Gibb Steele, Chuck Wilson and John Denison, the winners of the 2006 Rice Awards, were honored at the USA Rice Outlook Conference for their significant contributions to the rice industry.

“There are many individuals who contribute to the success of the rice industry, but the accomplishment of these three men sets them apart as leaders,” USA Rice Federation President and CEO Stuart Proctor said. “The USA Rice Federation is pleased work with these individuals and honor their achievements and dedication.”

Lifetime Achievement Award

Denison, this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, has worked tirelessly for many years on behalf of Louisiana’s rice growers. Even as a young farmer, Denison recognized the importance of agricultural research and promotion. He was a founding member of the Louisiana Rice Research Board and served as chairman from 1974-1982 and 1987-1998. “Much of the new technology and many of the varieties in use by the industry today are largely a result of the important funding decisions made by this board,” said Steve Linscombe, rice breeder with LSU AgCenter.

As a passionate and energetic young leader from southwest Louisiana, Denison easily made the transition from production to politics when it came to the rice industry.

During the 1970s, Denison was part of the Louisiana leadership that convinced farmers it was time to switch over to a market-oriented farm program that allowed some support levels but also allowed unlimited production.

When Freedom to Farm was introduced in 1996, Denison could see that the old program was going to face budget cuts and would not be funded sufficiently. Freedom to Farm appeared to offer some opportunities that the old program didn’t.

Denison is an active member of USA Rice and Louisiana boards and committees.

“I’m proud to say I was instrumental in Louisiana as well as at the national level of moving the industry towards that policy,” Denison says. “It’s been very good for us and kept us in business.”

Rice Industry Award

The Rice Industry Award recipient, Wilson from DeWitt, Ark., has worked on the rice industry’s behalf for nearly 30 years, starting with the USA Rice Council in 1977. The award reflects his willingness to take on numerous leadership roles and his continued dedication to the U.S. rice industry. In 2003 he became the director of the Rice Foundation in addition to his fulltime responsibilities as the USA Rice Federation director of Arkansas field services. Wilson also helps out on the family farm whenever he can – especially during planting and harvest seasons.

Marvin Cochran, a rice farmer from Avon, Mo., and a recent graduate of the Rice Leadership Program, notes that Wilson has personally worked with over 120 Rice Leadership Program trainees.

“Because he is also involved in a family farming operation, Chuck is uniquely qualified to share in and relate to the struggles and accomplishments experienced by both rice producers and program participants from other segments of the industry.”

“I grew up with an ag background and to have an opportunity to work for an industry that is important to my family is very important to me,” Wilson says. “It’s quite humbling that an industry would feel that my contributions are worthy of this prestigious Rice Industry Award.”

Rice Farmer of the Year Award

Rice Farmer of the Year award recipient Gibb Steele from Hollandale, Miss., has shown determination and innovation in growing his crop. Steele began farming rice and soybeans in 1973 and with the “buckshot” mud of the Mississippi Delta, he soon found out that the heavy clay soils were often rutted up at harvest, making it difficult to get planted in a timely manner in the spring.

Steele met the challenges with innovation instead of frustration. He started using full track Claas combines in the early 1990s, later switched to combines and grain carts with flotation tires for more surface area on the ground and continued to precision level his fields to improve drainage. Fifteen years ago he adopted no-till and minimum till rice production.

Steele experiments with a variety of cultural practices and welcomes Extension scientists and personnel to his farm to perform on-farm research and demonstrations, which allows him to get an early look at new practices and cultivars and how they perform on his farm.

Steele also serves the rice industry in leadership positions at the local and national level, including Vice-Chairman of U.S. Rice Producers Association Board of Directors.

“Gibb Steele is an excellent example of how dedication, determination and innovation continue to allow individuals to be successful in the rice industry,” Mississippi State Univerity’s Tim Walker said.