Harrell discussed the country, and state’s, rice origins and the work the research station has and continues to do.
He started with an overview of how rice came to the United States and how important the industry is globally. Rice was first introduced to the U.S. in 1622 in Virginia but did not succeed. In 1685, however, South Carolina gave rice a try and it took.
Now, according to Harrell, it is estimated that the world has 360 million acres of rice; of that, the U.S., the world’s third largest exporter of rice, has three million acres. Louisiana has about 0.5 million acres.
Furthermore, he added, over 50 percent of the world’s population’s stable support crop is rice. Harrell went on to explain how rice has become ingrained in international cultures.
“In Japan, the word for cooked rice is the same word for meal,” he said, “in India, the first meal a wife prepares for her husband is rice and it is also the first meal a baby is given.”
Harrell says that it is when large scale mechanized production began in the 1880s that rice truly made its way into southwest Louisiana. One of the innovations of the Industrial Revolution, a thresher, can actually still be seen from time to time at festivals such as German Fest and, of course, the International Rice Festival.
Harrell then began speaking of the Rice Research Station. The station, now in its 101st year of existence is known especially for its development in rice varieties.
“Hopefully we’ll be here for the next century,” he said.
He explained several of the notable research aspects and projects they have worked on at the station. He also spoke about how crucial their work has truly become.
“If it weren’t for the variety development, we probably wouldn’t have a rice industry in southwest Louisiana.”
But, this past year there was an added level of intrigue given to the station.
“Our ‘LSU rice’ got more attention than we thought it would,” said Harrell. “A few magazines published a picture of it and our main goal was to add a little something extra to our field day.”
Harrell says thus far there isn’t any plans for the station’s next big event, but did say that they could change their minds joking that there is plenty of time between now and March for them to do so.
As Harrell pointed out, National Rice Month coincides with the rice harvest, which begs the question, “Why is the Rice Festival held in October?”
It turns out that over 50 years ago, the station’s development was a taller rice plant which took longer to mature, thus in 1936 when the festival was started, the harvest was later.
The rice station does have a website that, among many other things, includes a live webcam that shows the growth of rice.
“So, if you ever get bored...” joked Harrell.
Harrell did assure the Rotarians, however, they do blog about their important developments as well.