The 2008 Rice Leadership Development Program class began its first session recently with a weeklong, firsthand look at rice production and marketing programs in the Gulf Coast.

Industry-related member Michael Fruge of Pearland received an overview of several aspects of the rice industry with two days in Texas and three days in Louisiana.

The session began in Houston, where USA Rice Federation staff gave an overview of the rice industry, provided updates on domestic and international promotion efforts, and summarized the Federation's organizational structure. The class visited the largest domestic user of rice, Anheuser Busch, which purchases more than 9 percent of domestically produced rice. Alumnus Michael Creed from Creed Rice Inc., explained the role of international brokers and the various ways for shipping rice internationally.

On day two, Riviana Foods Inc. hosted a tour of its instant rice plant and explained consumer and industrial marketing techniques. The class also received an update on US Rice Producers Association activities.

The class then traveled to East Bernard, Texas, where class members met with leadership program alumnus Terry Hlavinka and Ralph Novosad with Hlavinka Equipment Co. to talk about Texas rice production. The next stop was at the Lower Colorado River Authority where the class learned how agriculture and urban growth work together to provide water for everyone. Linda Raun explained how she and her husband L.G. Raun market organic and specialty rice from their farm in El Campo. The class then met with Dick Ottis, executive vice president of Rice Belt Warehouse Inc., the state's largest rice storage facility and Jay Davis of Coastal Rice and Futures, where they described the use of sales offices in south Texas before ending the day with a reception and dinner at Greek Brothers Restaurant.

On the last day in Texas, the class met with RiceTec Inc., where they learned about hybrid rice production technology. The class wrapped up its Texas tour with a stop in Beaumont, where leadership class alumnus Mike Doguet used his rice mill, sod farm, cattle operation and crawfish farm to demonstrate the importance of diversification.

In Lake Charles, La., alumnus Philip Bertrand with Farmers Rice Milling Co., explained Louisiana rice marketing and toured the Agrilectric Power Plant, which burns rice hulls to power the rice mill and sells the surplus electricity. Alumni Christian Richard, Dane Hebert, Buck Leonards, Ross Hebert and Jeff Durand sponsored a crawfish boil for the class, during which Eddie Eskew, Jefferson Davis Parish agent, discussed south Louisiana production practices and salt intrusion problems that still face producers as a result of previous hurricanes.

On Thursday, the class toured Louisiana State University Rice Research Station in Crowley, La. where alumnus Dr. Steve Linscombe summarized the latest rice research. The class then visited the Louisiana Bag Co. in Crowley to observe the production of the bags used to send U.S. rice around the world.

For the final day, the class visited Russell Marine Group, Metairie, La., where they saw the laboratory testing services and were given a tour of the mid-stream loading facility on the Mississippi River, where ocean-going barge and vessels are loaded for international shipment.

In addition to Fruge, the other industry-related member of the class is Dr. Carrie Castille from Breaux Bridge, La. Rice producer members of the class are Buddy Allen, from Tunica, Miss.; Kirk Meins from Stuttgart, Ark.; Sean Doherty from College City, Calif.; Dan Hosman from Jonesboro, Ark.; and Blake Gerard from Cape Girardeau, Mo.

John Deere Co. and Syngenta sponsor the Rice Leadership Development Program through a grant to The Rice Foundation, and the USA Rice Federation administers it.