By Tom Butler
Editor’s note: The California Rice Commission represents the 2,500 family rice farmers and handlers who farm and process rice produced in California by engaging in a range of comprehensive regulatory, research and education programs. One of the features on their website is a guest blog where rice farmers and others associated with the industry share their thoughts and experiences related to California rice. Following are two recent posts by Tom Butler and Alycia Scheidel. To read more, please visit calrice.org.
This time of year, there is a Rice Outlook Conference involving the six states that produce rice. And for most of the California attendees, the top activity for the three days was to watch the weather back home. We had left for the conference after some welcome rain the week previous, and now there was promise of more. A lot more. More than we received in all of 2013.
And while the storm wasn’t as “epic” as it was hyped to be, it was a welcome change. The five inches of rain filled rain gauges, helped the decomposition of the remaining rice straw in the fields and filled bypasses and flood plains along the river.
It’s always a reminder how quickly it can change from dry to sloppy, and that we still have a long way to go, but it was nice to actually drive around during the rainy season and actually see rain. Also, after the water-short year, it’s a stark reminder as you watch the excess flow into the bypass, and eventually away without being stored, that further improvements are needed in our storage capabilities. As for now though, we, the wildlife and the aquifers will take the rain.
Appreciating the American Farmer
By Alycia Scheidel
When my father, a California rice farmer, asked me to accompany him to the 2014 USA Rice Outlook Conference in Little Rock, Ark., I jumped at the opportunity. Being an avid traveler and having never stepped foot in Arkansas, I couldn’t resist the chance to explore a new city, and for a 23-year-old postgraduate, a free plane ticket is a rare and wondrous thing! I will admit that it was not my intention to attend any of the meetings; my plan was to disappear downtown, wander the city, with all its Southern charms, and make my grand reappearance in the evenings for the plethora of drinks and hors d’oeuvres at the conference receptions.
That first evening, I was given the opportunity to meet a number of truly fascinating individuals, all involved in the California rice industry, including Hartwig Schmidt, a Hamburg native and USA Rice’s regional director of international market development; Bruce Linquist, UC Extension rice specialist, originally from Africa; and Ted DeBraga, president of the California Wild Rice Advisory Board.
Monday, to the surprise of more than a few individuals, myself included, I attended all of the morning meetings, a steaming cup of coffee keeping me conscious and attentive. I had expected for the topics and information discussed in these sessions to fly far over my head and, at times, it admittedly did. However, I found myself very much engaged in the discussions, particularly when they turned to politics (a favorite subject of mine) and international rice consumption.
Lunch, that afternoon, took place in the Wally Allen Ballroom, where we were served chicken, steamed vegetables and, of course, wild rice. My table seated a number of pleasurable persons, including Tim Johnson, President of the California Rice Commission, and my cousins Kent and Kathryn McKenzie. Kent, also a California rice grower and researcher, was awarded the distinguished, “Industry Award,” for his many contributions in variety development.
It was very inspiring and more than a little humbling to be in the presence of so many wise and hardworking men and women. These are individuals who have, from the ground, etched a living for themselves and their families and who continue to feed not only our country but many countries on an international level. In my travels, never have I come across a more honest and noble profession than that of farming. It takes a special breed of man (and woman) to possess the patience to wait for a minuscule seed to turn into a profitable crop, all the while braving the elements – heat, frost, flood, drought – with the faith that something greater will come of it. It is through rice, especially the California industry, that my entire life has been paved. Indeed, I have this small grain to thank for my education, my travels, my many interests and those material things that, sometimes, seem so necessary to have.
The conference ended Tuesday morning, and I found myself suddenly wistful. True, I probably knew the least about rice out of everyone in the conference, but I wasn’t ready for it to end. I was not ready to say good-bye to the many fascinating people whom had made my acquaintance.
If anything, this experience has reminded me how much I owe to farmers and how much America owes to them. They are truly the backbone on which this country is built, and, without them, I fear we would crumble.
Wendell Berry, the legendary author and farmer, once said,“Good farmers, who take seriously their duties as stewards of Creation and of their land’s inheritors, contribute to the welfare of society in more ways than society usually acknowledges, or even knows. These farmers produce valuable goods, of course; but they also conserve soil; they conserve water; they conserve wildlife; they conserve open space; they conserve scenery.”
Over the course of this conference, I have met many “good” farmers; I look forward to meeting more in my travels to come; and I will continue to promote the consumption of American rice from family farms.
God bless the farmer and God bless America.