 acres of high-quality, organic rice to fill an emerging demand for that specialty product.

Quality in the U.S. rice industry extends east into Louisiana where, on the first night of the trip, we were treated to supper hosted by local Leadership Class alumni. Great food, sure, but even better was the camaraderie on full display around the table. The easy fellowship demonstrated how crucial this program is and showed the class what our future in the industry could look like, watching people who would otherwise be strangers, sit and visit like family.

Thinking of quality and class, I couldn’t write this story without mentioning the comments made by Jackie Loewer that evening. His words made a lasting impression on me and, I hope on everyone in attendance, as he defined what we as an industry stand for, live for and serve for. If any graduate from our class conducts themselves as Loewer did that evening, the Leadership Development Program needs no further justification.

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We completed our trip by visiting the places along the Gulf Coast where most rice starts and finishes. Most rice varieties in the Gulf Coast originate from the Louisiana State University (LSU) Rice Research Station, and, if not milled along the Gulf Coast, end up being exported on vessels handled by Russell Marine Group. The quality issues with rice are evident in both places. Dr. Steve Linscombe and his team at the LSU Rice Research Station are responsible for developing quality-driven rice varieties with yield potential.

Quality was a primary discussion topic with Pat Russell of Russell Marine Group, because his company is often the first to hear when a foreign export customer is disappointed with the quality of U.S. rice delivered.

As we learned over and over again during this initial Leadership session, quality of our product could improve, and during our orientation supper, we were reminded that the purpose of the program is to make us quality leaders. The Rice Foundation and all the sponsors of the Leadership Program — John Deere, RiceTec Inc., and American Commodity Company — are proactively seeking and maintaining quality people to be active in the rice industry, just like the industry is constantly seeking to maintain quality in its product.

John Compton, 30, is a third-generation farmer from Jennings, La. He produces rice and soybeans on a family farm. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Agricultural Business and a master’s degree in Environmental Science from McNeese State University.

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