Can you remember the first time you heard the word "sustainability"? If you are like me your mind went directly to, "Yeah, it means anything that keeps me doing what I’m doing." Well, we live in a lot bigger world than just the world of rice farming. Just stand outside of a Walmart store pretending that you’re waiting for someone for a few minutes, and check out the diversity of the population in your own community. Everybody lives in their own little world, but we all live in a really big one – together. And that’s the people we feed that buy products from the people that buy our products.
Depending on your age, the scope of your perception about today’s world ranges from how much longer can I do this (farming) to what is the world going to look like for my children that I don’t even have yet. Whether we agree, rightly or wrongly, over-reacting or not, over-zealous or apathetic, it is evident that conventional wisdom is concerning itself with our world and its future. As mostly conservative (those that have something to conserve), earth-loving (it’s our livelihood, for heaven’s sake), responsible (hopefully) citizen farmers, we all started this process with a wait-and-see attitude. We generally do not live in the world of radical conceptual ideas but we are discovering that to maintain our own livelihood we are going to have to visit that world more often.
Our rice industry and the USA Rice Federation of which we are a part has formed a Sustainability Task Force to concentrate on what sustainability means for the rice industry. In doing so they are drafting a definition specifically for rice. The broader general definition that the world has been using since 1987 is "the ability to meet the needs of the present without compromising the needs of the future."
For some people in our instant gratification culture, this idea of future existence and planning is a remote idea. To those of us in farming, "You can’t eat your seed corn (for us, seed rice)" is an understandable, must-have concept if we are to farm year after year. But there will be demands made to our industry by those who buy our products that we don’t like. Sustainability index, producer certification, product tracking to specific farm of origin, master farming, carbon footprint, etc. are coming into our vocabulary. As a rice industry we want to have a seat at the table of discussion, or we will be on the menu.
Your Board of Directors is entrusted with your dollars to ensure that our industry remains viable. Any input you have regarding our involvement would be appreciated. So this is a message about what we are doing and an invitation to be included.
Keep in touch, Jackie Loewer
(This article was published in the 2011 Louisiana Rice Research Board Annual Report.)