Saturday, May 25, 2024

Rice Leadership Development Program

Accolades abound for leadership program conducted by The Rice Foundation.

⋅ By Cassidy Nemec ⋅
Assistant Editor

Steve Linscombe

When Dr. Steve Linscombe was accepted into the Rice Leadership Development program in 1996, he likely didn’t think he would end up heading the program decades later. That is what the Leadership Program does. It selects rice industry individuals who have applied to the program and develops them into impactful leaders by way of exposing them to people and places they might have never witnessed before.

On the Mississippi River near New Orleans, the 2022 class observed rice export operations with Russell Marine. From left, Derek Sohnrey, Peter Rystrom, Connor Popeck, Josh Brunet (RM), Larry Vanderbrook (RM), John McGraw, Adam McCalister, Steve Linscombe, Daniel Cavazos, Corey Conner and Julie Richard.

Selection process and trip sessions

“Normally during July, I’ll put out an application with a call to the program, and we have a selection committee that first goes through and looks at the written applications,” Linscombe said. “Seven people are selected — typically five farmers and two industry people.”

After being interviewed and announced at the annual Rice Outlook Conference in December, these selected individuals begin their program the following March.

“When I’m encouraging people to apply to the program, I often hear people say, ‘I just can’t be away from the farm to participate,’ and I hear that a lot from people who have finally broken down and applied for the program … I’ve never heard anyone say that it was a mistake; everybody that has been through the program says, ‘This is one of the best things I’ve done.’”

Legislative contact meetings in Washington, D.C., are one of the Rice Leadership Development Program highlights. From left, Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS), Austin Davis (2022 Class), Kirk Satterfield (2011 Class), Mississippi rice producer Gibb Steele and Marvin Cochran (2004 Class).

In essence, the Rice Leadership Development Program involves four, one-week program sessions covering rice production, milling, marketing and other agricultural topics related to the rice industry. These sessions span Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Missouri and California rice regions, as well as a tour at the John Deere Factory in Illinois. The program caps off in Washington, D.C., with legislative contact meetings and the current class’ graduation.

With Linscombe leading the program now, he plans and coordinates all trip sessions and has a great deal of experience in the rice industry to aide in answering any questions that may come up in the duration of the program.

In addition to the regular Rice Leadership Development Program, an international component was added in 2009 for alumni to apply to go on that additional session. “It is important for folks who are hopefully going to be future leaders in the industry to have some exposure above and beyond rice in the United States,” Linscombe said.

“It’s very rewarding to see someone go through this program and see people become more active in leadership roles within the U.S. rice community,” he said.

“This program gives them the skills they need to prosper — not only in leadership positions, but in their careers.”

More than a sponsor

Sponsors for the Rice Leadership Development Program are American Commodity Company, John Deere and RiceTec. 

Chris Crutchfield, president and CEO/partner of American Commodity Co., LLC, said that they saw the program as being part of something with the same values as their company’s core belief set. He recounted how natural it seemed to sponsor when the leadership program was looking for another sponsor.

The 2021 class — pictured on the Mississippi River in March 2021 — surveyed rice export operations with Russell Marine. From left, Garrett Williams, Jonathan Hobbs (RM), Mallory Everett, Steve Linscombe, Christine Wylie, Adam Shea, Eliott Maschmann, Kerri Cambre (RM) and Kane Webb (USA Rice).

“We are just extremely honored and proud to be a part of what we believe is a fantastic program that’s invaluable to the industry.”

Ray Gherardini, marketing manager for John Deere, said their relationship with the Rice Leadership Program is strong.

“The leadership program is a great opportunity to help develop future leaders in the rice industry,” he said before adding that they look at “creating advocates for the rice industry.”

During March, the 2022 class visited the drier facility on Timothy Gertson’s farm near Lissie, Texas. From left, Derek Sohnrey (2021 class), Connor Popeck, Daniel Cavazos, Julie Richard, John McGraw, Corey Conner, Adam McCalister and Peter Rystrom.

Brian Ottis, director of supply chain management for RiceTec, said he quickly realized the value of having a relationship with the program after having also gone through it himself. 

“The impact we can have on lawmakers, and the impact we can have to influence policy to protect our industry is very eye-opening,” he said. “We’re a small, tight-knit industry, so we need as many people as possible to be well versed in all the facets of the industry, so we’ve got lots of great representatives out there.”

Perspectives from the past and present

Past and present members alike expressed great reverence toward the Rice Leadership Development Program.

Charley Mathews, a California rice farmer and former chair for both USA Rice and The Rice Foundation, was a member of Class VI of the Rice Leadership Development Program. 

He spoke on the importance of knowing the industry in each of the different rice-growing areas, noting the application of that coming into play when discussing policy decisions for different regions.

Charley Mathews

Mathews recounted the John Deere tour and all the “van time” as some of his favorite aspects of the program. “It’s great hanging out with people from all these different places… I really enjoyed it.”

He noted that while leadership of the program has changed from Chuck Wilson to Dr. Linscombe, the culture of the original program remains.


Kirk Satterfield

Kirk Satterfield, a Mississippi rice farmer, current USA Rice Farmers chairman and 2011 graduate of the Rice Leadership Development Program, said that the four, one-week sessions were intensive and worthwhile for development within the rice industry. 

He credited Tim Walker, GM of Horizon Ag, for encouraging him to apply and talked about the many relationships he made through the program. “I can’t say enough about the relationships I formed. I made not just acquaintances, but also some really good friends in people I may not have ever met otherwise.”

“It opened a lot of doors and taught me a lot of things I would have never looked at.”

During the 2019 international session in Italy rice country, program participants visited the National Rice Institute of Italy. From left, David Martin, Jonathan Hobbs, Kirk Satterfield, Massimo Biloni (private rice breeder), Jim Whitaker, Sunny Bottoms and several researchers at the Institute.

Satterfield also participated in the most recent international trip offered to Rice Leadership alumni when a group went to the rice country of Italy in Oct. 2019. “We had a fantastic trip to Italy… it was such a fascinating experience; that’s the kind of exposure and opportunity you get.”

Connor Popeck, Louisiana rice farmer and current class member, further emphasized the exposure received through the leadership program.

He said his future goals include increasing his acreage and becoming a seed rice producer. He suggested this program can help him get there by gaining a multitude of perspectives and contacts from other individuals in a variety of regions.

The 2019 Class watched lettuce harvest near Salinas, California, on Costa Farms. From left, Kent Wiley with Sun Foods, Matthew Morris, Jason Bond, Bobby Golden, Michael Durand, Mike Costa, Austin Davis and Justin Nix.

“The amount of information I learned, even in just the first session, is surreal.”

He talked about reaching out to other rice producers in other states and bringing up the Rice Leadership Program prior to applying. “Three of them said it was the best thing they’d ever done for their business… it seemed like everyone whose opinion I respected had done it.”

Popeck also commented his interest in learning more about rice and its different segments in milling and retail. “My eyes have already been opened to the industry.”

He ended by reiterating his excitement for the remainder of the program, how great it is to have resources and the benefit he’s already noticed.

“I’m just thoroughly impressed… it’s more than I ever dreamed it would be.”

More information pertaining to the Rice Leadership Development Program and The Rice Foundation can be found at 

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