Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Central Texas Rice

Putting the ‘good’ in Goodland Farms.

⋅ BY CASSIDY NEMEC ⋅
Associate Editor

H

aving grown up in the expansive rice country of Northeast Arkansas, David Caudell never had any intention of moving to Texas. However, after coming down to visit an area near Hearne, Texas, with fertile soil and plenty of trees to complete the picturesque landscape, he was sold.

History and present day

Prior to being persuaded to come down to Texas, Caudell worked for Versatile Tractor for 10 years, acquiring a territory from Oregon to the Carolinas. This seemed to prepare him for his future career as the farm manager for Goodland Farms. 

David Caudell, farm manager for Goodland Farms, stands in front of a rice field in Hearne, Texas.
Photos by Cassidy Nemec

“The old timers around here tell me ‘Goodland’ got its name because it was ‘good land.’ It is and is some of the most fertile land I’ve farmed or been around in my life. It doesn’t matter what you plant; it’ll produce,” he said.

Goodland Farms covers a large area and could easily intimidate any other farm manager, but not David Caudell.

“I like a challenge.”

Caudell said he fell in love with the place when he came down to visit and asked — as any good Arkansan involved in agriculture would — if he’d be able to raise rice and was given a defiant “You can raise as much rice as you want to raise” answer.

“Growing up, basically all I knew was rice. If you give me a choice of planting any crop, but only one crop, I’d plant everything in rice,” he said.

He suggested the biggest problem in that area, being part of the Central Texas region rather than the normal, more coastal regions for rice, was logistics on where to send the rice. About a year into the job, Caudell connected with RiceTec and worked out a deal with them for seed production.

Overall, rice farming in this area worked well for all parties involved. Caudell said they grow about 400 acres of foundation and production seed rice. One field is row rice, while the rest is all on a normal, levee-based system. 

“This was basically like virgin land for rice; we wanted to raise rice, and they needed a place to raise that rice,” he said.

“Growing up, basically all I knew was rice. If you give me a choice of planting any crop, but only one crop, I’d plant everything in rice,” Caudell said.

Production rice would’ve been too much of a hassle to transport such long distances from Central Texas and wasn’t feasible, so seed rice was the perfect solution. “We grow foundation seed for them and what they call ‘production seed,’ which comes from the foundation and will be sold to the consumer for seed rice,” Caudell said before adding they have ample land to have a good rotation system to keep growing that seed rice year after year a possibility.

Caudell is dedicated to Goodland Farms and agriculture as a whole.

For about five years now, he’s been project manager for a farm getting put together in Tanzania. His heart for agriculture and the people in it shows in his current role.

“I absolutely love it down here. Not just the farm, but the community and very good people in this area. I can’t stress that enough.”

Caudell spoke to the discouraging labor situation he’d seen not just in pockets throughout the U.S., but nationwide, noting he observed many labor troubles all over the country in his previous role.

“I’ll give all the credit for this farm to the labor I have here,” as he emphasized the longevity of everyone on the farm — a good number ranging from 30 to 50 plus years of employment with Goodland Farms. He said that told him a lot about the labor and ownership of the place and made his decision to pack up and move a much easier one. “I’ve got a crew here who I’d put up against anybody; I am so blessed.”

Facing challenges

Caudell talked about some factors they consider while growing rice in Central Texas.

“Irrigation gets everybody on everything, but with rice, that factor is kind of taken out because it’s a given,” he said.

Removing irrigation as a wait-and-see issue, he said they do use a large amount of water. “Water is valuable… rice does require lots and lots of water. That’s one of the things about going to the row rice; you’re not having to maintain the flood on it and are just able to run it through the rows.” 

Goodland Farms of Central Texas.

He added they have weed pressure in pigweed and grasses that they target in various ways, taking into account appropriate measures that should be taken with seed rice versus what could be done with conventional rice.

As was the consensus in 2022, Caudell said input prices are a massive hindrance to their operation at Goodland Farms. 

“Everbody raves about commodity prices; I think I’d take half the commodity price to see half the input cost because the inputs are killing us.”

Caudell would like to see increased efficiency in the coming years.

“We’ve just got to be able to produce more for less, but there is a certain point where savings cost. You’ve got to figure out where that point is so you’re not spending a dollar to save a dime.”

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