STUTTGART, AR – A delegation of rice experts from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently toured the mid-south rice industry for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic. As members of the World Agriculture Outlook Board, these USDA employees are instrumental in compiling data and reports including the monthly World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE) report, agricultural baseline projections, and weather impact studies on ag production. And while they spend much of their time researching rice, until last week, many had never seen a working rice farm.
On the tour from USDA were Mark Simone, World Board Chair for the Rice Committee; grain analyst Kevin Wittenberger; Adolfo Escoto, an agricultural economist with the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS); FAS trainee Steve Burgoon; and Phil Jarrell, a commodity analyst with the USDA Economic Research Service.
The group made several stops at rice farms in Arkansas including Isbell Farms, located in England, and Coker Farms near Stuttgart.
“Harvest is prime time for showing off farming operations,” said Whitney Isbell Jones, the media manager at Isbell Farms. “Out in the field, we discussed soil types, weed pressure, insect pressure, climate change, yields – everything associated with how the environment affects our crops.”
Following harvested rice from the field to the mill, the group traveled to Riceland Foods and Producers Rice Mill, both farmers’ cooperatives in Stuttgart, where they toured the mills and their packaging departments, and witnessed farmers delivering freshly cut new crop to rice drying facilities.
In Jonesboro, they toured Windmill Rice Company and the Anheuser-Busch facility that mills more than 2.6 million pounds of rice per day. The shipping component of the industry was showcased at Poinsett Rice & Grain in Osceola, Arkansas.
Jarrod Hardke, rice specialist at the University of Arkansas Rice Research & Extension Center, briefed the group on the cutting-edge research conducted there, and Hunter Bowman, rice specialist for the Mississippi State University Extension Service, took the group to one of the Aguzzi farms in Bolivar County, for a look at rice production in the Delta region.
“For the USDA World Ag Outlook Board to be able to meet face-to-face during rice harvest was beneficial for everyone, “ said Jay Coker, local rice farmer and chairman of the board at Producers Rice Mill. “They got to see firsthand our harvest, our challenges, and our opportunities, and at the same time we learned of their challenges and the important role they play and how it impacts our markets.”
The group also met with Park Eldridge, with Lehman Elevator, Inc., who is chair of the USA Rice Merchants’ Association, for a continuation of the open dialogue with USDA that can only help industry efforts heading into the 2023/24 marketing year as well as negotiations on the upcoming Farm Bill.