Rice industry leaders honored for superlative stewardship practices

• By Deborah Willenborg •

The U.S. rice industry bolsters its longstanding commitment to conservation and sustainability each year by recognizing industry leaders who showcase their stewardship efforts in preserving wildlife habitat and efficient use of natural resources. Two awards were presented recently during the USA Rice Outlook Conference Awards Luncheon.

USA Rice Distinguished Conservation Award
nicole van vleck jeff durand
Nicole Montna Van Vleck and Jeff Durand — photos courtesy USA Rice

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, Montna’s daughter and 2021 Rice Farmer of the Year Nicole Montna Van Vleck presented this year’s award.

“It is quite an honor for me to present this award and carry forward this important legacy of conservation,” Van Vleck said. “Because last year’s Outlook Conference was canceled, 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 he has served as co-chair for the USA Rice-Ducks Unlimited Rice Stewardship Partnership Committee since its inception in 2014.

USA Rice Sustainability Award
the powell group
The Powell Group representatives, from left: Patrick Hartwell, Philip Bertrand, Laura Kelly and Jack McClelland.

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. A subcommittee of the USA Rice Sustainability Committee chooses the winner based on several criteria. They include 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. They are:

• Agrilectric Power Partners (APP), a leading operator of rice hull combustion power plants.

• Agrilectric Research Co. (ARC), which refines rice hull ash to create a unique amorphous silica structure with increasingly valuable applications in the steel, environmental, transportation, filtration and agricultural industries.

• 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.”

This article appeared originally in USA Rice’s “The Daily.”

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