At 4Sisters Rice, sustainable rice farming isn’t just about reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving sustainable water use. It’s about being deeply committed to rewriting the narrative of rice agriculture from seed to table, opening doors for women who might otherwise never have chosen this path if they hadn’t seen the opportunity, and protecting our natural resources while we help feed the world with one of the most universally commonly eaten foods.
We’ve come up with a holistic approach to sustainability over the course of our 54-year history, encompassing four key pillars: people, land, water, and energy.
Happy People, Nourished Fields
At 4Sisters Rice, sustainability begins and ends with people. To provide a wide selection of sustainably grown organic and conventional rice options, it starts with our community. Kennedy Rice is located in the Louisiana Delta, one of the lowest-income areas in the United States. We employ locals with very little access to other opportunities available to them, significantly boosting our local economy and rebuilding rural Louisiana, a very underprivileged area of the country.
Aside from employing our local people, we take pride in using farming methods that will allow us to continue feeding the world and our rural communities for years to come. Our mill embraces a closed-loop farming method that uses every part of the rice to nourish both people and animals generating very little by-product waste in the process. With rice by-products used for animal feed, alcohol, and rice flour, we lose less than 1% of rice grain during the entire milling process.
Donations to food banks are a regular practice at 4Sisters Rice. One of our largest fundraisers is for the Boys and Girls Club of North Louisiana. As Meryl and Chantel serve on the Bastrop Committee, and Meryl additionally holds a position on the Louisiana state board, it’s important to the Kennedy sisters, who are mothers themselves, to enhance opportunities, community building, and access to resources for rural children in Louisiana to learn and grow in a healthy environment.
We’ve also partnered with United Way and the Salvation Army to provide meals and rice for hungry Americans year-round. In addition, our collaboration with Reece Kemmerly Foundation and the students at Prairie View Academy, who organize an annual food drive in honor of William Reece Kemmerly, has been one of our favorite ways of giving back to the community. This October 2023 marks the 15th anniversary of this food drive, which has served and fed over 900 families since its inception.
Today, Meryl, CEO, Founder of 4Sisters Rice, and President of the USA Rice Millers Association (the first woman and youngest person to chair this organization in 123 years), is a fierce advocate for local farms and represents the next generation of farm owners, many of whom have joined the new wave of women farmers. Meryl enjoys mentoring young women pursuing careers in the field and speaking to local civic organizations related to rural issues and agriculture.
We’ve also been fortunate enough to be a part of Kellogg’s Ingrained™ program, a $2 million, five-year collaboration with Kellogg Company and Walmart, where rice farmers in the Lower Mississippi River Basin are rewarded for reducing greenhouse gas emissions through their rice farming operations. Part of our goals in this program are to commit to fertilization optimization on 2000 acres as well as a 5% increase in average fleet efficiency at Kennedy Rice by 2025 and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 15% by 2030.
Land: Stewardship of the Earth
As stewards of the land we farm, we’re committed to working together towards a common goal: taking care of our land and feeding communities with healthy, nutrient-rich rice.
One of our favorite sustainable practices for soil regeneration is adding rice hulls mixed with chicken litter back into the soil to create a nutrient-rich soil ecosystem for the organic rice we cultivate. Rice hulls are a hard rice coating waste product from rice production known for being one of the most sustainable soil amendments improving drainage, water holding capacity, and aeration. As they break down, they feed the soil adding nourishment to strengthen plant wall cells and build resiliency against drought and heat.
We also use cattle manure to balance and maintain appropriate pH levels in the soil, and we’ve reduced our use of chemicals and fertilizers to protect our soil from erosion and to conserve our water resources.
At 4Sisters Rice, we’re committed to working with a vast network of sustainable and climate-friendly farms and growers who are all implementing practices that are unique to their farm, doing the best they can with the resources that they have. Every farm is different, and they each have a targeted approach to know they’re giving the land the best result.
Water: Nature’s Lifeline
Rice farming can be very water intensive if the appropriate water efficiencies aren’t put into place. We believe it’s critical to use water in the most efficient and effective way possible at 4Sisters Rice in order to protect the delicate balance of water use and rice farming.
Here, we rely on rainwater to fill our reservoirs, use naturally flowing water sources such as bayous, rivers, and streams, and avoid removing vital nutrients from the water table for our operations.
When Elton Kennedy started growing rice, part of the process of working with the land and water sources involved innovating efficiencies and more sustainable uses of water. Elton invented a unique method of pumping excess water from our natural water sources to store for later in times of need.
Today, we’ve continued to build on what Elton started 30 years ago, using reservoirs that span over 100 acres to retain water using the tailwater recovery method. This sustainable water use method is a system of ditches and pipelines collecting tailwater into a storage reservoir to use for irrigation for our next season and to provide a water source for our biodiversity on the farm. We also grow our rice in Zero Grade Fields, meaning we level our fields as a way to reduce and conserve our water.
Pioneering Energy Solutions
In an effort to help stabilize climate change, we’re also deeply committed to continuously improving our energy efficiency standards and reducing our greenhouse gas emissions.
A few of our energy efforts we’re proud of include:
Transitioning 100% of our operations at our Mill and packaging facilities to use energy-efficient LED lighting.
Adopting battery-powered forklifts and using diesel emission fluids (DEF) in our tractors. Currently, we’re in the process of transitioning from diesel pumps to electric ones.
Practicing precision farming using RTK John Deere technology to help optimize seed placement more efficiently.
Using satellite elevators to minimize transportation-related emissions.
Sourcing the majority of what we grow within 20 miles of the farm, significantly reducing our greenhouse gas emissions. This not only supports our local vendors but also keeps our supply chain more sustainable and stable.
We’re also currently in the process of establishing a better baseline data set so that we can reduce our CO2 emissions by 50% within 10 years. Some of the projects we are looking at include cleaner fossil fuels, higher CO2 sequestration plants, and a reduction in Methane production.
Embracing a Sustainable Rice Farming Legacy
Sustainable rice farming comes with its setbacks and obstacles; there’s nothing easy about it, but what we've discovered along the way is that it’s possible.
Together we can overcome the obstacles, whether it’s donating to our local community, collaborating with our local universities, or working with other growers to put together events and programming. It takes a village to continue improving our sustainability practices while meeting the needs of the community which is a living ecosystem of its own.
At 4Sisters Rice, we're not just committed; we're enthusiastic about the future of sustainable rice farming. The more we can continue to strengthen our brand experience and open opportunities for others, the more we’ll begin to see strong demand for better rice farming practices, setting a sustainable standard for southern rice in the US.
Here, we're forging a path of growing rice that's full of hope for our future; from reducing our carbon footprint and unnecessary overuse of water to supporting our local communities and our land, we’re in this to transform the rice agriculture industry.
From every individual rice seed to tables full of happy people and hungry bellies, at 4Sisters we believe a little grain can make a big difference.
4Sisters Rice is now found in over 7,000 stores nationwide and continues to grow. With the rise of online grocery shopping after the pandemic, we’ve also launched our direct-to-consumer online store, where you can find all of our latest products.