(Transcribed by Leora White, 2008)
The Graduate Faculty of
The University of Southwestern Louisiana
In Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree
Master of Arts
Lawson P. Babineaux, Jr.
Lawson Paul Babineaux, Jr. was born on July 24, 1943 in New Iberia, Louisiana. He was reared on a small farm in Iberia Parish and received his early education in the parish public school system. Following his graduation from New Iberia High School in 1961 Mr. Babineaux entered college at Louisiana State University where he was awarded a scholarship to study diary manufacturing. After remaining at Louisiana State University for a brief period of time, Mr. Babineaux enrolled at the University of Southwestern Louisiana to study history. He completed requirements for a Bachelor of Arts Degree in 1965 and continued his study of history at the University by immediately entering Graduate School. While a graduate assistant Mr. Babineaux participated in a rice history program conducted by Southwestern Archives.
Presently, Mr. Babineaux is a Field assistant with the Travelers Insurance Companies and is married to the former Linda Ann Gonsoulin.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
I. A PERSPECTIVE OF THE RICE INDUSTRY
II. THE RAILROAD OPENS UP THE PRAIRIE
III. THE DEVELOPMENT OF COMMERCIAL RICE FARMING IN SOUTHWESTERN LOUISIANA
IV. THE ORGANIZATION OF THE RICE INDUSTRY
V. THE POLITICS OF RICE
VI. GOVERNMENT INFLUENCE OVER THE LOUISIANA RICE INDUSTRY, 1933 - 1956
A PERSPECTIVE OF THE RICE INDUSTRY
This study is a general history of the rice industry of Southwestern Louisiana, an industry located on the clay pan prairie soil of the Southwestern parishes of Acadia, Allen, Calcasieu, Cameron, Evangeline, Jefferson Davis, Lafayette, St. Landry, and Vermilion. This thesis is not designed to be a detailed agronomic or technical account of the development of the industry. Instead, it is an attempt to present a broad picture of the transformation of a small noncommercial crop into a large and efficient commercial enterprise.
A major portion of this study is devoted to examining the early origins of commercial rice farming on the prairie. The establishment of a wide scale rice production in Southwest Louisiana is treated as a bonanza enterprise that developed almost overnight. This development was due to several factors. The most important contribution to the industry’s early growth was made by Northern people. The expansion of the railroad, outside capital, agricultural technology, and local leadership were among the ingredients that were most significant in the industry’s continued development to 1900.
The next part of this study is focused upon the rice industry’s progress from 1900 to the First World War. Essentially, it is an examination of the growing pains experienced by the rice belt as it sought to emerge from adolescence. Attention is paid to trends toward unity within the industry. These trends were primarily caused by problems of marketing. The organization of cooperative marketing is only one example of how the leaders in the rice belt organized to cope with the problems of instability.
The final part of this thesis is focused upon the rice industry’s progress in relation to national events after the First World War. In particular, American’s entry into World War I strongly influenced production and marketing. An effort is also made to show the subsequent relation between overproduction and the problem of limited markets.
Equally important, the nationwide depression experienced in this country during the 1930s seriously affected Southwest Louisiana. The rice industry experienced hardships similar to other agricultural industries. Low prices, overproduction, and acreage quotas created problems for the rice country. Local leaders who realized the seriousness of the situation were forced to organize all segments of the industry and work within the scope of the Federal farm program of the New Deal. This resulted in greater Federal penetration and influence, along with a trend towards concentration.
The final part of this study examines the history of the Louisiana rice industry as it was affected by the Second World War. An effort is made to explain how the war increased the importance of the Louisiana rice industry by interrupting production in the Asiatic countries. The war encouraged expansion of the American rice industry which labored to supply the Federal government with food for the nation and our allies. Louisiana responded to the wartime emergency by increasing production through the use of increased mechanization. Processors and producers adopted scientific techniques to improve milling and harvesting equipment and procedures and to improve seed rice. After the war, Louisianians were faced with an over expanded industry, and rice people from this state had no alternative but to participate in new Federal programs of regulation similar to those implemented during the depression.
Rice is a grain which is cultivated all over the world and provides nourishment for over half of its population. The origin of the rice plant is uncertain, but scholars believe that its earliest cultivation occurred either in China or in India. It is certain that rice was being used as a food over 3,000 years ago.
In the Far East rice has been an important crop since ancient times, and its cultivation has gradually spread into the Western world. The people of Europe began to grow rice near the latter part of the seventh century. From its introduction into the Southern region of the Mediterranean Coast, the crop spread through Italy and into Spain and France. Scholars still disagree over the exact date that rice first came to North America. Some historians maintain that attempts were made to produce the crop shortly after Christopher Columbus made his important discovery of the New World. On the other hand, experiments with rice culture in Virginia in 1647 claim to be among the first attempts to grow rice in the English colonies. However, it was not until rice was introduced into the South Atlantic Coastal region of the United States in the latter part of the seventeenth century that the grain began to assume commercial importance.
Rice was probably first brought to South Carolina in 1685. Several seventeenth century accounts show that a severe Atlantic storm inflicted damage to a brigantine sailing from the Island of Madagascar to Europe. The ship sailed to the port of Charleston for repairs. There, the vessel’s captain, John Thurber, gave a local citizen, Dr. Henry Woodward, a sample of seed rice. Dr. Woodward distributed the seed among his friends, and witnessed its successful cultivation. This seed from Madagascar became know as "Carolina Gold Rice." Its successful cultivation and high quality were responsible for the launching of a new agricultural staple for the Carolinas. (1)
Over the years rice production increased to such an extent that by 1830 the crop was of major importance to North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. These states led in production until the Civil War, accounting for more than 75% of the domestic rice crop.
A thriving agricultural area until 1860, the Southern part of the Atlantic Coastal region suffered much destruction from the ravages of the Civil War. By 1865 the rice industry was severely disrupted and virtually destroyed. The war created an agricultural depression from which the Atlantic Coastal rice belt never recovered. Wide spread destruction of rice farms caused production in the region to decline rapidly. Rice production was curtailed as the land was neglected and physically damaged. The destruction of the slave labor system made it difficult for the industry to recover. Unavailability of capital and competition from other areas that employed more efficient economic practices also reduced the productivity of the rice section. Even before the war, yields had declined and problems had been encountered with water control. The practice of continuous cropping had reduced the level of the rice fields by destroying organic matter.
When it was discovered that rice could be cultivated with some profit on the coastal plains of Louisiana and Texas and in the delta land along the Mississippi River, rice production shifted westward into Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas. The development of harvesting machines and large-scale methods of plowing and seeding in Southwest Louisiana after the war gave it an advantage over the Carolina area. Because of smaller fields, terrain that was less level, and different soil, mechanization was not readily adopted in the old rice belt as in the new one. Eventually, the increased volume of rice produced in the partly mechanized Southwestern area depressed the domestic price of rice to such an extent that the Carolina-Georgia area was unable to survive. (2)
In Louisiana, rice was not an important crop until after the Civil War. Although grown in Louisiana as early as 1718, rice had been confined to the lowland region adjoining the Mississippi River.
The disruption of the state’s sugar economy by the war served as a temporary boost to rice production in the river section. In 1880 Plaquemines Parish was the leading producer in the state, although cultivation of the plant was practiced on a crude and limited basis. The only milling facilities in Louisiana were located in New Orleans.
The development of the modern rice industry in Louisiana did not begin until the 1880s when a unique combination of factors touched off a revolution in agriculture on the prairie. The completion of the Southern Pacific Railroad from Houston to New Orleans, the migration of Northern and Midwestern farmers into the prairie, the availability of cheap land and the mechanization of rice farming produced a tremendous growth in rice cultivation, milling and marketing. Rice production quickly spread from Louisiana into Texas; by 1906 rice was being grown on the prairies of Arkansas, and by 1910 rice was being grown experimentally in the Sacramento Valley of California.
Today, rice production in this country is centered in Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, and California. Although the total annual production in these states accounts for only about 1.5% of the total annual world output, the rice industry of the United States is a vital one. Its importance lies not in terms of volume, but mainly in the industry’s contribution to the technology of the rice world. The rice industry of this country produces the highest quality rice in the world. It also employs the most modern methods of agricultural production and leads the rice world in efficient marketing and processing.
The size and economic importance of the American rice industry are illustrated by production statistics. In 1966, over 8,142,724,825 pounds of rough rice were produced in the Southern states and California. This crop was valued at $377,260,000 and was produced on 1,964,418 acres. Production in Louisiana was 24% of the national total. Among the rice producing states, Louisiana accounted for the most acreage in cultivation, 564,060 acres, on which were produced 2,087,638,900 pounds of rice valued at over $90,230,000. (3) Today, Louisiana leads all other states in rice production.
In spite of the fact that this nation’s volume of production is minute in comparison to world production, an average of nearly 50% of the domestic rice crop has been exported and sold in foreign markets in recent years. This is partly because of our low per capita consumption of rice. Presently the annual per capita consumption of the grain by Americans is only seven pounds as compared to over 300 pounds in India and China. Since Americans are not heavy rice consumers, the market in this country is limited. Another factor which accounts for the high percentage of rice exported is that the world supply of the grain does not equal world demand. The underdeveloped and densely populated nations in the Far East cannot produce enough rice to meet their needs. India, China, Japan, and the countries of Southeast Asia, which compose the "rice bowl," rely mostly upon rice as their chief food product. Unfortunately, many of these countries employ crude and inefficient agricultural practices which make it difficult to produce enough food for their huge populations.
The rice industry of the United States has been riddled by a problem exactly opposite to the one experienced by the Asiatic countries. The rice producers of Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, California, and other Southern states have been plagued by a limited home market. However, this does not mean that the industry has not been prosperous or important to the areas in which it is located. For example, in Louisiana, a predominantly agricultural state, rice is raised in thirty of the state’s sixty-four parishes and provides over one-third of the state’s income produced by farming.
The heart of Louisiana’s rice belt is located on the Southwest prairie, where Crowley, the self-proclaimed rice capital of the world, is situated. Because of the development of this rice belt, production in Louisiana has greatly increased over the years. For example, in 1899 Louisiana farmers cultivated 201,685 acres of rice which produced 172,732,430 pounds valued at $4,044,489. (4) Since that time, the state’s rice crop has more than tripled in acreage, production, and value. (5) Statistics clearly point out the increasing economic importance of rice as an agricultural product in Louisiana. Production has continually expanded in quantity and value.
Perhaps the greatest key to the success of the Louisiana rice belt is leadership. Leaders from Southwest Louisiana have participated with other state and national leaders in attempting to solve many of the industry’s problems. Organizational movements within Louisiana have usually been in connection with movements throughout the industry. Southwestern Louisiana supplied many individuals who provided exceptional leadership for the rice industry. Men like Seaman A. Knapp, Sol Wright I, Henri Gueydan, Homer L. Brinkley, Senator A. P. Pujo, Frank Godchaux I, William M. Reid, and many others worked tirelessly to unify and stabilize the industry. They learned the value of organization, advertising, and concentration. These individuals, with the support of their congressmen, were responsible for molding the rice industry into a very prosperous enterprise. They secured national attention and created organizations aimed at making the industry efficient and powerful in the farm bloc. Louisiana played an important role in the establishment of the Rice Millers Association and the Rice Council of America. These agencies have served as the voice of the industry. They also function as trade and advertising associations and have kept the farmers informed about local and national farm and market conditions.
A major theme in the story of the development of the modern rice industry of Southwestern Louisiana is the rapid progress made in the development of American agricultural technology. Today, while the rice farmer of India or China uses crude agricultural practices and inefficient manual labor to produce his crop, the farmer in Southwestern Louisiana makes use of the most modern scientific agricultural practices and labor saving machinery to produce the highest quality rice in the world. He obtains the greatest yields per acre and commands the highest prices on the market.
This thesis tells the story of the growth of the rice industry in Louisiana from its early establishment to its progress through the postwar years. It examines the development of a truly American agricultural industry within the context of national events. The growth of the rice belt was significantly affected by experiences that were common to other areas of the nation. The expansion of the railroads, the economic conditions created by the Civil War, the settling of the public domain, and the emergence of the New South were some of the historical developments that decisively molded the progress of the sparsely populated states of the Southwest. The industrial revolution which occurred in the United States in the decades following the war contributed to the technological advancement in agriculture as well as in industry. Louisiana agriculture benefited from these developments and the rice belt benefited from the greater role that the Federal government gradually developed in agriculture. The early establishment of demonstration and experimental farms in the rice country was the first method of government aid received.
As the United States drifted away from isolation in international affairs, so did the rice industry. In 1914, when rice became a surplus crop, the leaders of the industry worked vigorously to penetrate new markets abroad. With government support, reciprocal trade agreements were made with other nations. World War I was responsible for the largest increase in production that the industry ever experienced. American rice served as food for the Allies in both World War I and World War II. The federal government encouraged the rice farmer to increase production, and local farmers answered the call by reaching new production peaks in 1920 and again in 1945. Indeed Louisiana rice farmers played an important role in the United States’ two great battles against aggression in the world. Since that time, the industry’s role in international affairs has created a need for government regulation of its production and marketing.
THE RAILROAD OPENS UP THE PRAIRIE
Rice culture was introduced into Louisiana by Bienville’s French colonists as early as 1718. (6) During the early years the grain was cultivated on a limited scale and used primarily for home consumption. Production required very little capital, and it was not until the South Atlantic Coast rice industry declined that rice really gained commercial importance in Louisiana. During the decline of the Carolina industry after the Civil War, a small number of parishes in Louisiana grew rice for marketing purposes. The parishes bordering the Mississippi River benefited from the westward shift in rice production as planters utilized the desolated cotton and sugar plantations to grow rice. The immediate absence of available capital and the low price of sugar inhibited the reconstruction of agriculture in Southeast Louisiana. Because of this, rice production was spurred in the Mississippi River delta.
Production increased rapidly in Louisiana and Plaquemines Parish led the state in rice cultivation in 1880. However, the unique factors responsible for the temporary boom in this region did not continue the next decade. Like the rice area along the Atlantic Coast, the lower Mississippi River region was also beset with problems that made further expansion of rice cultivation improbable. William H. Harris, Louisiana Commissioner of Immigration, first mentioned the decrease of rice production in the Mississippi River area to members of the Louisiana Agricultural Society in 1892:
The peculiar conditions which favored a large acreage of rice on the river lands after the war are giving way to the impetus of cane culture, and dilapidated sugar plantations which have been converted into rice fields are being returned to sugar. The rentals of river land have increased beyond the figure which rice planters can afford. Crevasses have overflowed much of the area devoted to rice, and these lands can be prepared for rice again only at great expense. (7)
A hazardous water supply was a nemesis to the Mississippi River rice section, but there were other reasons why production decreased in the region. The renewed flow of capital into the area in the nineties made it possible to return to sugar production and other crops more profitable than rice. Another factor that attributed to the demise of rice production was the rapid increase of rice cultivation in a new locale.
Simultaneously with the curtailment of rice cultivation in the river section came the opening up of fresh land further west in Louisiana. Undeveloped by 1880, the Southwest offered many advantages to the farmer for the cultivation of rice. The impervious clay pan subsoil, a long growing season, a mild climate, abundant rainfall, and fresh unsettled land were ideal for rice production. As late as 1883, the geographical area of Louisiana located between the Atchafalaya and Sabine Rivers comprising the Southwestern part of the state composed a vast area of unsettled prairie. This area, called the Attakapas country, was populated mainly by the descendants of the Acadian French who were expelled from Canada in 1755. By the middle of the nineteenth century, the thrifty Acadians in Southwest Louisiana had turned the prairie into a fertile farming area, producing sugar, molasses, cotton, and beef cattle. The area provided room for expansion since its population was small and its prairie was open for settlement. The prairie had much potential for development, but it was unknown to outsiders. Something was needed to publicize the area to encourage its growth.
Fortunately a unique group of factors combined to restore and thoroughly modernize the rice industry in this new locale. The railroad was instrumental in opening the door of prosperity for the vacant area. Accompanying the railroad’s expansion was immigration, land development, and the application of improved farming techniques. Like a chain reaction, the Western railroad was followed by a flow of Midwestern immigrants, accompanied by an influx of capital which served as the cornerstone upon which the modern rice industry of Southwest Louisiana was constructed.
As early as 1851, New Orleans businessmen and planters from outlying parishes began planning railroad construction from the city to the North and the West. New Orleans ranked fourth in population in the United States at the time, and its businessmen recognized the need for new markets and sources of raw material from the West in order to compete with other large market centers. The plan to build a railroad westward from New Orleans toward Texas included Louisiana’s Southwest prairie. (8) The area lacked adequate transportation and definitely needed rail facilities. "Narrow, crooked bayous, full of sandbars and subject to seasonal variations provided the only means of transporting crops and cattle to market for the plantation owners ..." (9) The barren prairie, where cattle raising was the primary occupation, averaged little more than four persons per square mile in population.
By 1857, the first railroad line west of New Orleans was completed, reaching Berwick Bay, a small shipping enter located some one hundred miles from New Orleans. The Civil War interrupted additional rail construction, and it was not until 1881 that the railroad was extended to Vermilionville, Louisiana. (10) While the railroad was expanding westward, construction was taking place from the opposite direction. In 1881, the last link between New Orleans and Houston, Texas, was completed by the Louisiana Western Railroad Company. Thus, the railroad line between New Orleans and Houston served as a vital link in the continental railroad extending from San Francisco, California, to New Orleans. In 1885 the Southern Pacific Railroad Company took over the entire line from Louisiana to the Pacific Coast.
Once Southwest Louisiana was along the path of the newly completed continental railroad, state officials publicized this asset to make the newly opened prairie a prime attraction to settlers. William H. Harris, Louisiana Commissioner of Immigration, in 1881 began an advertising campaign to promote the prairie region. He helped organize the Southwest Immigration Company to inform Americans and Europeans of the advantages of Southwest Louisiana.
The Southwest Immigration Company published numerous articles and pamphlets for distribution outside Louisiana. In these publications, much of the information given was contributed by Harris. The company’s slogan was, "Progress is the watchword in this land," and in a pamphlet entitled Louisiana; Her Resources, Advantages and Attractions, Harris made Southwest Louisiana very appealing. He boasted of the fertility of the prairie soil: "The arable alluvial lands are the richest in the world. Fields cultivated for 100 years without manure are still fertile." (11) He claimed that the Southwest was "free from the protracted droughts" which afflicted Kansas and other prairie regions and stressed the availability of inexpensive land. "There are probably 3,000,000 acres of U. S. lands in the state subject to entry under the Homestead Act and Timber Culture Act," he wrote. (12)
Harris, realizing the connection between the railroad and immigration, emphasized its importance to the local economy:
It will open to the settler millions of acres of the most productive land in the state; it will build thriving villages along its entire line; it will increase the number of manufacturing industries, and it will not only furnish to the settler a rapid means of conveyance of his surplus crops to market, but will also create hundreds of local markets in the villages that will be built along its route. (13)
It is impossible to measure the amount of success that was achieved by the Louisiana Commissioner of Immigration, but his publicity campaign was responsible for attracting a Midwesterner who contributed a great deal to the development of Southwest Louisiana. He was S. L. Cary, a native of Iowa, who had migrated from Texas. After staying in San Marcos, Texas, Cary passed through Louisiana on his trip back to the Midwest. While in New Orleans, he secured a book written by Commissioner Harris which stirred his interest. In his reminiscences which he published after thirty years of residence in Louisiana, Cary paid tribute to Commissioner Harris for attracting his attention to the state:
My interest in the South, while in Iowa thirty years ago, was created by the severe climatic conditions there, short summers and long, severe winters. At New Orleans I found Honorable William H. Harris, State Commissioner of Immigration. He told me of the prairie region of Southwest Louisiana and gave me his books, right from the press, ink or contents not dry yet. That settled me, and I advertised Louisiana then and there ... (14)
Cary first settled in Jennings, Louisiana, in 1883 and became station agent for the Southern Pacific Railroad. Shortly thereafter, he began writing to his friends in Iowa, informing them of the opportunities and abundant farmland that existed on the prairie. His letters attracted many old friends who were generally looking for cheap farmland.
The migration to the prairie by Cary and his fellow Iowans marked the beginning of a large immigration from states in the Midwest and Northwest. Cary’s "Iowa colony" became a successful farm community, and he eventually devoted all of his time to advertising the area for the Southern Pacific. After serving as station agent in Jennings for several years, the company promoted Cary to Northern immigration Agent and sent him to Iowa and Illinois where his work was aimed at publicizing Southwest Louisiana along the of Southern Pacific Railroad. Cary was just one of the many immigration agents employed by the railroad to attract settlers to Louisiana. Southern Pacific had agents stationed throughout the North, and it was their job to advertise the railroad and the areas it served.
Concerning Louisiana, the railroad’s publicity stressed the ideal farming conditions and the inexpensive land available on the Southwest prairie. In one of his advertisements about Calcasieu Parish, Cary exclaimed that in 1883 he found land so cheap that one of the large landowners was giving away hundreds of acres in order to avoid the expense of taxation. (15) Railroad agents claimed that Louisiana had about 5,000,000 acres of marsh and overflowed lands that could be purchased for twenty cents per acre. Land with drainage or other internal improvements could be bought for as low as $1.25 per acre. In addition, a homestead of 160 acres could be obtained for as little as a $14 down payment. (16)
The Southern Pacific Railroad financed the printing of numerous pamphlets and books which publicized the Gulf Coast. Among these were The Gulf Coast of Louisiana: "Where Nature Smiles"; Vermilion Parish Louisiana: The Farmer’s Road to Wealth; The Appeal of Louisiana to the Western Farmer; and Southwest Louisiana Along the Line of the Southern Pacific. The literature encouraged immigrants to settle in the prairie region and begin a life of successful farming.
Railroad agents placed advertisements in Northern newspapers in which news stories were written about the immigration movement. Special editions were printed and distributed throughout the country. The railroad also offered special rates to passengers and ran excursion trains through Southwestern Louisiana. The advertisements describing Louisiana as the best farming and stock raising section of the world, "where good grass, good water, and good health overflow," to many northern farmers who were who were experiencing freezing winters or droughts. (17)
But rarely in the early advertising efforts of Cary and others connected with the railroad was there any mention of rice farming. Most of the northern farmers came to Louisiana to grow wheat and other crops on prairie land which resembled closely the farmland from which they came. According to Daniel Dennett, well know agricultural publicist, one Midwestern immigrant thought the prairie to be a virtual agricultural paradise:
I have heretofore thought that Central Illinois was the finest farming country in the world. But, since I have seen the Teche and Attakapas country, I do not see how any man who has seen this country can be satisfied to live in Illinois. I shall return to Illinois, sell out, and persuade my neighbors to do the same, and return to Louisiana to spend the remainder of my days. (18)
When the newcomers arrived in Southwest Louisiana, they purchased and settled down on small tracts of farmland where they attempted to grow the crops that were most familiar to them. They planted vegetables, fruits, hay, and grains such as wheat, oats and barley. While growing these crops they noticed that the local "Cajuns" grew rice for home use. They found that it was cultivated with oriental methods and grown with very little irrigation. The local people called it "Providence rice," and little did they realize that by 1900 it would be a crop of considerable importance to the area in which they lived.
Because of the work of immigration agents employed by the Southern Pacific Railroad Company, Southwestern Louisiana was rapidly settled by outsiders. The immigration which began in the 1880s supplied a constant stream of settlers who steadily moved into the area up until the first quarter of the twentieth century. Immigration was most intense during the early years when land was least expensive. In 1880 the population of Southwest Louisiana was 126,067. By 1900 the population of the area had grown to 236, 399, an increase of nearly 90%.
At the same time the Southern Pacific was promoting settlement along its lines, two talented Midwestern immigrants, J. B. Watkins and Seaman A. Knapp, recognized the tremendous potentialities of agriculture and land development in Southwest Louisiana. They introduced an important new element which accelerated the development of the prairie –American and British capital. Watkins, functioning as a promoter, and Knapp as an educator and agriculturalist, embarked upon a land development project to encourage settlement.
Jabez Bunting Watkins, from Kansas, was in the real estate business in the Midwest and was connected with a group of wealthy Englishmen. He was general manager of the Western Farm Mortgage Company located in Lawrence, Kansas. The capital of the company was supplied mainly by British investors. Frustrated with the unprofitable returns from the land development enterprise in his home state, and aware of the opportunities which existed in Southern agriculture, Watkins originated a land reclamation enterprise in Southwest Louisiana and secured investments by members of the British parliament. British politicians formed a syndicate in London and made Watkins their manager in North America. In 1883, as agent for the North American Land and Timber Company, headquartered in Lake Charles, Louisiana, Watkins purchased from the state and Federal government more than 1,500,000 acres of vacant land in the parishes of Cameron, Vermilion, Acadia, and Calcasieu. The syndicate paid twelve cents an acre for marshland and seventy-five cents to $1.25 for prairie land. (19) The company planned to drain the marshes and make the whole area suitable for farming.
Once his land reclamation venture was launched, Watkins needed an agriculturalist to develop the prairie. Through a mutual acquaintance in Iowa, the entrepreneur knew of Seaman A. Knapp. As president of Iowa State College, Knapp was widely known and influential in the Midwest. He was regarded an authority on agriculture. Watkins offered Knapp the job of organizing a farm program for the prairie. Knapp visited the prairie, was impressed and interested, and accepted the opportunity. In 1885 he moved his family from Iowa and settled in Calcasieu Parish.
Together, Watkins and Knapp sold real estate and promoted settlement for the interests of their syndicate. The North American Land and Timber Company spent over $200,000 making Southwestern Louisiana the best known development in the South. (20) Watkins established a weekly newspaper in New York for publicity purposes. The American made a variety of appeals to Northern farmers, summarized in the paper’s altered paraphrase of Horace Greely’s famous advice to youth: "Instead of going West, young man, go South, young man." (21) Watkins placed advertisements in Northern farm journals, and arranged inspection trips for Northern newspapermen and farm leaders. Knapp added his ingenuity to the project by arranging sight-seeing tours by train for agricultural leaders from the Midwest. James Wilson, Henry Wallace, and Governor Hoard of Wisconsin were among the prominent people who visited Southwestern Louisiana.
Knapp parted company with Watkins in 1889 to develop a land enterprise of his own. Under his leadership the Southern Real Estate, Loan and Guaranty Company purchased 500,000 acres of land for the purpose of selling it to Northern immigrants. Knapp hoped to populate Calcasieu Parish and turn it into a "small farmer’s paradise." The success in land promotion on the prairie attracted other companies which supplied capital to Louisiana’s Gulf Coast. One of these was the Louisiana and Southern States Real Estate and Mortgage Company, a corporation backed by British investors and organized by James Ellis.
The boom in immigration and land development was closely related to the attention attracted to Southwest Louisiana by the Southern Pacific Railroad Company. The changes which occurred on the prairie during the 1880’s were large, but he most significant change came when the immigrants discovered that they were capable of cultivating a crop that would supply them with food and financial returns. The crop was rice.
THE DEVELOPMENT OF COMMERCIAL RICE FARMING
IN SOUTHWESTERN LOUISIANA
At first the prairie of Southwest Louisiana had been sold as good farmland. An ideal climate, inexpensive land, and nearness to the railroad were the chief factors used in promoting settlement in the region. However, because of the abundant amount of precipitation along the Gulf Coast, many farmers from the Midwest met with little success in the cultivation of wheat and other crops they had raised back home. Some of the more hard-pressed began to grow rice on a limited basis. It was considered an experimental crop at first, and the settlers cultivated it in the same manner it was grown by the "Cajuns." As the immigrants experimented with rice farming, they recognized that its cultivation was similar to that applied to wheat. It was discovered that the prairie soil contained a subsoil which was practically impervious to water. This subsoil held water like cement and was stiff enough to support machinery when moist.
When the immigrants utilized their modern wheat cultivating machinery for rice cultivation, the seed was planted which bloomed into a commercial rice crop for Southwest Louisiana. This modernization of rice production led to a revolution in agriculture on the prairie which in turn was responsible for the establishment of its rice industry. In place of the hoe or walking plow, the farmers from the North used their gang plows. They used seeders and disc harrows instead of sowing by hand.
In 1884, the speed of the agricultural revolution was increased when Maurice Brien, and immigrant from Midwest, successfully utilized his wheat harvesting twine binder for rice harvesting. Brien, who was farming rice near Jennings, Louisiana, perfected his machine by 1886. Overnight the change in agricultural technology boosted rice production on the prairie. News of the rice farming bonanza spread. The prairie was now advertised as a rice farming region. The boom was on! Brien's accomplishment made possible the large-scale production of rice. This made the crop commercially valuable.
Before Brien’s contribution was made, it was believed that mechanization of rice production on the prairie was impossible. W. H. Perrin made this observation in his sketches of Southwestern Louisiana printed in 1891:
For years it was the universal opinion that rice could not be harvested by machinery; four years ago a rice machine was brought into the area and tried with success. It is only three years since William Deering and Company started to improve their harvesters to adapt them to the rice farmer’s use. At that time Mr. E. S. Center advised his firm to enter this field, but they said to him, "You might as well send cotton presses to Manitobia as harvesters to Louisiana." Not discouraged, however, he persevered until he was successful, and now he says he can cut rice in eighteen inches of mud, and to back up his guarantee he has shipped into Southwest Louisiana a train load of twenty-two cars containing 300 machines. This is a grand demonstration of the development of Southwest Louisiana during the past three years. (22)
Records published by Southern Pacific show increased mechanization and a resulting increase in production in the prairie region. In 1884, one twine binder was shipped by the railroad; in 1887, 200 were shipped. By 1890 Southern Pacific had shipped 1000 binders, and in 1892 it sent 3000 binders into Southwest Louisiana. Along with an increase in shipments of harvesters into the rice country, shipments of rice handled by the railroad increased. In 1886 Southern Pacific shipments of rice to the New Orleans market amounted to 2,000,000 pounds. By 1888, shipments were up to 8,000,000 pounds. In 1892, a new record was reached when the railroad shipped 200,000,000 pounds of rough rice to New Orleans to be milled and marketed. (23)
Other sources confirm the rapid increase in the mechanization of rice production. In 1892, Seaman Knapp commented, "In the last two years, the rice planters of Louisiana have spent no less than $675,000 for binders, steam threshers and mowers, gang plows, and riding cultivators." (24) He also found mechanization responsible for increasing the efficiency of farm labor. "In the four initial items of rice farming; leveling, ploughing, pulverizing and sowing, I estimate the average increase in the capacity of a man to do work has been 300% in five years." (25)
During a visit to Southwestern Louisiana, T. S. Adams, Louisiana Commissioner of Agriculture, paid tribute to the immigrants from the North for the revolution in rice production: "Improved rice seeders, self-binding reapers and steam threshers are frequent silhouettes upon the sky-skirting prairies, declarations of Yankee invasion of the once peaceful abode of the Attakapas." (26)
The large stream of immigrants into the prairie region had a marked effect upon the production of rice. In 1880 Louisiana ranked third in the United States in rice production. By 1889 Louisiana was the leading producer. As a matter of fact, rice was the only crop in Louisiana that steadily gained in production following the Civil War. Midwesterners settled in all areas of the prairie and created the rice towns of Jennings, Iowa, Vinton, Crowley, Welsh, Gueydan, Morse, Kaplan, and Abbeville. The development of the rice belt had altered greatly the appearance of the Southwest. In a speech to the Louisiana Agricultural Society in Jennings in 1889, the Secretary of Agriculture, James Wilson, described the change that had occurred.
This is not a typical Southern town I know. If you were to drop a Northern man down here in the night, when daylight came, he would say, "Well, I happened to fall upon a Northern village. Everything looks so much like that what I have seen in the North. Those homes look like Northern homes. Those people look like Northern people." (27)
With the boom in rice production, the railroad, the real estate and mortgage companies, and state agencies stepped up their advertising of the prairie. They advertised quick profits in rice farming as a lure to Midwesterners. Individual cases were cited in which farmers purchased land on credit and paid for their farms by cultivating only one crop. The advertisers boasted about the high market value of rice: "Rice is raised at about the same expense as wheat in the North, can be sown and harvested with the same machinery, and the average value of the crop is more than double." (28) As the prairie was rapidly settled and vacant land was put into rice production, land values soared. Within a ten year period, land rose in value from fifty cents per acre to $10.00 per acre, an increase of over 1,000%. Five years later values advanced another 500%. (29)
The application of machinery in the 1880’s to rice cultivation was initially responsible for transforming rice into a commercial crop. Mechanization increased production capacity, but it alone did not provide rice farmers with security or guaranteed prosperity. Rice farmers realized that maximum production could not be achieved without an adequate water supply for their crop. Optimistic farmers knew that the water supply was present, but were simply unaware of the best method of utilizing it. Once again, Yankee ingenuity came to the rescue. The success achieved created new insurance for the commercial production of rice.
When the immigrants first started growing rice in Southwest Louisiana, they copied the methods of irrigation used by the Acadians. These methods were crude, and consisted mainly of constructing levees to collect rainwater. Small ponds were formed in this manner, and the levees were opened when needed to allow water to flow into the rice fields. Crops made in this manner were known as "Providence rice." However, the drought years of 1893 and 1894 damaged the Louisiana rice crop considerably, and this led to efforts to supply a regular water supply.
Among the leaders in irrigation development were William C. Stubbs, Seaman A. Knapp, J. B. Watkins, David Abbott, S. L. Cary, A. D. McFarland, T. B. Freeland, and J. P. Gueydan. Stubbs and Knapp, agriculturalists who recognized the value of irrigation, promoted it as a good farming practice. Abbott, a rice farmer from the Midwest, is credited with introducing a system of upland irrigation near Crowley in 1894. His experiments with the menge pump, the vacuum pump, and the centrifugal pump contributed to the mechanical technology of irrigation.
In 1894, C. L. Shaw and A. D. McFarland launched a canal irrigation project. A system of canals was built near Jennings which proved to be an efficient method of supplying the fields with water.
Pumps lifted water from the local bayous into the canals which flowed through rice lands. This system made it possible to irrigate much land, and its popularity spread. The Abbotts of Crowley adapted the canal system on their farms and by 1898 about 150 miles of canals, with a total irrigation capacity of 55,000 acres were in existence in Acadia Parish alone. In 1900 there twenty-five canal irrigation plants in Southwest Louisiana. (30)
The canal plants served the rice belt in two ways. First, they provided water needed for rice irrigation. Second, they functioned as a type of creditor. In many instances, the canal companies furnished land, seed, and water to local farmers who gave the company a specified share of the crop in return. The Vermilion Development Company, hailed as the largest rice-irrigating concern in operation in the world in 1900, irrigated 22,000 acres of rice land, much of it on a share basis. Excerpts from an advertisement place in a Southern Pacific brochure by J. P. Gueydan, head of the Vermilion Development Company, illustrate the manner in which the canal plants rented land and supplied water to local rice farmers.
To any party having work-stock we will build a house and pasture. Any amount of land required will be furnished. There are about 25,000 acres to pick from. The seed required will be advanced, same to be returned after harvest. A complete pumping outfit will be rented at cost for the purpose of irrigating the rice field. We pay our share of threshing and furnish our share of sacks. We ask as our share one-fourth of the total crop. (31)
Increased irrigation brought increased prosperity to the rice industry. Land values continued to soar, and rice production became greater than ever. "No people are more prosperous than the rice farmers along the irrigation canals. They do not fear competition or overproduction, for the reason that the territory in which this crop is grown is limited," claimed the Southern Pacific. (32)
The canal method of irrigation was vitally important to many rice farmers, but there were some areas of farmland located too far away from the bayous to be irrigated by canals. By 1895 when it was discovered that a strata of gravel 125 to 200 feet existed beneath the surface of the ground, experiments in well-digging became successful. The shallow water table above the strata made it possible to erect water wells in all parts of the prairie. This solved the problem of irrigating inland farms, and almost immediately commercial pumping plants went into operation. Some companies serviced local farmers at fixed rates, although others received a certain share of the crop to which they supplied water. Because of the increase in irrigation, the rice crop of 1900 was record breaking.
Mechanized farming and improved irrigation were two significant developments which led to the establishment of a rice industry in Southwest Louisiana. The third contribution was made in the 1890s when prairie farmers constructed facilities for milling their own rice. Southwest Louisiana lacked milling facilities for the rice crop because of several reasons. First, the rapid transformation of the prairie into a rice belt created a lag between production and processing. More important, New Orleans developed milling facilities for the whole state long before rice became a commercial crop in the Southwest. Because of its location at the mouth of the Mississippi River and its nearness to the old rice growing section, the city supplied the capital and port facilities needed by processors. Since New Orleans was a leading market and transportation center, city merchants were able to dominate the processing industry.
Rice milling in New Orleans reached its zenith in the latter part of the nineteenth century when production along the Mississippi River was at its peak. Later, New Orleans millers handled all rough rice from Southwestern Louisiana. Some of the more important mills in New Orleans were Southern Rice Milling Co., Ricket’s Rice Mill, Socola Rice Mill, Levy Rice Milling Co., Haspel Davis Rice Mill, Empire Rice Milling Co., Leona Rice Milling Co., and Planter’s Rice Milling Co. (33) Most of these mills were located in a section of the city known as "Rice Row," the nickname then given to North Peters Street. The mills processed the rice for the producer on a toll basis. After the rice was milled, it was placed up for bid by rice dealers. These men acted as distributors to wholesale and retail markets. One of the most prominent dealers was Gordon S. Orme, a native of Savannah, who worked in New Orleans and Southwestern Louisiana.
It is easy to understand how city merchants monopolized prices under the system of marketing and milling centered in New Orleans. Since there were no warehouses for storage in Southwest Louisiana, rice had to be shipped to New Orleans immediately after harvesting for milling. The farmers disposed of their crop through commission men. Under the toll system of milling, rice was cleaned and polished by city millers, and then it was bid upon by rice brokers. Hence, the price of the farmer’s rice was unknown until it reached the city, was milled, and sold. Often the market was glutted since farmers sold their product quickly in order to avoid interest and insurance payments included in the cost of storage charged by the mills. Naturally, these unregulated milling and marketing practices disposed of the farmer’s rice in a manner that was subject to fluctuation.
Farmers from Southwest Louisiana were dissatisfied with existing arrangements and looked to the establishment of local milling facilities. Seaman Knapp, concerned with the welfare of the new rice belt, was a local proponent of rice milling for the prairie. "The expenses of marketing may be sensibly reduced by the multiplication of mills and better facilities for handling the crop," he informed his farmer friends. (34)
A trust formation in 1892 brought organized resistance to the monopoly in New Orleans. The trust was formed by a group of city millers who offered prices to Southwestern farmers that were far below previous market values. The planters sought to have the trust declared a monopoly and advocated corrective legislation. They also promoted the construction of local rice mills. (35)
Because local production was high in 1892 and a large volume of cheap foreign rice was imported that year, the rice combination in New Orleans was seriously felt by farmers in Southwestern Louisiana. New Orleans millers had earlier combined in order to limit the growth of milling competition in the city. Under these circumstances, the price of rough rice was below average. In order to secure low prices, the millers forced sales into one channel. In 1893, H. E. Jones, a longtime dealer and miller in New Orleans, pointed out the effects of the millers' attempt to corner the market.
They secured one single broker to buy all of their rice for them. It was and is this disposition of the rice millers to combine against the rice producers that has led to the ill feeling in the trade, and which even now is tending to drive a portion of the rice business away from New Orleans. (36)
To meet the challenge from the New Orleans millers, local rice farmers organized their own cooperative, the Farmer’s Cooperative Rice Milling Company. This organization encouraged the formation of others, and rice mills sprang up all over the prairie. In 1892, Seaman Knapp secured the aid of New York businessmen and helped to organize the Lake Charles Rice Mill, which later grew into the largest in the Southwest. The movement spread rapidly, and by 1900 there were ten incorporated mills in Acadia Parish alone.
Monopolistic practices and unfavorable prices offered by millers in New Orleans did much to create opposition by local rice farmers. This opposition was increased in 1894 when inspectors were appointed to check all rice handled in New Orleans. The added expense of inspection was not carried by the miller or broker but instead, by producers who were charged one cent on each bag. (37) By 1900 additional rice mills were in operation on the prairie in an effort to compete against New Orleans millers. Mills were located in Crowley, Gueydan, Rayne, Jennings, Welsh, Morse, Midland, Abbeville, Kaplan, Lake Charles, and other towns throughout the area. Many of these mills were owned by joint stock companies which had been organized mainly to secure fair prices for the farmers. Others were privately owned.
Because of the growth of milling on the prairie, New Orleans gradually lost much of its control over processing. Henry Rightor, a contemporary observer and historian, made this observation in 1900: "Of late years, since the transfer of the rice industry to Southwest Louisiana, New Orleans has not enjoyed the monopoly of the rice cleaning business it once maintained…" (38)
While rice mills were being developed in Southwest Louisiana, other improvements were needed to correct another problem. Rice varieties with inferior milling qualities had handicapped Louisiana planters since the early origins of the industry. During the milling process the grains often broke. The Carolina and Honduras varieties that were popular in the rice belt produced large yields, but they were not ideal for milling. Power milling machinery caused 60% of the grain to crack or crumble during the milling process. Since the value of rice is dependent upon the wholeness of each kernel, the breakage drastically reduced the price of the rice and caused the farmers to suffer financial losses.
Seaman Knapp, rice belt leader and Special Agent for the United States Department of Agriculture, recognized the seriousness of the problem and sought a solution. With the support of the Federal government, Knapp went to Japan in an attempt to obtain rice varieties which possessed good milling qualities and that could be successfully cultivated in Louisiana. Knapp was successful in his search and brought back a particular variety that improved the situation. It was known as the Kiushu variety. It was introduced into Southwest Louisiana in 1899 when over ten tons were imported for seed. It proved excellent in cultivation and milling. "The Kiushu rice was found to be 25% more productive than Honduras, and milling losses were cut one-half." (39) Within a few years, Kiushu became the leading variety in Louisiana and later became known as Japan rice.
Thus, by the turn of the century rice was commercially important to many people in Southwest Louisiana. Responsible for this was Yankee ingenuity. However, the establishment of a modern rice industry only created new problems and opportunities which had to be coped with by those connected with the industry.
THE ORGANIZATION OF THE RICE INDUSTRY
By 1900 the rice industry was a prosperous and rapidly expanding agricultural business. Local towns were growing, immigration was intense, land values continued to soar, and more and more land was being reclaimed for rice farming. At this time, there were over sixty rice mills and eighty canal plants in the rice farming district. Except for a few lean years, production steadily increased and reached a wartime peak in 1920. Equally important, the per capita consumption of rice in the United States grew from slightly more than three pounds in 1896 to over six pounds in 1907. At the same time, local farmers increased exports and developed new uses for their grain. Rice bran became a valuable feed for livestock and rice flour was turned into a consumer product.
Much of the prosperity experienced by the rice belt resulted from the intense boom that the industry underwent during the latter part of the nineteenth century. Speculation in rice milling was widespread, and real estate quickly changed hands. Pumping plants were merging, and marketing was unstabilized. In essence, the rice industry of Southwestern Louisiana was still in a state of adolescence at the turn of the century. Leaders of the industry realized this, and worked tirelessly to stabilize the industry. They feared that the good times might not last. They knew that positive steps had to be taken in order to provide the industry with security.
Rice people sought to make the rice belt prosperous in many ways. Some leaders, such as James Ellis, suggested that the prairie farmer decrease their dependence upon one-crop farming by diversifying. Ellis advocated this policy would help the farmer economically by allowing him to save money on products that he could produce at home. (40)
Other leaders, Seaman Knapp, for example, urged prairie farmers to adopt scientific techniques of production. Knapp helped to introduce new varieties of rice and supported the creation of demonstration farms and experimental stations.
One of the most significant improvement projects was the movement to obtain efficient drainage in the rice sections. Rice farmers from Calcasieu, Acadia, and Vermilion Parishes, in particular, were ardent supporters of improved drainage facilities. Special drainage districts were set up and funds for operation were provided through special drainage tax elections. In 1903, a dam was built in the rice belt in an attempt to provide good drainage in the Mermentau Basin. (41) It was intended that the dam would also function as a preventive barrier against salt water intrusion.
Because immigration was one of the primary causal factors in the transformation of rice production in Southwestern Louisiana, many individuals believed that new programs to advertise the prairie to settlers could provide added insurance for the industry’s future growth. Such programs were launched, and added to the normal advertisements of Southwestern Louisiana by real estate companies and the railroad. Excursion trains continued to bring farmers to the prairie in an effort to boost the economy and increase rice production. (42)
Unfortunately, much of the optimism felt by the various segments of the rice industry was short lived and did not revive until the industry was boosted by the new demand for rice during World War I. In effect, the rice industry of Louisiana suffered a lag between 1900 and 1916. Much of the problem stemmed from the over expansion of the industry, which had neglected to search out appropriate outlets for its product. Since the rice industry of the United States had always had to create its own domestic market, the problem faced by Louisiana rice farmers was not new. Rice consumption was limited principally to the Southeastern areas of the United States, and local farmers did not penetrate new markets as rapidly as they expanded production. In addition, during the years prior to 1914 the amount of rice imported into this country increased. Producers of foreign rice were able to compete with local rice growers because of the limited tariff protection given to the domestic industry.
As the rice industry grew, planters, millers, and brokers came to agree that the marketing aspect of the enterprise was too speculative and fluctuating. The crop lien system was commonly used in rice farming, and rice milling was based upon the unsound practice of toll milling. W. W. Gabbert, and influential leader of the rice belt during its early years, perceptively summarized the problem: "We are all agreed on one thing, and that is, that there is something radically wrong with the marketing end of the industry." (43)
The unity exerted by various members of the rice belt was responsible for providing the rice industry with the guidance and leadership that it needed in order to create organizational movements aimed at bettering the industry. Not only did prairie farmers work together to increase prosperity, but so did bankers, merchants, rice millers, and even distributors. Producers and millers believed that any disadvantage experienced by one segment would create disadvantages for the other. The solidarity of the rice people was greatly affected by the old nemesis of absentee control. As we have seen, the control of rice milling by New Orleans was largely responsible for the establishment of a milling industry in Southwest Louisiana. Although this destroyed the New Orleans monopoly in milling, the city still controlled the process of marketing. This situation acted as a catalyst which spurred local efforts to exert control over the marketing of unmilled rice. The attempt to reform marketing procedures prior to the First World War was probably one of the most important moves made by the industry. It encouraged and established precedents for the modern farm policy of tariff protection, the guarantee of minimum farm prices, crop curtailment through acreage reduction, and the encouragement of cooperative marketing.
Prior to World War I, the marketing of rough rice was a simple, but uneconomical process. In Louisiana, the individual planter usually received an advance on his crop from his local rice miller or banker. In addition, he paid irrigation fees to a canal company or pumping plant by pledging a certain portion of his crop to the company. Usually this amounted to one-fifth of the crop. Sometimes the transaction was carried out on a cash basis, but this was rare. Once the planter harvested his crop it was sent to the local mill for cleaning. Most mills in Southwest Louisiana charged a toll for milling, a fee based upon a specified price per barrel. Usually the rice miller stored all rice milled, allowing brokers and buyers to inspect samples of cleaned rice and then bid upon the lots. Most rice buyers were from New Orleans, the rice market of the South. These brokers often had other connections with the industry. For example, one of the best known of these brokers, Gordon S. Orme, served as a financier in Southwest Louisiana by lending local farmers advances upon their crop. (44)
The greatest weakness of this system of marketing was that the market was never uniform. During the early weeks of the harvest, the market was usually flooded, and rice brokers from New Orleans were able to buy at low prices and hold their stocks to sell later as the supply lessened. This method allowed speculation and enabled powerful brokers to corner and control the market. Mills throughout the rice belt were not directly involved in the marketing process, merely providing the service of milling. At times they sold rice for local planters, but they were only interested in disposing of the grain at a price which enabled them to extract their milling toll. Philip Miller, manager of the Gulf Rice Milling Co., Ltd. of Welsh, Louisiana, pointed out the weakness of this system: "Toll milling tends to lower prices since mills make profit off of volume, not percent." (45)
The competition in rice milling between New Orleans and Southwest Louisiana blossomed into a full-scale war when local millers became engaged in rice marketing. Gradually, the toll system of milling was abolished as country millers assumed a direct stake in the rice market in an attempt to increase profits. Country mills began buying rough rice directly from the farmer, and then marketing it to retail buyers. Hence, the rice millers became sellers of clean rice, in direct competition with brokers from New Orleans.
Operating under the law of supply and demand, the price of rough rice depended largely upon the volume of production, the volume of imports, and the carry over of surplus rice from each preceding season. Because of this, planters and millers in Southwest Louisiana were concerned with crop estimates for each harvest season. Statisticians from the United States Department of Agriculture attempted to provide accurate crop estimates to Louisiana planters, millers, and rice brokers. Another means through which crop estimates were made was by the practice of "window shopping." Under this method, brokers and millers from New Orleans, Crowley, and Lake Charles traveled through the rice belt from New Orleans to Beaumont via Southern Pacific railroad. During the journey, estimates were obtained by simply viewing the rice fields from the window of the train. Men of reputable standing used this procedure to estimate the current season’s crop, and these estimates were then published in various newspapers. (46) Based upon the crop estimates, rice people attempted to determine what the season’s market prices would be. These estimates were very important because millers and brokers adjusted market prices according to their estimate as to whether or not there would be a surplus crop. The leading rice belt newspapers, the Lake Charles American, the Crowley Signal, the Welsh Rice Belt Journal, and the New Orleans Times Picayune were the chief sources of this statistical information. These newspapers published the crop estimates and the predictions of the season’s prices that were made by various sources.
In the early part of the 1907 season, the antagonism between millers and brokers from New Orleans and those of Southwestern Louisiana reached new heights. Milling and marketing competition between the two areas was keen, and the largest rice crop ever produced in Louisiana until that time made it evident that prices were going to be low. During that season, Gordon S. Orme, the representative of the Empire Mill of New Orleans and a well-known broker in rice circles, published his estimate of the season’s production and forecasted prices. Orme’s prediction first appeared in an article published in an issue of the New Orleans Times Democrat. Orme gave a very large estimate of the season’s crop, and he further predicted that the rice market would be flooded by overproduction and under consumption. (47) It was his opinion that prices for 1907 would be low.
Word of Orme’s prediction circulated through the rice belt, and since he represented one of the largest and most powerful interests in New Orleans, local farmers feared that his opinion might seriously affect the New Orleans market. Equally important, local planters and millers were suspicious of Orme’s intentions, believing as the Welsh Rice Belt Journal charged that he had ulterior motives:
The general sentiment seems to be that the gentleman has prostituted his reputation as a judge of rice conditions for the unholy purpose of depressing the rice markets and enabling the mills to obtain the planter’s products at a depreciated value based upon the false assumption that the country has an overproduction of rice. (48)
Naturally, the rice belt was infuriated by Orme’s statements, especially since many planters and millers believed that a small crop was going to be harvested that year. Resentment against the gentleman from New Orleans was merely a culmination of the friction that long existed between New Orleans and the rice belt. However, this animosity reached a pitch shortly afterwards when millers and planters from all over the rice belt gathered in Welsh to discuss the situation. At this meeting, a fiery resolution was passed denouncing Orme for his views. This resolution was published in the Welsh Rice Belt Journal and read as follows:
It is the consensus of this meeting that the statements were issued from mercenary motives, and that the intention of the same is the depression of the prices of rough rice, and we call upon all producers of rice to stand pat and demand full values for their crop. (49)
At the Welsh meeting, planters vowed to organize in order to combat prices and the New Orleans faction of the industry. The Welsh Rice Belt Journal continued the attack and pleaded for local organization and control of the market. D. R. Read, editor of the journal, which served as the eyes and ears of the local industry, called for unification among country planters in Calcasieu Parish:
The time is now at hand, as is demonstrated by the vindictive and underhanded attacks being made on the planter’s interests, when the planters must organize and make common cause of a common interest and present a united front against a common foe if they are to maintain the freedom and independence which is their natural heritage. (50)
The charges leveled against the merchants and rice brokers from New Orleans prompted the city interests to retaliate by leveling charges of their own against the prairie rice industry. New Orleans millers and brokers accused the rice belt of manipulating transportation rates of rough rice to the New Orleans market. New Orleans millers charged country millers with having an advantage over the city mills by obtaining lower rates on the transportation of milled rice to New Orleans than unmilled rice. They accused the Southwest industry of collaborating with Southern Pacific in order to obtain a competitive advantage. Protests were made to officials of Southern Pacific and the Louisiana Railroad Commission. (51) These protests only served to stir the emotions created by the feud between the two areas. When the Railroad Commission responded to the demands made by New Orleans merchants by forcing Southern Pacific to lower its rates on the transportation of milled rice, further animosity was generated. (52)
As ill feelings grew between members of the industry from Southwest Louisiana and New Orleans, leaders from the prairie advocated several measures to reduce control over the rice market by New Orleans. James Ellis, the manager of the Orange Land Company, a large real estate firm located in Welsh and Crowley, proposed a holding movement among local farmers. He pointed out that cotton farmers in Texas applied it with some success, and believed that Louisiana rice planters could do the same. Other leaders felt that one way to obtain better prices and a more stable market would be through the efficient collection of accurate estimates of each year’s crop. In this manner, false estimates made by speculators could be exposed. (53)
At this time rice farmers in Southwest Louisiana benefited from the experience of Texas rice planters. A. E. Groves, Secretary of the Texas Rice Growers Association, toured the Louisiana prairie and discussed the success that his organization was experiencing. Texas planters had organized an association devoted to collecting statistics on crop acreage and production in an effort to remove the uncertainty and speculation in their industry. Groves advocated that Louisiana planters dot the same. He criticized crop estimates made by New Orleans brokers. For example, he pointed out that Blair Campbell, President of the Sieward Rice Mill in New Orleans, estimated that the Louisiana and Texas crop for 1908 would be twice as much as his own organization believed it would be. (54) Although Groves gave no evidence in his accusation, his remarks helped stir the actions of Louisiana planters.
Copying Texas rice producers, rice planters from Southwest Louisiana organized the Louisiana Rice Growers Association in November of 1908. Groves helped with the initial organizing efforts and aided rice belt leaders in securing members from the towns of Iowa, Kinder, Rice, Roanoke, Jennings, Elton and Welsh. At first the organization was composed of approximately 100 members, but it rapidly expanded. The organization sprang up in Welsh, and was headed by W. B. Gabbert, a prominent rice planter. Other officers represented all sections of the rice belt. H. I. Logenbach of Iowa was elected First Vice President. A. T. Jones of Welsh was Secretary and Treasurer. B. A. Richart of Jennings, Worthy Querreau of Gueydan, and J. P. Burgin of Crowley served as Vice Presidents at Large. (55) Soon after its inception, the organization issued a statement explaining the reasons for its creation:
A strong feeling prevails throughout the rice district that the time is ripe for the planters to unite in protecting their industry from the warfare that has been waged against it during the past few years by certain New Orleans's demagogues, who have sought, by the circulation of false and misleading reports to "bear" the market for their own personal ends. The movement here today is but the crystallization of this feeling, into concrete form, by which a definite and united opposition can be maintained against these and other damaging influences. (56)
The Louisiana Rice Growers Association had its bylaws published in most of the rice towns in order to inform local farmers of its goals. One of its primary objectives was to promote the interests of local rice producers by securing their cooperation in the collection of reliable data relative to rice acreage and production in Louisiana. The bylaws of the association also pledged to promote united action in rice marketing and to maintain reasonable tariff protection. One important resolution affirmed the Association’s desire to cooperate with those engaged in other branches of the rice industry who were in sympathy with their objectives. (57) No doubt this statement was added to include the support of country millers, although membership in the organization was limited to planters only.
Immediately following its organization, the members of the of the Louisiana Rice Growers Association set up procedures for collecting and distributing rice production statistics. The Southwest rice belt was divided into several districts with a resident of each district in charge of obtaining acreage and production statistics from each planter in his section. Some of these districts were large since membership was small at first. As the Association grew, more districts were created. Calcasieu Parish which had not yet been divided by the state legislature had the largest number of collectors. H. Winn was in charge of the Lake Arthur section; James Ellis and B. A. Richart were in charge of the Jennings area; Henry Merrit was responsible for Elton; A. G. Barrett took charge of Vinton; and A. T. Jones and W. B. Gabbert collected statistics for the Welsh section. Vermilion Parish had only one collector initially. He was W. H. Hair. P. Unkel was in charge of Cameron Parish. Acadia Parish had two statisticians, J. Freeland and John Bergin. (58)
These statisticians gathered their data by visiting every rice farmer in their assigned section. Their services were performed voluntarily, and they received no salary. Once the statistics for each district were collected, they were turned over to the Association’s executive committee who was responsible for their publication and distribution among members.
Within less than one year of it creation, the members of the Association took another step toward concentration and cooperation when they decided to merge forces with the Texas rice planters. In January 1909, at a meeting in Crowley, members of the Louisiana Rice Growers Association voted to merge their organization with the Texas Rice Growers Association. One of the primary objects influencing this merger was the belief that the increased membership gained through the merger would make the Association large enough to effectively implement a rice holding movement in order to influence the market. The organization was named the Texas-Louisiana Rice Growers Association. Membership was still limited to rice planters. The Association’s bylaws called for the collection of accurate production and acreage statistics by its members. (59)
Two important resolutions were passed at the Crowley meeting which indicate some of the main goals of the newly created body. The first resolution called for the United States Department of Agriculture to publish verified and accurate crop estimates. The second resolution stated that the organization was to function as a type of holding organization for the purpose of obtaining funds to advertise Japan rice. (60) Actually, the plan called for limited cooperative marketing among members. It was proposed that each farmer donate a limited amount of Japan rice to the Association. This rice was to be marketed in special containers in Houston, and the proceeds were to be used for advertising purposes. The Welsh Rice Belt Journal later reported that the plan was effectively carried out in March of that year, and the Association obtained $3.85 per barrel for rice that was previously being sold for considerably less. (61)
By demonstrating to the rice belt the efficiency of organization and unity, the Texas-Louisiana Rice Growers Association exerted a valuable force. Its attempt to encourage planters to market their grain cooperatively was a step in a new direction. However, the precedent for organization had been established much earlier by those who realized that rice marketing needed reform. Indeed, the Texas-Louisiana Rice Growers Association borrowed some of its philosophy from the Rice Association of America, a rice promotional organization which owed its creation to the wisdom and foresight of Seaman Knapp.
THE POLITICS OF RICE
The Rice Association of America was founded in 1895, at which time the bulk of its membership was from Louisiana. Later, when rice production came into prominence in Texas and Arkansas, the Association became a three state organization. Seaman Knapp successfully persuaded other leaders in the rice belt that the industry had unlimited potential, and he advocated that rice markets be expanded through advertising. He pointed out many factors which were favorable to the industry’s future growth. He believed that the eventual increase in the world’s population would expand the market and suggested that Puerto Rico and Cuba would eventually develop into important outlets. He also felt that the Asiatic countries of India, China, and Japan might eventually become importers of American rice. Knapp maintained that advertising would eventually increase the home market for rice and predicted that rice by-products would eventually play an important role in developing the industry. (62) Behind Knapp’s philosophy lay the idea that the key to success was in advertising. Because of his influence and leadership, the Rice Association of America became the first advertising agency of the rice industry.
During the association’s activities prior to World War I, Louisiana supplied two prominent leaders who carried out Knapp’s advertising program. These men were S. Locke Breaux of New Orleans and Henri L. Gueydan of Gueydan. They secured funds for operation by obtaining voluntary contributions from planters, millers, brokers, merchants, and bankers throughout the rice belt. Although the Association remained small during its early years, it came into the limelight in 1906 by actively seeking protection for the domestic rice industry by opposing the Philippine Tariff Bill, an issue of Theodore Roosevelt’s second administration. In 1906 the Administration sought to lower the tariff wall on agricultural commodities sent from the Philippines to the United States. Rice was included on the list, and under the provisions of the Philippine Tariff Bill, tariff schedules on rice in effect under the Dingley Tariff of 1897 were to be lowered.
The Rice Association of America played an active role in making the rice belt aware of the effect of the proposed act. It strongly urged Congressman Arsene P. Pujo, who was lauded as the champion of the rice belt, to fight for the industry’s interests. With the support of the Association, Pujo opposed the rice schedule of the Philippine Tariff Bill, and in a speech delivered on the House floor in January of 1906, he pleaded for protection of the domestic rice industry. In his speech, Pujo claimed that his state’s rice industry would be seriously curtailed if the rice schedule of the Philippines Bill was adopted:
Mr. Chairman, a great agricultural interest of this country is menaced should the bill under consideration became law. I say menaced; it would be nearer the mark to say that the rice industry in the United Stats can be actually destroyed if the policy finding expression in the proposed legislation is adopted by this House. (63)
Pujo further claimed that not one pound of rice was shipped to the Philippines by the United States and that rice could be bought in the Philippines and shipped to this country for less money than American rice growers could produce and sell it. In essence, Pujo argued that the bill, if adopted, would give speculators and special interests an advantage over the United States’ rice industry since rice could be imported into the Philippines and exported to the United States at a profit. (64)
Because of the strong support given Congressman Pujo by the Rice Association of America, the tariff schedule for rice was defeated, and the industry maintained the special protection which it felt it deserved. It is certainly not strange that the rice industry was protectionist at the time. Leaders noted the advantages of protectionism earlier gained by the Louisiana sugar industry, and it was only logical, they believed, that rice should also be protected. The industry’s stand was reaffirmed a few years later when President Taft attempted to lower the import duties on agricultural and manufacturing products. In 1908 the rice belt again called upon Congressman Arsene Pujo to defend its interests in the proposed Payne-Aldrich Tariff Bill. Pujo, the Representative of the Seventh Congressional District of Louisiana, was aided by Congressman Robert F. Broussard, Representative of the Third Congressional District.
Congressmen Pujo and Broussard and a special Louisiana delegation composed of State Senator Murphy J. Foster, S. Locke Breaux, President of the Rice Association of America, Joe E. Broussard, President of the Rice Miller’s and Distributor’s Association of Louisiana and Texas, and P. S. Lovell, a prominent planter from Crowley, worked to gain enough support for the industry’s stand on the tariff bill. Support from home increased when the Texas-Louisiana Rice Growers Association voted to send a special committee to Washington to attend the House Ways and Means Committee hearings on the tariff. The Louisiana delegation was composed of George Hathaway of Jennings, Miron Abbott of Crowley, and Harry G. Chalkley of Lake Charles. The efforts of all of the rice lobbyists proved successful, and under the rice schedule in the Payne-Aldrich Tariff Act of 1909, tariff rates on Philippine rice were made comparable on foreign rice. (65)
Once the tariff issue was over, the rice industry turned its attention to providing itself with security through other means. The Rice Association of America led the way by launching a vigorous advertising campaign. In 1909, under the leadership of Henri Gueydan, the Association began publicizing its product throughout the United States. "It will be my aim to put rice on the table of the laborer as the best and cheapest cereal on earth, best especially in food value," proclaimed Gueydan. (66) He financed the campaign to increase consumption by procuring donations from merchants, bankers and the Southern Pacific Railroad. Gueydan also set up a special advertising fund to which producers, millers and canal owners were asked to donate one cent for each bag of rice they handled.
Under Gueydan’s direction the Rice Association published an informative booklet about rice entitled Rice, The Staff of Life. This publication was followed by another one entitled Creole Mammy Rice Recipes. (67) Under the same program Gueydan negotiated an agreement with Southern Pacific to publish 25,000 booklets advertising Eastern Calcasieu Parish which included the towns of Jennings and Welsh. Evidence of Gueydan’s unlimited resourcefulness was illustrated by his arrangements with several large New Orleans shrimp and oyster packing houses to promote the sale of canned rice jambalaya.
Gueydan labored not only to publicize rice, but also to increase foreign markets. He made inquiries about the Japanese market for rice in California, but learned that coolie immigrants preferred to eat native Japanese varieties to which they were accustomed. On behalf of the Association, Gueydan explored the possibility of acquiring markets in Panama, but learned that Panamanians preferred Rangoon rice to American rice. Not discouraged, Gueydan negotiated an agreement with officials of the Southern Pacific Railroad and Steamship line in 1910 to ship rice from New Orleans to Havana, Cuba, at nominal rates. In the years following, Cuba increased its imports and became a major rice market.
Another effort to open up foreign markets was made by Gueydan with the aid of Congressman Robert F. Broussard. After corresponding with officials of the Mexican government, Gueydan and Broussard visited Mexico to learn about rice production and consumption in that country. They hoped to negotiate an agreement to sell American rice to the Mexican government. After meeting with the President of Mexico, the optimism earlier felt by the two Louisianians turned into disillusionment. Gueydan told the President of the proposal, but the reply he received was negative. Gueydan’s own words best express the results of the meeting:
Finally he said that the government would entertain no proposition to buy rice, wheat, or any other cereal, except corn and the beans of the country; that the law did not permit the buying of other cereals, and even if the law did, the government would have no means to compel the destitute to by rice from the government and substitute it for corn, when thy were not accustomed to the former cereal. (68)
Thus, the efforts made by the Rice Association to advertise rice did not meet with outstanding success. The Association was unable to increase domestic consumption and acquire new export markets as rapidly as rice producers increased production. Between 1900 and 1916, planters increased their acreage by over 30% while production doubled. During the same period, the price of rough rice ranged from less than sixty cents per bushel to slightly more than ninety cents. The continued increase in production was largely responsible for low prices which ranged from $1.00 per 162 pound barrel for low quality rice to values above $3.00 for high quality rice. (69)
Many leaders advocated crop curtailment through acreage reduction and crop diversity as a means to combat the problem of low prices. Farmers were not only told to plant less rice but also to grow their own vegetables and raise their own livestock. Seaman Knapp, Special Agent for the United States Department of Agriculture, worked with the Rice Association to encourage rice farmers to adopt economical farm practices. As early as 1905, farm improvement clubs were formed throughout the rice belt. Their object was to promote diversification. In response to Knapp’s influence, the United States Department of Agriculture sent agents to Southwest Louisiana to instruct farmers in livestock breeding and the culture of vegetables, forage crops, and poultry farming. In conjunction with this movement, John P. Slattery, a U. S. D. A. employee and representative of the Rice Association, was sent to the rice belt to set up demonstration farms. Slattery was aided in his work by David Brodie, another U. S. D. A. Special Agent. These government agents were aided by others who had a stake in the rice belt’s prosperity. James Ellis of Welsh, manager of the Orange Land Company, was just one of the many local people who took up the cry for crop diversification. In a statement issued to a Welsh newspaper, Ellis explained the value of crop diversity:
It means that the rice farmer in to live on his own land and raise what he eats and what his stock eats on the farm, so, that when the price of rice gets low he can afford to hang on until the price gets right, without mortgaging his farm for a few cans of beans. (70)
Farmers in the rice belt learned much about diversification and some even turned to livestock raising in an effort to move away from the one crop system that had become characteristic of the Southwestern prairie. In 1909, an experimental station was established in Crowley as part of the government program to aid the rice belt. The Crowley Board of Trade was informed of the site’s selection by Professor W. R. Dodson of Louisiana State University and Charles E. Chambliss, head of the U. S. D.A.’s Office of Grain Investigation. Although locations were considered in Calcasieu Parish, the Rice Experimental Station was established on thirty-one acres of land near Crowley and was first managed by F. C. Quereau of the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and J. Mitchell Jenkins of the U. S. D.A. Under the program first established, experiments pertaining to fertilization, soil fertility, crop rotation, red rice control, weed eradication, irrigation, seed-rice propagation, plant diseases, and insects were conducted. (71)
The increased interest in the Louisiana rice industry shown by the Federal Government was welcomed by the rice people. It was hoped that the government program to promote crop diversity and economic farming practices would help Louisiana farmers and that this in turn would have a beneficial effect upon the rest of the industry. However, these programs could not be effective immediately and by 1910, the rice belt turned in a new direction in hopes of alleviating the economic distress caused by the adverse marketing situation. Producers decided to follow the trend toward organization by combining forces in order to combat low prices which they blamed upon control of the market by outside forces. In 1910 when rice production was excessive and market prices were low in comparison to those of previous years, the planters of Louisiana decided to take a huge step towards cooperative marketing.
On October 12, 1910, over 1,000 rice people gathered at the Grand Opera House in Crowley to attend a meeting called by George Hathaway, President of the Rice Association of America and William B. Gabbert, head of the Louisiana Rice Growers Association. The purpose of the meeting was to form a committee to study the proposed creation of a rice holding organization. Committee members who were elected at the historic meeting included A. C. Wilkins of Jennings, Miron Abbott of L’Argent, J. G. Neelis of Gueydan, L. E. Robinson of Welsh, J. W. McCain of Crowley, and a Beaumont planter and miller, Joe E. Broussard. (72) The committee membership was truly representative of the Southwest Louisiana rice belt, with the inclusion of Joe Broussard of Beaumont an indication that support was desired from Texas.
The Crowley meeting adopted a resolution proclaiming that the representatives of the rice belt favored the organization of a cooperative sales company for the purpose of selling the rice crop through one organized and stable channel. The resolution blamed erratic market conditions on the New Orleans brokers and millers. (73)
Once support was gained from rice people in Texas and Arkansas, the Southern Rice Growers Association was formally created at an official meeting held in Crowley. Officers elected included W. B. Dunlap as President, E.W. Brown and W. E. Lawson as Vice Presidents, A. C. Wilkins as Secretary, and Harry G. Chalkley as Treasurer. Dunlap and Brown were from Texas, and the rest of the officers were from Louisiana. (74)
The Southern Rice Growers Association was capitalized at $10,000 and was chartered under Texas laws. The main office was located in Beaumont. Stock valued at $1.00 per share was sold to producers, with each shareholder limited to a maximum of fifty shares. The administration of the Association was carried out by a board of directors composed of members from Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, and Mississippi. Louisiana had the largest membership on the Board, and its influence over the Association was strongest. Under the rules adopted by the members, the Board of Directors was authorized to appoint an executive committee of five to run the business affairs of the cooperative. Among the first members appointed to the executive committee were Harry Chalkley, W. E. Lawson, and A. C. Wilkins, all of Louisiana. Those from Texas were W.W. Duson and Joe Broussard. (75)
The marketing plan of the Association depended upon unity, and was devised by W. E. Lawson, an employee of the Bank of Acadia. Under Lawson’s plan the Association would function as a sales agent for all of its members. A commission of ten cents per bag of rice sold was charged to each member, and this served as the source of operating funds. Members were required to sign a contract with the Association giving the Board of Directors the authority to market the member’s rice along with the authority to set minimum prices on all rice it handled. Each member was required to sign a two year contract and in turn the Association was required to seek the highest prices possible. Under the provisions of the contract, the Association was given the right to penalize any member who attempted to sell his rice outside of the organization. (76)
The Association maintained offices at major rice producing centers. Each office was run by an Association agent, and it was his duty to see the rice produced by the members in his district was efficiently marketed. He visited each farmer and took samples of his rice. These sample were placed on exhibit at the local Association office where rough rice buyers were invited to examine their quality and prepare sealed bids that were given to the Association’s agent. If the bids met the minimum prices set by the Association and were confirmed by the individual member whose rice was being marketed, the sale was closed. In this manner, the Southern Rice Growers Association functioned as a selling agent for it members. As the membership increased, so did the organization’s power, since it was able to control much of the grain produced and to hold it in warehouses until prices were favorable.
By increasing its membership over the years, the Southern Rice Growers Association gradually became a powerful marketing concern. The Association managed to increase the price of rough rice by as much as fifty cents per barrel during one season alone. Since rice was selling for an average of only $2.50 per barrel from 1910 to 1913, this was a substantial increase. In 1911, the Association managed to advance prices from $3.25 per barrel to $3.75. The 1912-1913 season was the most successful one experienced by the Association since it succeeded in advancing the price of members' rice to nearly $4.00 per barrel. (77)
In 1912, the net income of the Association was reported at over $21,000 and proceeds received for brokerage commissions amounted to over $159,000. The cooperative was so successful that year that it declared a ten per cent dividend to stockholders and reduced its brokerage fee from ten cents per sack to seven and one-half cents. (78)
In an editorial published in the Welsh Rice Belt Journal, the Association was lauded for its success:
Smarting under the lash of the New Orleans gang the rice farmers of Louisiana, Texas, and Arkansas got together, declared open war upon the New Orleans gangsters and for three years there was peace and prosperity throughout the rice growing section. Three fat years rewarded the farmers for their courage and their common sense and their spirit of cooperation. (79)
While many applauded the unity and progress of the cooperative marketing association, some people viewed it with skepticism. One member of the New Orleans Board of Trade, an organization accused of manipulating market prices, commented bitterly on the Southern Rice Growers, "We are paying as much attention to it as though someone spat in the alley." (80)
However, the Southern Rice Growers Association achieved remarkable success in acquiring profitable prices for its members. The organization grew in size and was estimated to control the sale of over 60% of the rice in Louisiana and Texas. The Association sold rice to numerous mills throughout Louisiana, Texas, and Arkansas. One of its primary buyers was the Louisiana State Rice Milling Company. Founded in 1911 and controlled by Frank Godchaux I, Louisiana State grew into one of the largest milling concerns in the United States, owning controlling stock in over twenty different rice mills located in Louisiana, Texas, and later, California. Rice purchased from the Association by Louisiana State was often sold in Puerto Rico, Cuba, and other foreign markets.
By 1914 when war erupted in Europe, its earlier success indicated that the Southern Rice Growers Association was strong enough to remain a long time fixture of the rice industry. Unaware of the consequences that the World War would have on the Louisiana rice industry, Association members did not dream that their organization would come under the shadow of Federal control as the United States became involved in the war. Little did they also realize that the entire industry would eventually be governed by the Federal Food Administration, a wartime food control board established by Congress during President Wilson’s administration.
The shortage of food in Europe created by the war turned rice into a very valuable food product. Its nutritive content along with its value as a non-perishable food made it highly desirable for feeding the hungry populations of the allies of the United States. Between 1914 and 1920, the price of rough rice more than doubled. The U. S. Government encouraged rice farmers to increase production, and they responded to the call. Production in Louisiana rose from thirteen million bushels in 1909 to a peak of twenty-five million bushels in 1920. (81) Although high prices and encouragement from the Federal Government stimulated the boom in rice production in Louisiana, there were other factors equally important. The introduction of the tractor was significant, as was the growing use of new varieties of rice. By the beginning of the war years, two new varieties were being extensively cultivated which were the creations of Sol Wright I, a Crowley resident known as "the Luther Burbank of the rice industry." Blue Rose and Early Prolific were adopted by the rice belt. These varieties were heavy producers and were of high quality.
In 1918 officials of the Federal government who observed the sky rocketing cost of rice and realized its value as a wartime food commodity took steps to regulate the sale and distribution of rough and milled rice. Acting under the authority of the Federal Food Administration, created in 1917, Herbert Hoover and his subordinates transformed the Southern Rice Growers Association into a federally controlled rice purchasing agency know as the Southern Rice Committee of the United States Food Administration. Headquartered in Beaumont and headed by E. A. Eignus, Joe Broussard, and Joe H. Roman, the committee was given the authority to establish price ceilings on rough rice, along with the authority to negotiate contracts with producers and millers. (82)
Government control of the rice industry was increased when the marketing committee was authorized to sign contracts with independent rice mills and members of the Rice Millers Association of America, one of the largest milling organizations in the country. Thus, the Federal government took positive steps to insure a certain portion of the rice supply for its own needs. At the same time Federal control effectively prevented inflation in the industry. Under the Grain Standards Act, the Department of Agriculture introduced uniform methods of grading milled and unmilled rice. Under government regulation mills were limited in the amount of rice they were able to purchase, and at the same time, were prevented from taking speculative action in marketing.
Thus, the rice industry came under the wing of Federal regulation because of the war. The 1914-1921 period had significant effects upon Louisiana and the rest of the American rice industry. The precedent established by the Federal Government during these years significantly altered the course of the rice industry, and never after did it really escape the large shadow of Federal regulation.
OVER THE LOUISIANA RICE INDUSTRY, 1933-1956
When the Federal government enacted control measures over rice during the First World War through the use of the Food Control Act, it was the first time that the Louisiana rice industry had experienced a large degree of governmental regulation. The industry looked upon the steps taken as necessary emergency measures created by food shortages, and hoped that the industry would be allowed to return to normal when the fighting ended. Members of the industry cooperated willingly with government policies, and during the war Louisiana producers harvested bumper crops. In 1920 a record crop was recorded when 700,000 acres of cultivated rice yielded 25,200,000 bushels. The average price received per bushel was $1.10, a decline of over 100% from the prices received the previous season. (83) The record production and acreage of that year created a temporary depression in the rice belt. As rice producing countries resumed their prewar production and trade, the Louisiana rice industry, along with the other rice producing states, was seriously affected.
During the war most of the American rice crop was exported to the Allied Powers. However, with the cessation of hostilities foreign sales dropped abruptly and every rice producing state suffered. As was the case with many other agricultural commodities, the price of rice continued its downward tumble until 1926, when prices temporarily rose and then fell again. As in previous years when prices were low, Louisiana rice farmers voluntarily decreased their acreage and production by as much as twenty percent. (84)
The rice industry suffered a continuous setback during the twenties as many growers and processors were forced out of the business. The Federal government provided protection for domestic rice in the Emergency Tariff of 1921 and the Fordney-McCumber Tariff of 1922. Another effort to protect the industry from foreign competition was made in the Hawley-Smoot bill of 1930. Tariff protection was effective to some degree, but the rice industry needed more direct aid from the Federal government in order to cope with the rising cost of living and the low return on agricultural commodities. Hence, rice interests joined forces with other agricultural groups in an effort to increase prices through an agricultural program embodied in the McNary-Haugen bills that were passed by Congress in 1927 and 1928. The bills were twice vetoed by President Calvin Coolidge.
The McNary-Haugen bills called for government purchase and disposal of agricultural surpluses abroad. Net prices of commodities sold by the government were to be based upon an equalization fee levied against producers. Although never implemented, the controls proposed in the McNary-Haugen bills were significant precedents for the government price fixing of rice during the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. However, the rice belt did take advantage of the government’s encouragement of efficient marketing by organizing a two-state rice cooperative association.
In 1921 cooperative marketing facilities were made available to Louisiana farmers through the organization of the American Rice Growers Cooperative Association. This association was basically a reorganization of the Southern Rice Growers Association, which had been federalized during World War I. Reorganized in 1928 the American Rice Growers Cooperative Association represented a federated group of marketing agencies located throughout the rice belt of Southwest Louisiana and Texas. With the central office located in Lake Charles, the organization functioned to provide marketing services for its members. As it grew, it acquired other functions such as the purchasing of implements and the maintenance of a marketing news service and a central grading office. (85)
Each local cooperative under the Association was a partly independent unit that was guided by a locally elected board of directors. Representation on a central board of directors was given each local district, with the central board responsible for determining general policy for the Association. By 1928, the Association was operating four districts in Louisiana and two in Texas. By 1940, over 500 rice growers were affiliated with Louisiana district associations. The finances of the Association were provided by contributions paid by the members in the form of a brokerage tax. The local districts had the power to levy a tax on each barrel of rice it sold. Out of this tax, a certain portion was allocated to the Lake Charles office. (86)
During its infancy, Homer L. Brinkley and S. Arthur Knapp were two Louisianians who provided the Association with much of the leadership it needed. Brinkley served as manager of the Lake Charles office for over twenty years while Knapp, following his father’s footsteps, worked with other leaders in the industry as the Association’s Louisiana representative. During the twenties, Knapp, as a representative in Washington, gained support for tariff protection of the rice industry. He worked closely with Senator Edwin Broussard and Senator Joe Ransdell during the tariff hearings on rice in 1922. He also served with J. A. Foster, L. M. Simon, and W. P. Connell on the Rice Advisory Committee appointed to help administer the Farm Relief Act of 1929. (87) Because of its leadership and the support from Louisiana and Texas rice producers, the Association continued to operate during the war years and is still in existence today.
In order to cope with the diminishing export market following the war a group of rice people from Louisiana and Texas formed the American Rice Export Corporation. Headquartered in New Orleans and led by A. H. Boyt, the President of the American Rice Growers Cooperative for many years, this export corporation had as its major purpose the marketing overseas of rice grown by Louisiana and Texas farmers. A. Kaplan and Harry G. Chalkley of Louisiana served as founders along with Boyt of Texas. Unsuccessful in early years, the organization never generated enthusiasm in Louisiana and eventually disbanded. (88)
Declining foreign markets, low per capita consumption in the domestic market, and over production were major causes of low rice prices during the decade following the war. However, uneconomical farming practices was another reason that producers did not make substantial profits. In a study conducted by the Louisiana Agricultural Extension Service in 1926, it was pointed out that a permanent and prosperous system of agriculture could not be built upon the system of rice farming in Louisiana which required almost half of the crop land to lie idle each year. (89) Under the system of cultivation practiced in the rice belt at that time, it was customary to grow rice on the same land from one to three years and then to rest the land from one to two years, allowing it to remain idle or utilizing it for pasture. The report encouraged rice farmers to abolish this uneconomical system by practicing an efficient system of crop rotation. It was recommended that idle land be utilized by planting soy beans or other revitalizing crops. (90) Little did farmers realize at the time that the rice industry and the cattle industry were natural companions. It was not until the cattle tick was eradicated in the thirties and the system of pasture and rice rotation was adopted that producers took advantage of the program that was recommended during the twenties. (91)
Other uneconomical practices in Louisiana were the storage and handling of rough rice. During the twenties, the facilities for handling rough rice were out of date. A shortage of storage facilities decreased competition, since farmers were forced to store their rice in local mill warehouses. Because most millers did not allow rice to be stored in their warehouses unless the rice was pledged to their mill, it was not until growers later organized their own cooperative warehouses that competition was increased. (92)
Because of the fear that rice could not be stored safely in bulk in the Louisiana climate, practically all rice produced in the state was handled and stored in sacks. The cost of the sacks, along with the cost of the labor required for handling the rice, was an added expense borne by the producer and the miller. When Louisiana planters witnessed the success of bulk handling and storage in Arkansas a few years later, the industry adopted the change. (93)
During the 1921-1929 period, the price of rice was very sensitive to supply. Since prices changed inversely with supply, the result was that years of high production reduced farm purchasing power. Following World War I, the relative price of rice was below the average of all farm products for at least a decade. Since Louisiana produced nearly 50% of the total rice crop of the United States, the industry was plagued by diminishing returns. (94) When the stock market crashed in 1929, the rice industry of the state was affected by further disastrous price decline. The price of rice declined from $3.00 in 1929 to less than $1.50 per barrel in 1932. At the same time the farm value of rice in the United States dropped from $39,474,000 to $17,416,000. (95)
As prices continued to decline, agricultural leaders came to believe that the only feasible method of raising farm prices was to reduce production. In March of 1933, the board of directors of the American Rice Growers Cooperative Association voted to attempt to reduce rice acreage in Louisiana and Texas. Officials contacted banks, canal companies, mortgage companies and other financial agencies and asked that pressure be exerted on producers. (96) Local pressure of this type generated pressure for Federal action. At a meeting of Jefferson Davis Parish rice farmers held in Welsh, resolutions were adopted demanding that Senator Huey P. Long and Congressmen Rene L. DeRouen contact Secretary of Agriculture Arthur M. Hyde in an attempt to have rice included in the domestic allotment program being considered for wheat, cotton, and other commodities. Yet, the Rice Journal criticized the idea of an allotment program for rice by arguing that the problem of the rice industry was not overproduction but rather under consumption. (97)
In May of 1933, the Agricultural Adjustment Act, which included a rice program, was debated in Congress. The bill’s major objective was to restore farm purchasing power to a level which had existed during the prewar period of 1909-1914. The provisions of the act called for reduction in acreage or production of designated agricultural commodities through agreements between the Secretary of Agriculture and producers. Next, it empowered the Secretary to enter into marketing agreements with processors, producers, and others engaged in handling agricultural commodities. The enforcement of these agreements was provided for by authorizing the secretary to issue licenses. The act also called for the submission of compulsory reports on quantities and movements of agricultural commodities. (98) Since rice was specifically designated as a basic commodity, it became subject to the provisions of the act which became law in May of that year. Under this first act, a marketing agreement fixing the price of rough rice was arranged 1933. It was later modified when crop control provisions were added. In 1935, a new crop control plan and processing tax went into operation.
As soon as the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933 was passed, rice growers and millers from Louisiana and Texas met in Beaumont to discuss recommendations to be made to the Secretary of Agriculture by the American Rice Growers Cooperative Association and the Southern rice milling industry. At the conference, a program was adopted and submitted to the Secretary of Agriculture for consideration. These recommendations included price stabilization at a minimum price of $3.00 per barrel, acreage control to hold production to a maximum of 397,000,000 bushels, and a national rice advertising program (99)
A few months later, A. J. Weaver, representative of the rice section of the Farm Adjustment Administration, met with rice men in Lake Charles to work out the marketing agreement. Millers and producers supported the creation of a market price based on the average prices received during the prewar years 1909-1914. Not only did rice people support a marketing agreement based on parity, but they also agreed to finance a merchandising fund for the purpose of exporting annual surpluses. Frank Godchaux, Sr., President of Louisiana State Rice Milling Company, the largest milling company in Southwest Louisiana, publicly announced that he supported the program proposed by the industry and the United States Department of Agriculture.(100) At the Lake Charles conference, Louisiana producers went on record in favor of a processing tax on milled rice and the reduction of acreage through direct benefit payments.
In 1933, a marketing agreement was made between the Rice Millers association, the American Rice Growers Cooperative Association, independent millers and growers, and the Agricultural Adjustment Administration. The marketing agreement set parity prices for the 1933 crop. The famous Blue Eagle code of fair competition was established for the milling industry and new government standards for rice grading were implemented. Frank Godchaux I wired President Roosevelt that his company had already adopted Blue Eagle codes and would encourage the rest of Louisiana mills to follow. (101)
The main provisions of the marketing agreement allowed the Secretary of Agriculture to fix price minimums on high quality unmilled rice. Mills were licensed and ceilings were placed on processing fees. A processing tax levied against producers provided the finances necessary for the program. In addition, the administration of the agreement was placed in the hands of a Control Committee appointed by the U. S. D.A. The committee was made up of members of the Louisiana, Texas, and Arkansas milling industry. Louisiana was given the largest representation, having four representatives out of eight on the committee. Louisiana members included William M. Reid of New Orleans, J. Howard Trotter of Lake Charles, Frank A. Godchaux, Jr. of Abbeville, and Fred W. Ricket of New Orleans. At the time, Reid was Secretary Treasurer of the Rice Millers Association and one of the most vigorous leaders who took part in planning with government officials. Trotter was manager of the Noble-Trotter Rice Milling Company of Lake Charles, one of the first mills which promoted package sales of milled rice. Frank Godchaux, Jr. represented the largest milling concern in Louisiana and the United States. Fred Ricket was President of Ricket’s Rice Mill of New Orleans, one of the few mills that managed to survive the competition from the milling industry of Southwest Louisiana. These people from Louisiana worked with four other committee members from Texas and Arkansas to see that the marketing agreement was effectively carried out. (102)
In 1936, the Supreme Court declared the production control features of the Agricultural Adjustment Act unconstitutional. This nullified the legality of the benefit payment provisions of the act. Equally important, the court also declared the processing tax levied upon mills as unconstitutional. Therefore, the "new deal’ for the rice industry was abolished for a short time. Undiscouraged, the rice people devoted their energy to developing a larger export market for their product. The Rice Millers Association started the ball rolling by assuming leadership in negotiations for a Cuban-American Trade Agreement in 1934. William M. Reid, representing the RMA, helped negotiate a pact with Cuba in which a large customs quota on rice was achieved at a preferential rate that enabled the American rice industry to supply Cuba with much of its rice import requirements. In 1936, the American Rice Growers Cooperative Association joined forces with the Rice Millers Association in attempting to secure an increased preferential in customs duties. That year, William Reid, Homer Brinkley, and V. C. Clark went to Havana to explore ways in which the 1934 agreement could be expanded. U. S Ambassador Jefferson Caffery advised the rice delegation that chances were small that the Cuban government would grant further concessions. (103) After meeting with Cuban officials, the American representatives returned home, but Brinkley and Reid returned again in 1937.
Finally, in August of that year, the President of the Republic of Cuba issued a temporary decree lowering the customs duty on American grown rice. Because of this breakthrough the U. S. rice industry, led by Louisiana, placed pressure upon the State Department to enter into negotiations so that a favorable permanent agreement could be made. (104)
Senator Allen Ellender argued in favor of increased preferentials and claimed that American rice was entitled to preference on the Cuban market because the United States was absorbing nearly 60% of Cuban sugar production. Ellender further argued that the U. S. could lower the Cuban sugar quota and use this as a bargaining tactic to secure a preferential on rice. (105) Through negotiations between Cuban officials and the U.S. State Department, the rice industry was given a larger share of the Cuban market. In 1935, rice shipments from this country to Cuba amounted to over 33,317,000 pounds. Because of the new trade agreement in 1939, shipments jumped to over 203,138,000 pounds. (106) By 1939, Cuba was the largest foreign market for American rice and from that time until Fidel Castro became dictator, the rice industry of this country marketed nearly 400,000,000 pounds of rice annually, in Cuba.
The rice people of Louisiana and the other rice states favored the Good Neighbor policy towards Cuba. But in 1943, when the U. S. government supported a $25,000,000 loan to Cuba made through the American Export-Import Bank, protests were made by those who believed that the industry was jeopardized. Congressional leaders from Louisiana, Texas and Arkansas claimed that the purpose of the loan was to aid Cuba to build her own rice industry. The Louisiana delegation composed of Senator John Overton, Senator Allen Ellender, and Representatives Domengeaux, Morrison, and Larcade sent a letter of protest to L. A. Wheeler, Director of the Office of Foreign Agricultural Relations. At the same time, Representative Domengeaux went so far as to introduce a bill in the House which would have prohibited the Federal government from aiding in the production of rice outside the United States, its territories, or possessions. (107) However, the measure was never enacted and Cuba received the loan.
During the depression, members of the rice industry realized that rice markets were limited, and pressure was applied to meet the problem by renewing efforts to curtail production. In 1938, Congress passed the second Agricultural Adjustment Act. Rice was one of the agricultural commodities included in it. In general, the act gave the Secretary of Agriculture the authority to declare national acreage allotments and make payments to cooperating rice growers. With approval from two-thirds of the producers, the Secretary was also empowered to establish marketing quotas. In addition commodity loans on rice were permitted. Hence, the 1938 act provided the rice growers with several types of assistance. They became entitled to soil conservation payments, parity payments, marketing quota controls, and storage loans. Louisiana farmers benefited most from acreage quotas, conservation payments, and parity payments. Like the first Agricultural Adjustment Act, the second was designed to provide farmers with purchasing power equivalent to that enjoyed in the selected period, 1910-1914. (108) Although there were many flaws in the Federal rice program, the Louisiana industry participated fully, and the state was given the largest acreage allotments. However, because of better varieties and improved farm practices, higher yields hindered efforts to reduce production. The number of rice farms were reduced in Louisiana but existing farms were enlarged. The trend towards mechanization increased production capacity.
In Louisiana, as in the other rice-producing states, the program for the rice industry was never given a chance to stabilize production and marketing. The repetition of history altered the course of the industry by causing it to expand rather than contract. The food shortage caused by the Second World War caused the Federal government to encourage the rice industry to increase production. As the war reduced Asiatic supplies of rice, the importance of the American rice industry increased. Between 1942 and 1946, the Department of Agriculture established annual goals for production, each year’s goal exceeding the previous years by at least 5%. Domestic sales of rice were restricted which resulted in a decrease in American consumption. The Federal government also set up controls over rice exports. The result of the government wartime program was that producers were told how much to produce and were penalized if they did not cooperate. The home market was restricted, causing a problem after the war ended. Most importantly, the whole industry was regulated when the Office of Rice Administration established ceiling prices on rough rice beginning in 1942. The millers were also compelled to set aside inventories for purchase by the government only.
The depression of the thirties experienced by the Louisiana rice industry was eased because of the war in Europe. Louisiana farmers had suffered greatly during the hard times, and the boom in the wartime value of rice was like a shot in the arm for the industry. However, as the Federal government increased its control over the industry, protest grew stronger. Naturally, the government’s attempt to hold down the skyrocketing price of rice met with the strongest opposition. In 1943, the Office of Price Administration held a hearing in Crowley, Louisiana, to discuss price ceilings with growers and millers. At that meeting, Congressmen James Domengeaux, Henry Larcade, Jr., and Governor Sam Jones acted as spokesmen for the rice belt. These men protested that the ceilings were too low and that the industry was being seriously hurt by black market operations. The farmers of Calcasieu and Acadia Parishes went on record as opposing OPA ceilings. An official of the American Rice Growers Cooperative Association declared that the organization also opposed price fixing. Governor Sam Jones of Louisiana best expressed the rice industry’s frame of mind by suggesting that the OPA representatives go back to Washington and leave the rice belt alone. (109)
The OPA was not influenced by the early protests against its price fixing policies. Members of the Louisiana industry had argued at first that a black market nullified OPA ceilings. Later, the industry protested OPA prices by arguing that they were not based upon production and milling costs. In 1944 when the OPA announced it maximum prices on rough rice, Louisiana producers vigorously protested the fact that the price ceiling was set at a rate in which prices were lower than those received in preceding years. Following the announcement, Senators John Overton and Allen Ellender along with Representatives Henry Larcade, Jr., James Domengeaux, and Jimmy Morrison, sent a letter of protest to Chester Bowles of the OPA and Marvin Jones of the War Food Administration. (110)
Because of strong opposition from Louisiana, Arkansas, and Texas, price ceilings elevated during the war years, but the rice industry was never fully satisfied by the increases. In 1946, a study made by Dr. J. Norman Efferson pointed out that Louisiana rice farmers lost from $.37 per barrel in 1941 to $1.88 per barrel in 1946. Dr. Efferson, Louisiana’s own rice expert who is presently the Dean of the College of Agriculture at Louisiana State University, concluded from his study that OPA price ceilings from 1941-1946 did not account for rising production costs. (111)
Probably one of the most significant factors responsible for increased production costs during wartime was the labor shortage. The war effort took away many laborers from the rice belt who either went into the service or accepted positions in industrial plants where they could obtain wages higher than those paid on the farm. This shortage of farm labor encouraged mechanization of the rice harvest. Louisiana growers discarded their mules for tractors. They changed from the binder-thresher method of harvesting to the combine-dryer process. In 1945 and 1946, this mechanization was most noticeable. In 1945, Louisiana farmers harvested 23% of their crop by combines. In 1946, over 44% of the state’s crop was harvested under this method. In the same two years, the percentage of the crop processed by mechanical dryers doubled. In 1946, there were forty rice dryers in operation in Southwest Louisiana, an increase of 25% over the previous year. (112) In the long run, the mechanization of the rice industry decreased labor expenses. However, the quickness of the transition took large amounts of capital and caused many farmers to dangerously extend their credit.
One major result of World War II was the expansion of the American rice industry. At the same time, the bulk of rice produced in this country was exported. Louisiana farmers, aware of what had occurred after World War I when international markets were reopened, were fearful of the rice belt’s dependency upon export markets. In 1945, when the War Food Administration proposed that the entire U.S. rice crop be exported to our allies and the liberated countries, stern protests were heard for Louisiana. Congressman James Domengeaux and Henry Lacarde, Jr., consulted with the Secretary of Agriculture to oppose the large export quotas demanded by the Federal government. These men claimed that the rice industry would be severely strained by postwar adjustment and that the domestic market needed to be expanded. (113) Frank Godchaux III also argued in favor of allocating sufficient supplies for the domestic market. Godchaux believed that the government was hurting the industry by cutting supplies shipped to Cuba, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, and the Virgin Islands. (114) Opposition of this type eventually resulted in a decrease in government exports. By 1953, world rice production and marketing returned to normal and shortly afterwards the rice industry in this country produced annual surpluses. Because Federal officials had foreseen this problem, legislation aimed at stabilizing prices was passed as early as 1948. That year, the Eightieth Congress authorized an act which gave the Secretary of Agriculture the means to stabilize prices of agricultural commodities through purchases, loans, and marketing quotas. Since 1948, other legislation has authorized the Secretary of Agriculture to establish acreage allotments, support prices, and parity payments to rice farmers. In 1956, Federal action was implemented in which rice farmers were given additional benefits for decreasing their production through soil conservation and land bank payments. (115) Thus, government planning and the welfare of the rice industry of Louisiana and the Untied States has become inseparable since the First World War. Today, Louisiana farmers receive price supports in return for complying with acreage allotments. Not only is the amount planted by the farmer determined by government policy, but so is the price he receives for his product.
The beginning of commercial rice farming on the prairie of Southwestern Louisiana in the 1880s was a partial result of the vast transformation which the United States underwent during the post Civil War period. Indeed, the change in agriculture which helped to establish a commercial rice industry in the area was closely related to the changes which occurred in the Great Plains region of the United States following the Civil War. Between 1865 and 1900 numerous settlers migrated to the Southwest and took advantage of the vast unsettled public domain. Within a few decades, the region was transformed from an area of nebulous agricultural importance into a food producing center of the nation. Factors which were responsible for this include the transfer of public lands into private ownership, the settlement of these lands by native Americans, the development of transportation facilities, the mechanization of agriculture, the growth of domestic and foreign markets, and the establishment of governmental and private agencies for the scientific development of agriculture. (116)
Revolution in the rice industry of Southwest Louisiana came, at least partially, for the same reasons that it came to the Great Plains and the Far West. The Southwest portion of the Louisiana Gulf Coast underwent many changes after the Civil War. Like many states west of the Mississippi River, Louisiana possessed thousands of acres of state and Federal owned lands which could be inexpensively purchased. Real estate companies and other private enterprises sprang up and rapidly developed the sparsely populated 15,000 square mile southwest section of the state. Land was usually sold to outsiders who were experiencing difficult times in other agricultural sections. The completion of the intercontinental railroad through the area also encouraged settlement. It supplied transportation for farm products to market and also increased the value of local real estate.
Yankee ingenuity was responsible for the introduction of new mechanical implements which were applied to rice production in Louisiana. When this occurred, production increased rapidly. As the rice industry grew, Federal participation increased. Because of the efforts of local individuals, the United States Department of Agriculture sponsored educational and farm improvement projects which encourage scientific farming.
Immigration, sponsored by the Southern Pacific Railroad and other entrepreneurial agencies, was one of the key developments that unlocked the prairie and opened it for settlement. Like the rest of the South during the 1870s and 1880s, Louisiana promoted immigration into its more than 19,000,000 acres of vacant land. (117) The state sought to replace rapidly declining farm manpower by appealing to Northerners living in unprosperous agricultural communities. Unlike some of the states in the Midwest, Louisiana experienced prosperous years in the 1880s and 1890s. The severe blizzards and droughts suffered by Montana and Dakota farmers were uncommon to Louisiana. State immigration agencies took advantage of the adverse conditions experienced by Northern farmers by extensively advertising Louisiana resources. Southwestern Louisiana was advertised as the garden spot of the world and Midwestern farmers were told that nothing but prosperity was known in the "land where nature smiles." A result of this publicity was that cultural islands composed of Midwestern grain farmers emerged throughout the rice growing section of Louisiana. (118)
The rice industry was established primarily as a commercial venture. The geographical location of the coastal prairie of Louisiana was of importance in the expansion of rice cultivation. Fertile soil, adequate climatic conditions, and suitable topography contributed significantly to the prairie’s rice growing potentiality. Once these factors were publicized to outsiders, a commercial rice industry began. Over the years, the industry developed because of improvements in both production and processing. Improved equipment, higher quality seed and varieties, and scientific soil improvement practices advanced production. In milling, the use of modern machinery, new mechanical processes, and rice dryers made the processing of rice equally as scientific as production.
Within short period of time, the rice industry of Southwestern Louisiana developed into a very complex business. Production, milling, and marketing combined to produce one of the finest marketable food products in the world. These segments of the rice industry became closely connected to other enterprises, in particular the brewer's industry, the livestock feed industry, and the cattle industry.
The antagonism between rice people from New Orleans and Southwestern Louisiana exerted a significant effect upon the development of the rice belt. In the 1890s and early 1900s, city millers were blamed for depressing prices of rough rice. They were accused of employing monopolistic methods to control the marketing of the unmilled rice produced by farmers in the Southwest. Since the rice belt had no milling facilities of its own, local farmers took steps to increase competition by erecting rice mills throughout the prairie. After Southwestern Louisiana built its own milling facilities, the New Orleans industry declined.
Rice marketing was later reformed when the toll system ended and the mills became direct buyers of rough rice. This change eliminated the middle man and decreased marketing competition in the rice belt. Producers combined with each other and with producers from Texas to attempt to stabilize the rice market by providing statistical information to the industry. The precedent for cooperative marketing was later established in 1910 with the organization of the Southern Rice Growers Cooperative Association. This organization showed the rice industry the value of concentration and cooperation, a lesson that it learned and applied thereafter.
The rice industry played an important role during World War I. Louisiana planters increased production so that the national food shortage could be reduced. Rice was sent to several major cities in the United States in order to relieve inhabitants of high prices demanded for other food products. Thus, rice became better known in Northern cities. It was also used by the Federal government to supply food for America’s armed forces. The First World War brought prosperity to the Louisiana rice industry, and it also brought government regulation. The Office of Price Administration, headed by Herbert Hoover, assumed the responsibility of setting price ceilings on unmilled rice. Louisianians cooperated with the OPA and provided advice which helped government officials to efficiently regulate the industry during the war years. By 1920, Louisiana farmers and millers marketed more than twice the amount of rice sold during the prewar period. The rice industry expanded during the war but declined afterwards. The industry experienced a slump during the twenties as did many other agricultural industries. Leaders of the rice belt joined other agricultural sections in supporting a national farm program during the twenties, a plan embodied in the McNary-Haugen bills. Conservative leadership in Washington vetoed these plans and the rice belt was forced to rely upon the limited protection of tariff legislation. However, since the loss of foreign markets affected the industry more drastically during the postwar period, tariff protection did little to provide relief.
Hence, when the national depression began in 1929, the rice industry of Louisiana suffered greatly. Prices of milled and unmilled rice declined over 100% until the New Deal for agriculture was enacted in 1933 and again in 1938. Rice was directly protected by the two Agricultural Adjustment Acts. This legislation was aimed at restoring the purchasing power of rice farmers to a level they enjoyed during the prewar years of 1910-1914. This was accomplished through marketing agreements with the Federal government financed by processing taxes on producers and millers. The United States Department of Agriculture was also given the authority to establish acreage allotments and marketing quotas. Benefit payments were provided to producers who participated in soil conservation programs. The Louisiana rice industry was directly affected by New Deal legislation and many individuals from Louisiana worked with Federal officials to implement these programs of relief.
The depression in the rice industry was largely relieved by the food shortage created by the Second World War. Rice became a product of major importance as it had been in the First World War. The Japanese occupation of Southeast Asia interrupted the world supply, and Louisiana and Southern rice farmers were called upon to provide food for the nation and its allies. As in World War I, the price of rice rose so rapidly that Federal price regulation had to be implemented in 1942. Marketing agreements and government quotas were established. The Federal government encouraged the industry to produce more rice, and farmers were penalized if production goals were not met. As a result the Louisiana rice industry expanded as it had previously done in 1914-1920. Luckily for the industry, international production and marketing of rice did not return to normal until after the Korean War. This was because the Second World War caused greater destruction and food shortages than World War I. Equally important was the fact that the war directly affected the world’s rice bowl in Asia.
In 1945 when the fighting ended, the people of the Louisiana rice industry were concerned that foreign markets might eventually be lost to Asiatic competition. They opposed the large export quotas imposed by the Federal government and were responsible for getting those quotas reduced. They were correct in their observations because surplus production of the fifties necessitated a government program for the rice industry that was similar to the program of the thirties. Rice farmers received benefits through price supports and soil conservation programs. The theory of reducing production was applied through a program of acreage allotment.
Because of the continual contraction of foreign markets until the outbreak of the Vietnam War, Louisianians have worded with leaders representing other segments of the American rice industry to expand the domestic market. The idea of increasing domestic sales of rice through advertising was certainly not a new one. As a matter of fact, it is as old as the industry itself. Since the Rice Association of America was formed in 1895, various organizations have promoted the consumption of rice. In the early 1900’s, the American Rice Growers Association was very active. Later the Southern Rice Growers Association advertised rice on a nationwide basis.
In the 1930’s, a group of individuals in the Southwest Louisiana rice industry organized a rice advertising agency called the National Rice Association. Headquartered in Lake Charles, the Association attempted to advertise rice through a program financed by voluntary contributions received from millers and producers. (119) Because of disagreement among millers and producers over who should bear most responsibility for rice advertising, the survival of the National Rice Association was short lived. Consequently, a bill was introduced in the Louisiana legislature in 1940 which called for the creation of a state commission with power to assess a milling tax to be used for the purpose of advertising rice. A provision of the bill prevented its enactment unless the Texas and Arkansas legislatures passed a similar bill. The rice advertising bill, introduced by Senator Eloi Girard of Lafayette, was passed by the Louisiana legislature, and similar bills were passed by the Texas and Arkansas legislatures. Hence, it became law in Louisiana in 1941. A Louisiana rice development commission was appointed by the governor. Among its members was Frank A. Godchaux, Jr. of Abbeville. Because the Arkansas Supreme Court later declared the processing tax levied by its legislature unconstitutional, the Louisiana Law was invalidated. (120)
Senator Girard continued his fight and succeeded in getting the Louisiana legislature to appropriate $12,000 in 1955 for a feasibility study to determine the possibility of creating a Louisiana rice promotional organization. At the same time Allen Durand of the Louisiana Department of Agriculture was working with rice farmers in Louisiana to organize some form of advertising association.
However, it was not until members of the industry from Louisiana and Texas joined forces that a permanent rice advertising agency was formed. Because of the support of the Louisiana State Rice Milling Company and the Texas Rice Promotional association, an advertising organization known as The Rice Industry was incorporated in __?___. Among its organizers were Claude Miller and Ben Arnim, members of the Texas rice milling industry. In 1959 the organization changed its name to the Rice Council for Market Development. Until 1964, the Rice Council assumed responsibility for advertising rice in the United States alone. During that year, however, the Council received enough support to begin directing its advertising to foreign markets as well. (121)
Today, the Rice Council stands as a symbol of the progress made by the American rice industry. It represents a unified effort on behalf of millers and producers to work for the betterment of the industry through market development. Its finances are voluntarily contributed by members of all segments of the rice industry. Its leadership is provided by rice people from Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas.
Louisiana’s present day rice industry is also a symbol of progress. Rice is the most important crop in the state today, and Louisianians consume over thirty pounds of it annually. Each year, the industry is recognized and honored at the international rice festival held in Crowley. There people from all over the world gather to pay tribute to the many leaders who helped to mold the growth of the rice industry.
Rice production and milling in Louisiana presently represent two very large segments of the farm economy of the state. The rice belt has diversified itself, and one now finds cattle raining, soy bean production, catfish and crayfish farming as new elements in the rice belt’s economy. Processors sell Louisiana rice all over the United States and the world. They make use of modern scientific research in order to produce the world’s finest quality rice. The rice industry of Southwest Louisiana is an example of what can be accomplished by combining the ingredients of hard work, leadership, and cooperation.
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Perkins, W. R. Louisiana Agriculture: Progress and Opportunities. Louisiana State University and A. & M. College Extension Circular No. 89. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University and A. & M. College, 1926.
Quereau, F. C. Rice Investigations. Louisiana Agricultural Experiment Station Bulletin No. 172. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University and A. & M. College, 1920.
Saville, R. J. Rice Irrigation Systems in Louisiana, 1929. Louisiana Agricultural Experiment Station Bulletin No. 216. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University and A. & M. College, 1930.
Saville, R. J. Some Economic Problems in the Rice Farming Area, 1929. Louisiana Agricultural Experiment Station Bulletin No. 217. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University and A. & M. College, 1930.
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Articles and Periodicals
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Cary S. L. "The Appeal of Louisiana to the Western Farmer," The Logical Point, I (October, 1910), 22-24.
The Crowley Signal. 1937.
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Fletcher, Robert S. "That Hard Winter in Montana, 1886-1887," Agricultural History, IV (October, 1930), 122-126.
Ginn, Mildred Kelly. "A History of Rice Production in Louisiana to 1896," Louisiana Historical Quarterly, XXIII (April, 1940), 544-588.
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The Louisiana Planter and Sugar Manufacturer. 1893-1920.
Phillips, Edward H. "The Gulf Coast Rice Industry," Agricultural History, XXV (April, 1951), 91-96.
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Wiley, B. I. "Salient Changes in Southern Agriculture Since the Civil War," Agricultural History, XIII (April, 1939), 65-76.
Wilkinson, R. "Production of Rice in Louisiana," DeBow’s Review, VI (July, 1948), 53-57.
Wise, F. B. "History and Development of Rice Milling in Louisiana," Louisiana Chamber of Commerce Bulletin, I (July, 1929), 19-21.
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1. J. Norman Efferson, The Production and Marketing of Rice (New Orleans: Simmons Press, 1952), 408.
2. Ibid., 414.
3. "Rice Production in the United States," Rice Millers Association Papers, Southwestern Archives and Manuscripts Collection, University of Southwestern Louisiana, Lafayette, Louisiana.
4. U. S. Bureau of the Census, Twelfth Census of the United States: 1902. Agriculture, VI, 56.
5. "Rice Production in the United States," Rice Millers Association Papers, SMAC, University of Southwestern Louisiana, Lafayette, Louisiana.
6. Armando A. Calleja, "Agronomic Practices and Their Influence on the Development of the Louisiana Rice Industry" (unpublished Master’s dissertation, College of Agriculture, Louisiana State University, 1938), p. 9.
7. W. H. Harris, "Rice Culture in Louisiana," Biennial Report of the Louisiana Commissioner of Agriculture (January, 1892), 17.
8. Southern Pacific Reaches Century Mark in Louisiana (Houston: Southern Pacific Railroad Company, 1952), 9.
10. Vermilionville was the former name of Lafayette, Louisiana.
11. W. H. Harris, Louisiana: Her Resources, Advantages, and Attractions (Austin: Southwest Immigration Company, 1881), 4.
12. Ibid., 5.
13. Ibid., 14.
14. S. L. Cary, "The Appeal of Louisiana to the Western Farmer," The Logical Point, I (October, 1910), 24.
15. Southern Pacific Railroad Company, Southwest Louisiana Up to Date (Houston: Southern Pacific Passenger Dept., 1901), 8-9.
16. T. J. Bird, "Remarks as to the Crop of 1885 and Other Matters Relating to Agriculture in Louisiana," Biennial Report of the Louisiana Commissioner of Agriculture (April, 1886), 91.
17. Velma Lee Hair, "The History of Crowley, Louisiana," Louisiana Historical Quarterly, XXVII (October, 1944), 1124.
18. Daniel Dennett, Louisiana As It Is (New Orleans: Eureka Press, 1876), 42.
19. Joseph Cannon Bailey, Seaman A. Knapp: Schoolmaster of American Agriculture (New York: Columbia University Press, 1945), 110.
20. Ibid., 117.
21. Edward Hake Phillips, "The Gulf Coast Rice Industry," Agricultural History, XXV (April, 1951), 94.
22. W. H. Perrin, Southwest Louisiana: Historical and Biographical (New Orleans: Gulf Publishing Company, 1891), 139-140.
23. Southern Pacific Railroad Company, Southwest Louisiana on the Line of the Southern Pacific (Chicago: Southern Pacific Passenger Dept., 1893), 23.
24. "Louisiana’s Rice Crop," Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Louisiana (Chicago: Goodspeed Publishing Company, 1892), II, 212.
25. Seaman A. Knapp, "Rice Farming in Southwestern Louisiana," Biennial Report of the Louisiana Commissioner of Agriculture (January, 1891), 44.
26. T. S. Adams, "Report to the Governor of Louisiana," Biennial Report of the Louisiana Commissioner of Agriculture (April, 1892), 6.
27. Southern Pacific Railroad Company, Southwest Louisiana Up to Date, 81.
28. Ibid., 11.
29. Bailey, Seaman A. Knapp, 122.
30. Hair, "The History of Crowley, Louisiana," 1159.
31. Southern Pacific Railroad Company, Southwest Louisiana on the Line of Southern Pacific, 56.
32. Southern Pacific Railroad Company, Southwest Louisiana Up to Date, 37.
33. "New Orleans - A Factor in the Rice Industry," John R. Nuber Papers, SMAC, University of Southwestern Louisiana, Lafayette, Louisiana.
34. Knapp, "Rice Farming in Southwestern Louisiana," 44.
35. Mildred Kelly Ginn, "A History of Rice Production in Louisiana to 1896," Louisiana Historical Quarterly, XXIII (April, 1940), 573.
36. The Louisiana Planter and Sugar Manufacturer, June 3, 1893.
37. Ginn, "A History of Rice Production in Louisiana to 1896," 574.
38. Henry Rightor, Standard History of New Orleans (Chicago: Lewis Publishing Company, 1900), 518.
39. Nelson Klose, America’s Crop Heritage: The History of Foreign Crop Plant Introduction by the Federal Government (Ames: Iowa State College Press, 1950), 118.
40. The Welsh Rice Belt Journal, July 15, 1904.
41. Ibid., October 6, 1905.
42. Ibid., June 17, 1904.
43. Ibid., October 14, 1910.
44. Ibid., September 6, 1907.
45. Ibid., February 9, 1906.
46. The New Orleans Times Democrat, August 29, 1907.
47. The Welsh Rice Belt Journal, August 31, 1907.
48. Ibid., September 6, 1907.
51. Ibid., July 21, 1905.
52. Ibid., August 4, 1905.
53. Ibid., December 18, 1908.
54. Ibid., November 13, 1908.
55. Ibid., November 20, 1908.
57. Ibid., December 18, 1898.
60. Ibid., January 8, 1909.
61. Ibid., March 19, 1909.
62. Southern Pacific Railroad Company, Southwest Louisiana Up to Date, 45.
63. U. S. Congressional Record, 59th Congress, 1st Session, 1906, XL, 918.
64. Ibid., 921.
65. The Welsh Rice Belt Journal, March 26, 1909.
66. Ibid., September 3, 1909.
67. Ibid., February 25, 1910.
68. Ibid., November 26, 1909.
69. Gayle Aiken, "Relation of the Rice Market to Acreage," The Rice Belt Journal and Southern Planter, XX (May, 1917), 36.
70. The Welsh Rice Belt Journal, July 15, 1904.
71. F. C. Quereau, Rice Investigations (Baton Rouge: Louisiana Agricultural Experiment Station, Bulletin No. 172, 1920), 4.
72. The Welsh Rice Belt Journal, October 14, 1910.
74. Ibid., November 11, 1910.
75. Ibid., November 25, 1910.
76. Ibid., October 28, 1910.
77. Ibid., August 1, 1913.
78. Ibid., March 29, 1912.
79. Ibid., April 15, 1913.
80. Ibid., August 22, 1913.
81. C. A. Boonstra, Rough Rice Marketing in Louisiana (Baton Rouge: Louisiana Agricultural Experiment Station, Bulletin No. 340, 1942), 4.
82. "United States Food Administration Plan of Marketing Successful," The Rice Journal and Southern Planter, XXI (September, 1918), 42.
83. Carlos E. Campbell, Factors Affecting the Price of Rice (Washington, D. C.: United States Department of Agriculture, Bulletin No. 297, 1932), 41.
84. Ibid., 41.
85. Boonstra, Rough Rice Marketing in Louisiana, 31.
86. Ibid., 33.
87. Letter from Frank A. Godchaux I to S. Arthur Knapp, February, 1929, Louisiana State Rice Milling Company Records, Abbeville, Louisiana.
88. Letter from M. A. Hayes to Frank Godchaux I, April 10, 1921, Louisiana State Rice Milling Company Records, Abbeville, Louisiana.
89. W. R. Perkins, Louisiana Agriculture: Progress and Opportunities (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Agricultural and Mechanical College, Bulletin No. 89, 1926), 32.
90. Ibid., 35.
91. Recorded Interview with Dr. Thomas J. Arceneaux, Dean of the College of Agriculture, University of Southwestern Louisiana, Lafayette, Louisiana, November 30,1966, SMAC.
92. Perkins, Louisiana Agriculture: Progress and Opportunities, 50.
93. Interview with F. A. O’Daniel, Manager, Smith Rice Mill, Dewitte, Arkansas, February 1, 1967.
94. R. J. Saville, Some Economic Problems in the Rice Farming Area, 1929 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Agricultural and Mechanical College, Bulletin No. 217, 1930), 52.
95. Boonstra, Rough Rice Marketing in Louisiana, 37.
96. "Growers Association Takes Steps to Reduce Rice Acreage," Rice Journal, XXXVI (March, 1933), 8.
97. "Reduction in Rice Acreage Fallacy Still Survives," Rice Journal, XXXVI (February, 1933), 14.
98. Efferson, The Production and Marketing of Rice, 428.
99. "Rice Growers and Millers Seek Benefits from New Farm Bill," Rice Journal, XXXVI (May, 1933), 8.
100. "Rice Industry’s Leaders Look Up Following Developments Upon Heels of Southern Conclave at Lake Charles," Rice Journal, XXXVI (August, 1933), 3.
101. Letter from Frank A. Godchaux I to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, April, 1933, Louisiana State Rice Milling Company Records, Abbeville, Louisiana.
102. Rice Millers Association Papers, SMAC, University of Southwestern Louisiana, Lafayette, Louisiana.
103. "The Bill Reid Story," The William M. Reid Papers, SMAC, University of Southwestern Louisiana, Lafayette, Louisiana.
105. "Senator Ellender and Rice," Rice Journal, XLII (February, 1939), 4.
106. "I’ll Scratch Your Back If You’ll Scratch Mine," Rice Journal, XLI (December, 1938), 1.
107. "Congressional Group Protests Cuban Plans," Rice Journal, XLVI (April, 1943), 10.
108. Efferson, The Production and Marketing of Rice, 429.
109. "The Crowley OPA Hearing," Rice Journal, XLVI (July, 1943), 4.
110. "Rescind MPR 518, Congressmen Demand of OPA and WFA," Rice Journal, XLVII (April, 1944), 17.
111. "Price Increase Justified," Rice Journal, XLIX (August, 1946), 6.
112. J. Norman Efferson, "The Combining and Drying of Rice in the Louisiana Rice Area in 1945 and 1946," Rice Journal, L (October, 1945), 10.
113. Frank A. Godchaux I, "Industry’s Welfare Threatened by Government Regulation," Rice Journal, XLIX (July, 1946), 36.
115. John A. Kincannon, Legislation Affecting the Rice Industry, 1933-1956 (College Station, Texas: Texas Agricultural and Experiment Station, Bulletin No.839, 1956), 11.
116. Louis B. Schmidt, "The Agricultural Revolution in the Prairies and Great Plains of the United States," Agricultural History, VIII (October, 1934), 172.
117. Walter L. Fleming, "Immigration to the Southern States," Political Science Quarterly, XX (June, 1905), 279.
118. Walter M. Kollmorgen, "Immigrant Settlements in Southern Agriculture: A Commentary on the Significance of Cultural Islands in Agricultural History," Agricultural History, XIX (April, 1945), 73.
119. "The National Rice Association," Rice Journal, XXXIII (March, 1930), 9.
120. "Sales and Promotional Work on Rice," Rice Journal, XLIV (July, 1941), 2.
121. Recorded Interview with L. O. Tiedt, Manager, Rice Council for Market Development, Houston, Texas, December 15, 1966, SMAC.
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