AUSTIN, TX — Organic rice accounts for a small percentage of the rice produced in the United States but total acreage is on the upswing as more and more consumers prefer organically-produced foodstuffs. The USA Rice Outlook Conference addressed this growing trend last week with an excellent breakout session focused on organic rice production in the U.S. featuring three panelists representing diverse operations and growing regions.
Michael Bosworth is a California grower and marketer from Olivehurst, Daniel Cavazos is the director of rice and organic farming for Florida Crystals Corporation near Belle Glade, Florida, and Ken Danklefs is a rice producer near Garwood, Texas, west of Houston. All three produce both organic and conventional rice in their operations so were able to provide perspectives on the differences between the two types of production.
The speakers discussed the significant requirements associated with organic rice production, including the avoidance of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, instead relying on animal manures, crop residues, green manures, tillage, water, and other biological measures to supply plant nutrients and minimize pest damage. Only products that have been certified by the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) can be used in organic production.
In addition, fields to be used for organic production must have been free of application of any non-organic approved products for the previous three years. Hence, one of the biggest constraints is finding land suitable for organic production. Danklefs said that if enough such land was readily available, he would likely be 100 percent organic.
While diseases and insects can be troublesome, weeds are a major challenge in organic production. Bosworth gave an example of a field that had a yield reduction of 50 percent from one year to the next and finally was taken out of organic production because of weed pressure.
Cavazos said he plants all of his organic rice prior to seeding his conventional crop to give him somewhat of an advantage on some of the major organic production constraints.
All three agreed that yields on organic production are typically below that on conventional rice and, in some cases, significantly reduced. This can vary from year to year and field to field.
Each producer has a different approach to marketing their product. Florida Crystals has their own rice mill (Sem-Chi). All of their production is milled there and most of it is sold in Florida. Danklefs sells his rice to one of the two mills in Texas that handle organic rice – Douguet’s Rice Milling and Gulf Pacific Rice. Bosworth has his own food distribution business, called Next Generation Foods, and sells his organic packaged products under the “True Origins Foods” brand.
While organic rice production can be challenging and is not for everyone, it was apparent listening to these three farmers that they enjoy the challenge and are in it for the long haul. All three also participated in a podcast which will be available soon as part of The Rice Stuff podcast series.
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