An ode to rice field days

Xueyan Sha

Xueyan Sha, a University of Arkansas rice breeder, discusses a few Clearfield varieties he has in the pipeline at the 2018 University of Arkansas Rice Field Day — photo by Vicky Boyd

The rice field day circuit is different this year, and those of us who try to hit many of them may be having withdrawal symptoms.

Sure, these events are a chance learn about the latest research at the various universities or at the California Rice Experiment Station.

And with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, universities and the California Rice Experiment Station have had to pivot to produce virtual field days to showcase work that is predominately funded by grower checkoff funds.

But field days also are social events, and these digital formats are not nearly as personal. One of the big parts of in-person field days is getting the chance to catch up with folks you don’t see during other times of the year. You also get to meet others as you sit next to them on the tour wagons.

green bean and rice caserole

Rice and green bean casserole is a crowd favorite at the University of Arkansas Rice Field Day in Stuttgart.

Then comes the lunch, which seems to attract more people than were on the tours. The LSU AgCenter’s meal is known for its Cajun dishes, such as jambalaya or crawfish étouffée over rice.

The University of Arkansas likes to showcase the state’s catfish industry with fried catfish served with a side of rice and green bean casserole.

Then there’s the California Rice Experiment Station, which several years ago started including sushi made with California-grown sushi rice as part of its spread. Station director Kent McKenzie added trays of cooked, newer rice varieties, so attendees could sample some of the releases such as M-401, Calaroma and Calhikari.

Regardless of the entity hosting the rice field, the mid-day meal is designed to showcase locally bred and grown rice.

We may grumble about getting poked in the rear end by a wayward piece of straw from the bales on which we sit. Or remember not so fondly the LSU AgCenter Rice Field Day several years ago at Crowley where one group of trailers raced a nasty thunderstorm back to the grain warehouse. Good thing we were drip dry because the storm won.

As we head toward the end of field day season this year, I’m pretty sure most past attendees would gladly get poked with a piece of straw or endure a rain storm to return to a bit of normalcy and an in-person rice field day.