Farmer, mill owner follows grain in Arkansas | The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - Arkansas' Best News Source

PJ Haynie working to help other Black farmers grow rice

Pine Bluff-based rice mill co-owner PJ Haynie -- a fifth-generation farmer from the coastal plains of Virginia -- is working in Arkansas to promote sustainable farming and to advocate for underserved rice producers. Rice Mill Electric

Farmer, mill owner follows grain in Arkansas | The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - Arkansas

Haynie and his father decided to expand some of the family farm's operations to the Mississippi Delta region eight years ago and Haynie now grows rice in Arkansas, outside of the mill business, Arkansas River Rice.

"We are happy to be in the heart of rice production country and be another rice mill that is sourcing rice from Arkansas rice farmers, as well as other farmers in neighboring states," Haynie said. "I grew up in my family's operation, working with my grandfather and then my father ... I was the first to graduate college and later come back to the family farm to help my dad put my sisters through school," he said.

Arkansas River Rice Mill recently secured a contract for about 198 tons of U.S. grown long grain rice for export to Cameroon via the Food for Peace program, and also landed a McGovern-Dole Food for Education contract to send U.S. grown rice to Kyrgyzstan next month.

"The highlight of it is pretty historic because for one thing, we're the only Black-owned rice mill [in] the U.S. with a food grade certification to sell to food grade buyers," Haynie said.

"The historic part for the government is that they've never before issued a contract for rice with a Black-owned rice mill for the Food for Peace program, or for McGovern-Dole."

Haynie noted Arkansas River Rice is not the first Black-owned rice mill in Arkansas.

"We are the first Black-owned food grade certified rice mill in the country, and currently the only one that I'm aware of," Haynie said.

The mill has been operating for about a year and has rapidly increased milling capacity since opening.

"Our facility can process [24 tons] of rice per hour, a little over a tractor trailer load per hour, and we are able to mill that rice and offer brown rice and white rice as products that we are selling domestically and internationally," Haynie said.

"We are kind of in growth mode. We got started and opened the doors here December 1st, 2021, started milling some of our first rice in May of 2022, started entertaining certifications for food grade buyers in the fall of 2022 and starting to ramp up our production in the fall until now, spring of 2023."

The rice milled at Arkansas River Rice is used for a number of products, from packaged rice to beer.

"We've been trying to get into some international sales," Haynie said.

Haynie recently participated in leadership course with USA Rice and said he learned a lot about the rice industry and the challenges it faces.

Drought in California the last few years resulted in lower medium-grain rice production, and coincided with increased interest in medium-grain rice seed grown in the Mid-South and an uptick in demand.

"The rice industry feeds everybody, and looking at the tragedies that California's had with drought and water shortages, the last couple of years, they've been 50% off in rice production," Haynie said.

"Rice is one of the smallest commodity groups out there, [as] rice is only grown in six states -- Arkansas being the number one rice producing state in the country -- and there are only about 50 rice mills in the whole U.S. that can help feed all the population here in the U.S. as well as around the world. There's a lot of rice imported as well, but we have a lot of people here that American rice farmers feed everyday, and a lot of the products that are derived from American grown rice really help contribute to our global food security. It's good to learn and be a part of a great industry, an industry that has a lot of history," Haynie said.

Haynie, who is chair of the nonprofit National Black Growers Council, co-owns the mill with partner Billy Bridgeforth, chair emeritus of the Council.

Haynie was in the crowd when U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack visited England last September to announce funding for the Biden Administration's Climate Smart Agriculture Initiative programs.

USA Rice is working with the National Black Growers Council and Ducks Unlimited for a sustainability in agriculture project expected to affect 400,000 acres of working rice land and to improve water, soil and air quality with the ultimate goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Of those acres, 25% were earmarked specifically for historically underserved producers to help them implement sustainable agricultural practices.

"While Black farmers are very few and far between, Black rice producers are one of the rarest commodity grower groups of all because, one, rice is only grown in six states, two, you really need improvements on your farm to grow rice, like land leveling and irrigation, and not that many Black farmers have those improvements to be able to grow rice," Haynie said.

"We are helping the underserved rice growers by bringing these opportunities to their farms so they can change their production practices, and they are incentivized to do that in case they have any yield loss on what they typically have been doing," he said.

"What we're trying to do is look at opportunities to help protect and preserve the remaining Black farmers that exist, and hope that we can increase that number in the years to come."

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Farmer, mill owner follows grain in Arkansas | The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - Arkansas

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