Representatives of the Kellogg Co., Louisiana Rice Mill and the LSU AgCenter unveiled on July 18 the Master Rice Grower Program, which provides incentives to qualified farmers for following sustainable production practices.

Steve Linscombe, director of the LSU AgCenter Rice Research Station, said the program, which is voluntary, has been in development for more than two years. He said the sustainability issue is more than a trend.

“It’s going to become more and more important,” Linscombe said.

Diane Holdorf, Kellogg chief sustainability officer, said Louisiana is not the only region where Kellogg is encouraging farmers to follow sustainability guidelines, and rice is not being singled out. “We’re doing this with other countries that grow rice, and we’re doing this with other commodities.”

Linscombe said participants in the program will go through the process of becoming a Louisiana Master Farmer, and the LSU AgCenter will act as a facilitator. Louisiana Rice Mill processes rice bought from farmers, then sells it to Kellogg.

Kellogg representative Herman Wentzler said the company wants the program to be voluntary and practical, with the realization that farmers have to be able to grow their crops profitably.

The four levels start at bronze with participation in the program and the first phase of the Master Farmer Program that includes eight hours of classroom instruction. The silver level, with an incentive of 15 cents a barrel, requires documentation of farming practices and Phase II of the Master Farmer Program, which involves attendance at a rice production field day at a model farm.

Farmers who want to reach the gold level, with a payment of 25 cents per barrel, must complete the development of an approved conservation plan, which is a first step toward Phase III of the Master Farmer Program. In addition, more documentation of the practices done on their farms will be required.

For the platinum level, farmers will be paid 50 cents a barrel for implementing the conservation plan and achieving Phase III of the Master Farmer Program and for showing the highest level of commitment and expertise in their production programs.

“We’re trying to make this as easy as it could be,” said Wes Newton, a rice buyer for Kellogg.

Newton said the deadline to get into the program’s first year is Dec. 1.

Ernest Girouard, director of the Louisiana Master Farmer Program, said the system recognizes that the best practices are not always possible, but farmers will not be penalized for having to use alternative practices.

Girouard said the Master Farmer Program has a backlog of participants who have not been able to complete Phase III because of administrative delays, but changes are being made. He said details of the improved system will be announced at the Rice Research Station Field Day on June 28.

Newton said Kellogg, the biggest customer for medium-grain rice grown in Louisiana, relies on Louisiana for rice. “Kellogg is very committed to buying rice out of Louisiana.”

Newton said that without the rice breeding work of the LSU AgCenter, “we probably would have run out of options and sourced our rice somewhere else.”