Brought to you by USA Rice
By Kane Webb
SOUTHWEST, LA — Those of us in the rice industry are familiar with the important role rice plays in feeding the world, the impact the industry has on local and global economies, even the history of rice in the U.S. and the world over, but many people are not.
A television production company based in South Korea is working to change that, producing a new documentary with the working title, “The Rice Road,” to tell the story of rice from its origins and its journey throughout the world to today’s modern time.
Rice was successfully introduced to North America in the late 1600s in South Carolina, making the United States one of the “newest” rice production regions in the world that, over the last century, has evolved into a major influencer in quality and production advancements.
When considering where to begin the modern U.S. rice story, Louisiana seemed appropriate to the producers, so they started with a trip to Mother’s Restaurant in New Orleans to capture the cultural traditions of Louisiana cuisine and the essential role rice plays as a fundamental feature on the plate.
From there, they traveled to southwest Louisiana, more specifically to Crowley, “The Rice Capital of the World,” to learn firsthand about rice production and the culture surrounding it.
The first stop was at GF&P Zaunbrecher Farms, where brothers Fred, Phillip, Paul, and Bill Zaunbrecher shared details on the history of their family operation. The Zaunbrechers were in the middle of shipping rice but took time to explain the bins and dryers, their specialty and seed rice production history, and the crawfish rotation practices they utilize on an annual basis.
Further south in Kaplan, at Richard Farms, Christian Richard was in the process of harvesting second crop rice and working ground for next season. One of the highlights for the film crew there was the opportunity to ride a combine. They also captured great footage of a picturesque sunset behind equipment preparing a field for next year’s planting. Christian explained the importance of these practices and how sustainability is an integral part of the industry’s commitment of continually striving to improve efficiencies in conservation and sustainability for the next generation.
After wrapping up the first day of filming, Christian and his wife, Julie, hosted the crew for a dinner of crawfish étouffée, described by the documentary producer, Timothy Hong, as “the best ever,” thanks to the cook, Jude Richard, Christian’s father. Fellow rice producers Fred Zaunbrecher and Michael Fruge joined the group to offer more insight into the culture that makes the Louisiana rice industry unique.
Day Two began in the early morning hours, with the crew driving back to New Orleans to shoot additional footage in Mother’s kitchen of their chefs showcasing various rice dishes they prepare and serve. From there, the crew drove to Thibodeaux Brothers Farm in Midland, for a drone filming session of the logistics of shipping and receiving rice, equipment moving in and out of the shop for repairs, and ongoing prep work to ready the fields for next year’s crop. Randy Thibodeaux gave an interview describing his family’s operation and sharing his father’s old photographs of harvest being done with threshing equipment, long before the technologies used today were invented.
The rice milling segment of the documentary was filmed at Supreme Rice Mill in Crowley. CEO Bobby Hanks explained the milling process, and, as the current chair of USA Rice, Hanks also talked about the important role the national trade association, representing farmers, millers, merchants, and allied businesses, plays in ensuring the health and vitality of a unified U.S. rice industry.
“We did not expect to have all of these opportunities when we originally planned our trip,” said Hong. “When we told our bosses about the footage we got covering the various aspects of rice production and the people we were able to interview, they were elated and even more confident the documentary would truly reflect the ‘Rice Road’ portion of the U.S. and North America.”
The crew is planning to do additional filming in the California rice region, as well as in South Carolina, where the first rice, referred as “Carolina Gold,” was introduced to the United States.
The four-part documentary by Shin Productions, in cooperation with the Korea Communications Agency, is scheduled to air in early 2021.
Randy Thibodeaux (left) shares his insights
Inside a grain bin on the Zaunbrecher farm
Welcome aboard Christian Richard’s combine
Supreme Rice Mill CEO & USA Rice Chair Bobby Hanks