Frances Gould | 10/7/2013 9:39:37 PM
Food companies are scrutinizing the origins of their products as part of the movement to make sure ingredients are derived from sustainable agriculture.
One of the big buyers of Louisiana rice is the Kellogg Co., a key figure in the sustainability movement.
"They are very interested in the agricultural practices used in the raw ingredients, as well as the overall sustainability of their products," said Dr. Steve Linscombe, director of the LSU AgCenter’s Rice Research Station at Crowley.
"The LSU AgCenter has been working closely with Kellogg, and although we don’t have an in-the-box sustainability program, we have a pretty good program that will allow for improvements with the sustainability in the production of rice as a whole, specifically for rice destined for Kellogg," Linscombe said.
Linscombe said rice has made considerable progress in the sustainable agriculture arena and that news of the progress needs to be communicated to Kellogg and other companies. "Perhaps even more important is showing how sustainable our current production is," he said.
The LSU AgCenter has conducted two meetings with Kellogg Co. representatives and rice producers during 2011. First, in the spring, farmers who grow rice for Kellogg met with representatives of the company to discuss the Kellogg vision of sustainability and the improvements in rice production that have occurred in the past 20 years.
Those changes include dramatic yield increases and decreased fertilizer and herbicide requirements on a unit-of-output basis.
Linscombe said a shift to dry planting and conservation tillage has led to improved water quality and less water use.
A field day in June provided Kellogg and Walmart representatives with a chance to visit farms to see different practices and to learn about ongoing research to reduce fertilizer demand.
"We gave them a crash course in rice production," Linscombe said. "A lot of these individuals from Kellogg know what is done to rice once it gets to the processing plant, but they know very little about what goes into growing rice."
Linscombe said much of the discussion in June focused on integrating the Louisiana Master Farmer program into the sustainability effort.
"We have made significant progress in a short period of time, but we still have a long way to go," Linscombe said. "We are talking about how we can tweak the Louisiana Master Farmer program and make it a more integrated part of the Kellogg’s program."
The value of wildlife habitat provided by rice farming should be recognized, Linscombe said. "We think this is extremely important, especially when you consider we are continuously losing coastal marshes in Louisiana."
The USA Rice Federation has established a sustainability task force that is looking at the overall sustainability issue, Linscombe said.
Other companies, such as Mars, owner of Uncle Ben’s Rice, and Budweiser also are looking at the sustainability issue, Linscombe said.
Rice farmer John Owen in Richland Parish has been involved in a nationwide sustainability task force. He said the sustainability movement is tempered by the reality of producing more food.
"The bottom line is in the next 25 years, the world population is expected to double, and we’re going to have to raise twice as much food with fewer inputs, and that’s the challenge of sustainability," Owen said.
The Richland Parish farmer said genetics and better growing techniques will be required, and the rice industry has made big improvements.
"We’ve done a lot of good research to prove we have a good track record at improvement," he said. "Our soil loss matrix has improved dramatically. The amount of water we use has dropped dramatically, as well, through precision leveling."
(This article was published in the 2012 Louisiana Rice Research Board Annual Report.)
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