The U.S. rice industry bolsters our longstanding commitment to conservation and sustainability each year by recognizing industry leaders to showcase their stewardship efforts in preserving wildlife habitat and efficient use of natural resources.
The USA Rice Distinguished Conservation Award was established more than a decade ago by California rice grower Al Montna during his chairmanship of USA Rice. At the Awards Luncheon for the 2021 USA Rice Outlook Conference, Montna’s daughter, Nicole Montna Van Vleck, the 2021 Rice Farmer of the Year, was on hand to present this year’s award.
“It is quite an honor for me to present this award and carry forward this important legacy of conservation,” said Van Vleck.
“Because last year’s Outlook Conference was cancelled, we have not recognized anyone for the Distinguished Conservation Award since December 2019. So, when we began the process to identify the most deserving recipient, Conservation Committee Chair Leo LaGrande stated that we need to recognize someone who could win this award two years in a row to make up for last year.”
One name rose to the top: Jeff Durand, a man who has given selflessly to the U.S. rice industry. Jeff began farming rice and crawfish in St. Martinsville with his brothers C.J. and Greg in the 1970s, and conservation has long been an integral part of their operation. No-till has been implemented on Durand Farms since 1980, and their water and nutrient management and wildlife habitat efforts are award-winning.
Jeff was named as the 2018 Fertilizer Institute 4R Advocate, he has received the Ducks Unlimited Private Citizen Award, and has served as co-chair for the USA Rice-Ducks Unlimited Rice Stewardship Partnership Committee since its inception in 2014.
The USA Rice Sustainability Award was created in 2016 to recognize the efforts of all segments of the industry to not only conserve natural resources, but to find innovative ways to address all three pillars of sustainability: environmental, economic, and social sustainability.
A subcommittee of the USA Rice Sustainability Committee chooses the winner based on several criteria, including leadership in the industry and broader sustainability community, and a history of promoting and advancing sustainability through innovative practices.
Laura Kelly represented The Powell Group that received the 2021 USA Rice Sustainability Award in recognition of the company’s three distinct entities that lend themselves the most to sustainability:
Agrilectric Power Partners (APP), a leading operator of rice hull combustion power plants; Agrilectric Research Co. (ARC), that refines rice hull ash to create a unique amorphous silica structure with increasingly valuable applications in the steel, environmental, transportation, filtration, and agricultural industries; and B.H. Mitigation, a regional provider of wetland mitigation in central and southwest Louisiana that has created and protected more than 744 acres of wetland habitat and planted over 150,000 trees.
“Conservation and sustainability have subtle differences, but for USA Rice members, they share a common goal – to preserve productive ricelands for future generations,” said Mark Isbell, Arkansas rice farmer and vice chair of the USA Rice Sustainability Committee who presented the Powell Group’s award. “And we’re proud to honor those leaders in our industry who work hard to achieve that goal.”