After 90 Years, Riceland Still Powers Arkansas Rice Industry

by Luke Jones  on Monday, May. 21, 2012 12:00 am  

Carter said about half the rice produced in the U.S. is produced in Arkansas, and while the country represents only about 2 percent of worldwide rice production, it also represents 20 percent of the worldwide export trade.

"We're a very important player in the world market," he said. "Riceland is certainly a significant reason for that, both in milled and rice exports."

Bell said Riceland was the single largest employer in Stuttgart, occasionally being upped by Lennox Commercial of Richardson, Texas, an air conditioning manufacturer that has a factory in the town. Riceland's Stuttgart facilities include three rice mills, a soybean processing facility, an edible oil refinery and its headquarters. The current jobs are in receiving, conditioning, storing, transportation, processing, packaging and marketing of grain.

"You do see a fluctuation in the Lennox workforce as the economy goes up and down," Bell said. "But the workforce at the mills stays pretty consistent."

Bell said Riceland had been a force for stability in the town. As technology evolved through the 1970s and onward, some labor was replaced by automation, but Bell said the cooperative replaced those lost jobs with higher skilled positions. "They still have seasonal help," Bell said. "When the harvest arrives, they not only mill the rice, they market the rice with farmers. It's a pretty substantial white-collar work force."

In fact, Bell added, about a quarter of everyone who lives in Stuttgart has some tie to Riceland.

"Either they work there or their spouse works there," Bell said.

Riceland is so critical to the city that it's become a part of Stuttgart's popular culture:

"It's important enough to us that the name Riceland is in the Stuttgart [High School] alma mater song," Bell said, "'over the fields of Riceland.'"

Reed said Riceland was devoted to the cooperative model.

"With the conclusion of the 2011 fiscal year, we completed 90 years as a farmer-owned co-op," he said. "We saw that as a milestone and a good time to remember why Riceland was formed by farmers. It was created to prove the marketing power of farmers, to reduce costs, to enhance marketing opportunities and to improve products and services. Those are all the same principles that support co-ops today."



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