Transcript for Episode 409 with Blake Gerard of Cahokia Rice – McClure, IL

August 16, 2023

This transcript accompanies the interview with Blake Gerard of Cahokia Rice about growing high protein rice in Illinois at the confluence of rivers. The transcript was created via AI using (affiliate link)

43 minutes

Janice Person [00:00:02]:

Food is more than just what’s on our plate. It’s the places where it’s grown. It’s the people who grow it and so much more. Join me, Janice Person, your host on Grounded by the farm every other week as we talk about the foods we love. Hey, everybody. Today I’m in southern Illinois, and I think this is a part of the country a lot of people have overlooked somehow, and I’m still a little shaky on exactly how I got here. I was in Nashville this weekend and I came across to Paducah, Kentucky, and I just kind of kept going west and a little bit north, and I kept going through Kentucky for a long time. And then I got into Illinois. There were so many rivers and bridges, but eventually I landed on river Bend, cahokia farms. It’s all those great things. And I’m going to be talking to Blake Gerard about rice. Okay, so in Illinois, you’re growing rice. That’s not a common perception. Most people will know if they know much about rice. Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, California, Missouri, they may know because the boot hill is like Arkansas plus kind of Illinois. How can you grow rice here? Like, what makes this part of Illinois? Because Illinois also has Chicago. You can’t grow rice in Chicago.

Blake Gerard [00:01:19]:

That’s right. It’s a big state. It’s a long state.

Janice Person [00:01:22]:

It’s a really long state. I don’t think people think about yeah, yeah.

Blake Gerard [00:01:27]:

Chicago 6 hours away. Starkville, Mississippi, is five and a half hours away.

Janice Person [00:01:33]:

How close are you to Memphis then?

Blake Gerard [00:01:35]:

3 hours.

Janice Person [00:01:36]:

Yeah. That’s crazy.

Blake Gerard [00:01:38]:

We’re right between St. Louis. Halfway between St. Louis and Memphis.

Janice Person [00:01:41]:


Blake Gerard [00:01:42]:

Interstate 55 over in Missouri. We’re right on the Mississippi river.

Janice Person [00:01:45]:

And it is a strange place. There is so much water. Like the roads, every time I turned, it was because there was water ahead of me. If I didn’t turn, I’d be in a river or something.

Blake Gerard [00:01:55]:

Yeah, well, we’re right at the confluence and actually coming through there, you drove by our southernmost fields right by Cairo at the confluence of the Mississippi and how. And then there’s a lot of other small rivers and tributaries that you came.

Janice Person [00:02:10]:

Know, water is a big thing for rice is why I brought it is.

Blake Gerard [00:02:14]:

A big thing for rice. And we’ve got almost too much, oftentimes.

Janice Person [00:02:20]:

Even this year because there’s been such drought issues for so many of us.

Blake Gerard [00:02:24]:

Right? Yeah. Droughts not our problem here.

Janice Person [00:02:30]:

It’s a water table. You have so much water.

Blake Gerard [00:02:32]:

Yeah. A lot of times I tell people, I farm in the bottom of the Mississippi river. We’re right on the river and it’s not so much different than anybody farming up and down this river all the time.

Janice Person [00:02:44]:

Where I was in Mississippi for years and years, it’s the same. You got river ground and you got other is.

Blake Gerard [00:02:52]:

Our delta here is very narrow compared to as you move know, the big delta starts just south of Cape Girardo. It opens up into southeast Missouri, and.

Janice Person [00:03:03]:

We’Re right across the river from Cape Girardo. So if people are trying to look for us on the map, McClure may not be on the right.

Blake Gerard [00:03:09]:

That’s right. Cape Girardeau is. We can look out the window and see Cape Girardeau on the other side of the river.

Janice Person [00:03:17]:

So how long has your family been growing rice? Because we talked about a lot of things before the mics got turned on, and I didn’t hear a lot of talk about rice.

Blake Gerard [00:03:26]:

Yeah, so no, this is my 24th year growing rice. 24th season. And so my father did not grow rice. His father, none of us, nobody in the family. I was the first one to start growing rice, and it was simply because of this river and how the river has kind of evolved over my lifetime. When my grandpa farmed here, he raised wheat, corn, alfalfa, more upland crops, and it was not an issue, but they flooded, but not constantly, and it’s kind of changed. The river has changed.

Janice Person [00:04:09]:

I think we started it’s going to do that.

Blake Gerard [00:04:11]:

From what I read, we’ve started manipulating the river when? In the early 19 hundreds. So 100 years later, it’s been fighting.

Janice Person [00:04:19]:

Back a little bit.

Blake Gerard [00:04:20]:

Yeah. So that’s what got me. So we had a big flood of 1993 and another one in 95, another one in 97.

Janice Person [00:04:34]:

You start going, wait a minute. Yeah, the farming thing. Maybe I should figure out how to farm in a place that gets flooding a lot.

Blake Gerard [00:04:42]:

Exactly right. Or quit. I was 23, 25, 27 in those three floods, and it’s like, man, this is going to be tough. Way to go.

Janice Person [00:04:50]:

I don’t want to farm insurance for a life.

Blake Gerard [00:04:53]:

Well, we really weren’t using insurance as a tool.

Janice Person [00:04:57]:

Yeah. No, I understand.

Blake Gerard [00:04:58]:

It was catastrophic, and it wasn’t what it is today. Crop insurance, from what I recall, it definitely wasn’t a profitable operation with that scenario happening. Too much water. It’s hard to grow corn. Corn is expensive to grow. And then you lose it, get it up, have ears on it, and get a flood, and water comes shooting out of the ground. Seep water and it dies.

Janice Person [00:05:24]:


Blake Gerard [00:05:25]:

I thought about raising fish, but they will swim off.

Janice Person [00:05:28]:

Yeah, they would. When they flood. They absolutely will. For my family, we’ve never met a starch we didn’t like, but rice is one of our favorites. So some of my nieces and nephews think they have to have rice every day at the very least, and probably won’t at every meal. And so I think it’s an interesting food because people don’t think of rice as a midwestern food. You’re kind of southern midwestern, but usually Illinois is considered the midwest. And people in St. Louis, when I said I wanted to make red beans and rice, didn’t know what that was, and they certainly didn’t understand that that’s a meal. That that’s not like I was just going to have some rice if they wanted to eat it or something. Like it’s a hearty meal when you make it with rice, red beans and sausage and all that stuff. So tell me, do you eat a lot of rice?

Blake Gerard [00:06:17]:

I do. We eat a lot of rice, yeah.

Janice Person [00:06:21]:

And you guys sell direct?

Blake Gerard [00:06:23]:

We do.

Janice Person [00:06:25]:

How do you go from, we haven’t grown any rice, to not only am I growing rice, but I’m not selling it through the mainstream markets, I’m selling it on my own.

Blake Gerard [00:06:36]:

Yeah. Well, I started out seed rice the first year, raising rice, cleaning it, having it cleaned, selling to other farmers because it’s a new territory. Right. Clean seed, no red rice, fewer weeds, et cetera, and have done that ever since. So we do that.

Janice Person [00:06:56]:


Blake Gerard [00:06:57]:

And also gosh, we only started with this higher protein rice about I’ve been raising it probably for eight years.

Janice Person [00:07:06]:


Blake Gerard [00:07:07]:

But we didn’t start marketing it till five years ago.

Janice Person [00:07:10]:

Okay. Higher protein rice just sounds not like a thing.

Blake Gerard [00:07:16]:


Janice Person [00:07:17]:

So I need you to explain it because I think people think of wheat the same way as protein is not a thing. But there is protein in all these grains depending on how you process it. Is that right?

Blake Gerard [00:07:29]:

Well, there’s protein in the rice no matter how you process.

Janice Person [00:07:33]:

Yeah. But how much is there?

Blake Gerard [00:07:34]:

That’s right. Yeah. How much is there? That’s correct. Yeah. So up until five years ago, we were not market. We were selling rice as seed rice and also delivering it onto the river and whoever buys it yeah. Right here. We’re very fortunate to be they load rice out at, you know, a lot of rice from Missouri loads out right there. So that’s 5 miles from my farm. So that’s pretty awesome. And have done that since the day we started raising rice. Pretty much. So that’s convenient. A friend of mine and who’s now a business partner obtained the higher protein rice from LSU. Louisiana State University developed it.

Janice Person [00:08:14]:

Yeah. A lot of people don’t know that state universities in some places have breeding programs, and it really is more focused on what’s local or state important. So the rice station at LSU is awesome.

Blake Gerard [00:08:28]:

Yeah. Their premier rice and in the Texas Arkansas University of Arkansas, mississippi State business partner obtained that and we grew it a couple of years. They didn’t have a direction they were going to go with it. I’d always wanted to have a product that differentiate itself to be vertically integrated, right. To grow it and market it. And this was an excellent opportunity.

Janice Person [00:08:55]:

Some people love that idea and some people hate that idea, to be vertically integrated. Right. But to be able I mean, like the people that listen to this podcast, like the idea of getting to know the farmers that are growing some of the foods that they like to eat. So it’s a perfect fit.

Blake Gerard [00:09:11]:

So at the point he’s like, hey, we’ve got this rice. We’re paying a royalty to have the marketing rights to this rice, to produce it, and let’s take it to market. And I’m like, Heck, yeah, let’s do it. Why not? This is a good opportunity, it’s a unique rice. Okay, so first I’ll tell you a little bit about it. The health properties, the carbohydrate and protein and the so, and it’s a non GMO rice. I’ll step back to LSU developing it and they crossed it when they found the higher protein rice, they crossed it with a variety that was grown. I grew it the first year I.

Janice Person [00:09:49]:

Raised rice like Cyprus.

Blake Gerard [00:09:52]:

Yeah. You know? Okay, so which is one of the it’s been around forever quality rice. It’s still a good rice the US has ever grown. Yeah, it’s still a good rice. It was like in high demand Central American market. They loved Cyprus. So anyway, things have evolved, right? And we’ve bred new varieties. Yields have increased because those state universities are funded through grower checkoff and decisions are made. We get paid on the bushel, not on quality. So yields have increased, quality has decreased. They crossed the higher protein rice with cypress. So it’s got excellent cooking characteristics, taste and texture.

Janice Person [00:10:31]:


Blake Gerard [00:10:31]:

And so it’s a premium quality rice that has higher protein content. So it’s 11% protein.

Janice Person [00:10:39]:

11% protein?

Blake Gerard [00:10:42]:


Janice Person [00:10:42]:

That sounds really high for rice. What’s a normal rice percent? Like five?

Blake Gerard [00:10:47]:

I’d have to do the math, but I can know the grams. So grams per serving, like, our brown rice is 6 grams per serving of protein, whereas typical rice is three to four and then closer to like three and a half. And then our white rice is 5 grams, where typical is around two. What that does the cool thing, the biggest thing? Well, a couple of things. One, that’s in a plant protein, that’s fairly high.

Janice Person [00:11:16]:

Yeah. I mean, chickpeas are a really good one, comparable to black beans are a good one.

Blake Gerard [00:11:25]:

It’s comparable for a plant protein, it’s decent. But what it also does, and most importantly in my opinion, is it lowers the Glycemic score of the rice.

Janice Person [00:11:37]:

Right, I was looking at that on your website.

Blake Gerard [00:11:40]:

Yeah. So the protein to carb ratio, I was at a small trade show, I think in Springfield, Illinois, three or four years ago, and marketing to all the people that came through and given my spiel and I’m stumbling through it and I get on and the little girl is standing across from me. You’re all done? I’m like, yeah, I’m all done, that’s it, that’s all I know about this rice. She’s like, you didn’t tell me the most important part. I’m like, well, what’s that? She’s like, this is going to be low glycemic rice. She’s like, Everything you’ve told me. If that’s all legit people who are.

Janice Person [00:12:20]:

Watching their blood sugar, yeah.

Blake Gerard [00:12:22]:

She’s like, you need to get it tested. That’s a market way better because she.

Janice Person [00:12:25]:

Was like a registered dietitian or something like that.

Blake Gerard [00:12:28]:

Yeah. And she’s like, you need to send this rice off and have it tested for Glycemic score, because I think you’ve got low Glycemic score rice, which opens the door to a whole market of people that everybody really needs to be watching their Glycemic, their sugars when they eat and not spike your blood sugar. It allows people that the doctors told them to stop, don’t eat rice anymore. You can maybe put some back on your plate because it’s comparable to other low Glycemic. It took it from a high Glycemic food. It now falls into the low glycemic category. It scores 41.

Janice Person [00:13:08]:


Blake Gerard [00:13:08]:

So there’s no other rice out there like that?

Janice Person [00:13:11]:

Yeah, it makes it really easy for that to be a reason to vertically integrate and keep it all separate from all the other rice and all that kind of stuff.

Blake Gerard [00:13:21]:

Right. So we’re growing it. It’s in retail and also in food service. It’s been exciting.

Janice Person [00:13:33]:

It’s so funny to figure out how this all works. So obviously you can buy it through their website, but you say it’s available through retail. Is that locally or is that regionally? Because it’s hard to get a product, like, on every market shelf.

Blake Gerard [00:13:49]:

Tell me about it. I’m a farmer. I don’t even know what I’m doing with it. So we’ve enlisted some help and hired sales, but it’s still in a controlled fashion because we know we’re going to screw up.

Janice Person [00:14:04]:

You can take some risk knowing you’ll screw up if you’re taking small amounts of risk to start testing the waters versus going all in on something.

Blake Gerard [00:14:13]:

So it’s through distribution is kind of how we’re growing it. Somebody can want it, but you’ve got to be able to get it to them without being an inconvenience. Right. Is what I’ve learned. And if you’re not working with their distributor, it’s very difficult.

Janice Person [00:14:28]:


Blake Gerard [00:14:29]:

So now we’ve established distribution with several major I would call major distributors here in the US. And Midwest. Then that allows us to target their client base, their current right. Yeah, their current customers, and that’s we found the most effective way to grow, especially in the food service side.

Janice Person [00:14:50]:

Well, more and more food service places are being asked to provide nutritional information on the foods they’re doing. Right. So hospitals are being asked to produce better tasting foods because they always had highly nutritious. And then restaurants used to have really tasty but maybe hadn’t focused as much on nutrition. And I think folks are trying to get nutrition across the board so they get good health properties in general. So it’s probably a good time.

Blake Gerard [00:15:25]:


Janice Person [00:15:25]:

I like, all right. I like the sushi grade. I like all of it.

Blake Gerard [00:15:30]:

Absolutely. Me too. Me too.

Janice Person [00:15:33]:

When you started doing this as a business, it was you and your partner.

Blake Gerard [00:15:39]:


Janice Person [00:15:40]:

Just kind of winging it.

Blake Gerard [00:15:43]:

Correct? Yes.

Janice Person [00:15:44]:

How did you come up with a name like Cahokia and the logo and the branding and all that kind of stuff, because for people who don’t know, maybe I should ask you, since the name is called since it’s called Cahokia Rice, maybe I should get you to explain what that is for people who don’t know.

Blake Gerard [00:16:01]:

Yes. Okay. So my partner came up with the name. He suggested it based on all the artifacts that we’ve found and he’s seen, and he was really impressed by them, I believe. And all these farmers, all my friends, especially about 10 miles north of here, have, like, tremendous collections, amazing collections, and mostly they’re farming tools, right? Yeah. Cahokia was what, the largest city in what are the statistics on that? It was huge.

Janice Person [00:16:33]:

I mean, it’s still considered it was one of the top civilizations in this part of the world. Yeah, it was like the first mega city, and it was native peoples just on this side of the river. Illinois.

Blake Gerard [00:16:52]:

Illinois side, right?

Janice Person [00:16:53]:


Blake Gerard [00:16:53]:

The Cahokia mounds.

Janice Person [00:16:55]:

And there are incredible mounds. You can still go to that site. I think it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Cahokia has a specific connection to this area.

Blake Gerard [00:17:05]:


Janice Person [00:17:05]:

I assume that was part of it, yes.

Blake Gerard [00:17:07]:

In the name. Everyone around the Midwest knows is familiar with that story, and it’s in honor of it’s not really an Indian tribe. The Kokia was a community, not a tribe. It was multiple groups of Indians living together from what understand. And so it’s in honor of those folks that were farming here long before I was. Or my grandfather. Or my great grandfather.

Janice Person [00:17:32]:

Right. Yeah.

Blake Gerard [00:17:33]:

And we still finding their tools today, which is really cool.

Janice Person [00:17:37]:

I’m going to have to take pictures of some of those just to show people, because I always tell people if they’re interested in seeing the pictures, we’ll put them up on the website because podcast doesn’t go really well with Photos, but the website makes it work.

Blake Gerard [00:17:48]:

Right. There you go. Perfect.

Janice Person [00:17:50]:

Your favorite ways to cook rice or the favorite ways to eat rice. What do you do?

Blake Gerard [00:17:56]:

The most common is for breakfast in the morning with a little honey and either milk or preferably half and half, right?

Janice Person [00:18:11]:


Blake Gerard [00:18:12]:


Janice Person [00:18:13]:

I have never heard of anybody eating rice like that for breakfast with half and half and honey. So now I’m so intrigued.

Blake Gerard [00:18:20]:

I love it.

Janice Person [00:18:20]:

Is it almost like the so much.

Blake Gerard [00:18:23]:

For the Glycemic score.

Janice Person [00:18:25]:

Yeah, you’ve totally killed that. But it is protein. So do you fix it kind of like you would do like an oatmeal consistency or something like that?

Blake Gerard [00:18:34]:


Janice Person [00:18:34]:

Not a watery oatmeal. Nobody wants that. So do you have a rice cooker that you always have going in the house?

Blake Gerard [00:18:41]:

Yeah, exactly. Cook up a batch and throw it in the fridge. And then also my wife makes a rice salad a lot that I’ll bring for lunch.

Janice Person [00:18:53]:

Yeah. Other people bring orzo salads? Pasta salads. I love a good rice salad. So what does she put in it? Do you know?

Blake Gerard [00:19:00]:

Lots of vegetables.

Janice Person [00:19:02]:

Like pickled vegetables?

Blake Gerard [00:19:04]:

Not pick. I wouldn’t say pickled. No, fresh. Yeah, not pickled. Fresh vegetables. Lots of color. I’m not, like, identifying all of it.

Janice Person [00:19:12]:

I don’t know. I was thinking there’s one a friend of mine who lives in Italy taught me to make and it’s with the gardenia kind of I don’t know. It’s garden vegetables, like carrots and stuff that have all been pickled. It’s an Italian thing, so you can buy it on the hill and you can buy it in a lot of grocery stores and stuff. They put it out with charcuterie bars and stuff. But it’s really kind of nice. You also put a little mayo in it. So it does need to stay cool. But that makes it a great summer food because it’s cool. Right? So it’s like a really nice salad for summer when it’s so freaking hot you can’t right.

Blake Gerard [00:19:54]:

It’s a great lunch. I saw I throw it in Tupperware container and take it with me to lunch. Yeah, but we need to get that recipe because that sounds good. And of course, my wife doesn’t cook an A 2ft, but I love an A two FA a lot. And red beans and rice. She does cook red beans and rice, but probably the number one is just me cooking it myself and eating breakfast regularly. And I think watching your Glycemic score I like to ride bikes a lot. I don’t ride as much as I should, but like an endurance ride. You eat that brown rice, it hangs with you. You don’t get the spike in blood sugar. I use it a lot for, like we do gravel rides and stuff and races. And it’s a pre race meal.

Janice Person [00:20:39]:

It’s awesome, really.

Blake Gerard [00:20:41]:

Eggs and rice.

Janice Person [00:20:41]:

So many people talk about pasta and see, I love all my starches. So whether it’s whole wheat pasta or brown rice, right?

Blake Gerard [00:20:50]:

Yeah. And that’s where that Glycemic score comes kind of in play. Because it’s a longer burn instead of an instant hot fire, it’s a delayed, prolonged energy release.

Janice Person [00:21:04]:

Yeah. Which is hadn’t thought about that.

Blake Gerard [00:21:06]:

What you want?

Janice Person [00:21:07]:

Yeah. When you’re doing a race.

Blake Gerard [00:21:09]:

Yeah, right.

Janice Person [00:21:10]:

Not a sprint.

Blake Gerard [00:21:11]:


Janice Person [00:21:12]:

You want that nice kick you’re power.

Blake Gerard [00:21:13]:

Lifting or something like that. You want a fire, a hot fire. But if in an endurance event, a slow burn is what you want anyway.

Janice Person [00:21:24]:

So what are the goals with it? Where do you want to get it? You want it on the shelf at Kroger, right? On all those places, I assume.

Blake Gerard [00:21:32]:

Well, yeah. And to continue to increase our percentage, we’re not 100% of what we grow is not this high protein rice as we’re growing it. So to gradually increase the percentage of what we grow, rice that we’re actually marketing ourselves to the consumer, whether it be retail or food service.

Janice Person [00:21:54]:

Are the folks at LSU working on a follow up.

Blake Gerard [00:21:57]:

They are, yes, they sure are.

Janice Person [00:21:59]:

So what’s the next version? Because that’s the thing about plant breeding. I think a lot of people don’t realize how plant breeders are so competitive. They always want to get better and better. So are they trying to get higher on the protein levels? Are they trying to get better yields?

Blake Gerard [00:22:15]:

I think combination of the two, correct?

Janice Person [00:22:17]:


Blake Gerard [00:22:17]:


Janice Person [00:22:18]:

So what are the problems in growing rice, besides the fact that mosquitoes are the problem for me with rice? Because you got that much water just sitting there in fields, flooding. Mosquitoes used to kill me, really? When I lived in an area with a lot of rice fields. Mosquitoes like the taste of my blood, I guess. But what are the big problems for you growing rice? You talked about one of the weeds that’s like a lookalike, so it’s red rice.

Blake Gerard [00:22:45]:

Yeah. We still have done a pretty decent job of keeping once you keep it out here. Yeah, we’re really careful of what seed we bring in because that’s typically how it comes in. So that’s not really an issue here. Actually, we’re in a really good place to grow rice. Just it’s the far north. I mean, we get blast, which is a leaf disease caused by if you’re in a field surrounded by trees and the dew doesn’t burn off till, say, noon, that’s a disease that is a problem. And we get it up here just as we got to watch it and plant certain varieties. If you’ve got a susceptible variety, you need to put a fungicide on it at a certain time. But other diseases like that for folks.

Janice Person [00:23:29]:

Who haven’t ever seen how blast works, I mean, it basically just totally messes up the plant’s ability to do photosynthesis. Right. Because you have these big spots on the leaves that are burnt through kind of thing.

Blake Gerard [00:23:42]:

It does as leaf blast, but then neck blast, rotten neck blast, basically blanks the whole head. It’ll make zero. So you can have a field that was going to make 180 bushel acre. That will make 40. The leading indicator is leaf blast. And a lot of times, a lot of these fields where I get it, I don’t get it out in these fields that are wide open, you only get it in surrounded by trees and there’s no air. So it’s not like a major issue for me. I’ve just got two or three fields, but looking for problems for growing rice, we’re pretty lucky. We don’t have a whole heck of a lot of problems.

Janice Person [00:24:20]:

Hurricanes don’t come through here at harvest very often.

Blake Gerard [00:24:23]:

They sure aren’t as strong as they are in Louisiana. When the time they end up up here, they burn out a lot of energy. We’ll still get some wind and such, and then, fortunately, we get hot during the day.

Janice Person [00:24:39]:

Just like St. Louis gets 100 degrees all last week.

Blake Gerard [00:24:43]:

Yeah, exactly 98 to 100 all week, but we get 68 degrees at night, which is crucial for plant respiration. So that’s a big difference. You can look at nighttime temps up and down the delta, and we’re just darn lucky that we’ll hit 70 most nights, if not lower. So that’s a huge plus. But you asked about challenges.

Janice Person [00:25:10]:

Well, I was just wondering because it’s one of those things where it’s hard to figure out water was a problem here before, but now you change crops so that when water is a problem. Part of the thing with rice is you can get the water off of the field, too, right?

Blake Gerard [00:25:26]:

For the most part, yeah. I mean, to grow rice effectively and efficiently, you’ve got to be able to get water on and off the field when you need to. And so we are right in the middle of the river here. There’s a levee system around us, drainage district, a large drainage district around us. But I’ve built my own drainage district within the drainage district, so I’ve got levees around my own farm where I can pump water. I went to visit my friends in Louisiana that do this on a regular basis and saw how they had set up pump on, pump off system so I can put water on or off the crop and use there’s some years where we can utilize surface water. Depends on how we’re growing our rice. And water seeded rice will flood in early May.

Janice Person [00:26:18]:

And for folks that don’t know, water seeded means the water is already on the field and you go ahead and put the seed out and it’s usually by plane.

Blake Gerard [00:26:25]:


Janice Person [00:26:26]:


Blake Gerard [00:26:27]:

So a lot of our lowest wettest fields get water seeded.

Janice Person [00:26:30]:

Yeah, because you can’t drive a tractor on a really wet field. You’ll just get stuck and then the seed won’t stay where you put it. Anyway, if you’re rutting the field all up.

Blake Gerard [00:26:43]:

And then our drill seeded fields go to flood about June 1 and we’ll hold our water till about 20 August. There’s a lot of years where we can go till mid July to late July using surface water, which is awesome because it’s warm, it’s ambient temperature. And so the rice field, the way I look at it well, not the way I look at the way it is, is it’s like a living biofilter. Right. So you can pick up the mud water that’s connected to the river and it’s muddy and nasty, these ditches, and put that up in the rice field. And if you pump too long and it comes out the bottom end, it’ll come out crystal clear like this bottle of water. So all the sediment and all the stuff you pump up in the field settles out in the field. It cleans that water up, which is really cool.

Janice Person [00:27:39]:


Blake Gerard [00:27:40]:

And it’s got to be good for your soil, builds your soil. Right.

Janice Person [00:27:44]:

That’s why they say all those Iowa farms are now on land in Mississippi and.

Blake Gerard [00:27:51]:

Know all the any water that leaves our farm has to go through a structure. Right. And that helps reduce the sediment load.

Janice Person [00:27:59]:

Keep it in place.

Blake Gerard [00:28:00]:

Exactly. And it’s all the goal. I’m what, fourth generation that I’m aware of, and then hopefully there’s more dirt there and it’s better than for the next generation.

Janice Person [00:28:14]:

Right. And make it always build for the next generation.

Blake Gerard [00:28:17]:

Yeah. Make it better, I hope. That’s what I’m trying to do. I’m sure. Spending a lot of money trying to do it the right way all the time, right? Yeah.

Janice Person [00:28:26]:

So can you tell me about the processing side of things? Because we haven’t talked about that, and processing is why we have brown rice and white rice.

Blake Gerard [00:28:35]:

Yeah. So brown rice is very little processing with brown rice, like, okay, so everybody’s peeled a banana. You peel the wrapper off the banana, and that’s it. Okay. That’s exactly what brown rice is. You peel the hull off of the rice, and that’s brown rice, that’s all the processing it goes through no different than a banana.

Janice Person [00:28:59]:

Do you peel it or do you polish it off?

Blake Gerard [00:29:02]:

A rubber huller takes it off.

Janice Person [00:29:04]:


Blake Gerard [00:29:04]:

Two rubber wheels spinning different speeds and feed it through there, and it pops the hull right off.

Janice Person [00:29:09]:


Blake Gerard [00:29:10]:

It’s very hard to peel. You got to have strong fingernails. That’s all the processing for brown rice, which so it’s pretty cool. It’s a raw food, basically. White rice is different than then that goes through, I guess, polishers, and that takes the brand layer off, which is to make white rice.

Janice Person [00:29:33]:

Do you guys do that somewhat locally, or do you have somebody do that?

Blake Gerard [00:29:37]:

I’m having somebody in Missouri do that for not it’s a major capital expenditure. When we started this, it was like I’ve done that before in the seed business and put in the facility, and you’re in it. There’s no getting out of it at that point.

Janice Person [00:29:57]:

You better make sure some of those college kids want to come back starting this venture.

Blake Gerard [00:30:04]:

It’s like, we can have this done custom until there’s enough volume there to justify that investment to do it ourselves. So we’re not taking it real far and having it done. It is local.

Janice Person [00:30:21]:

And they give it back to you. Packaged goods, or do you package it somewhere else?

Blake Gerard [00:30:26]:

No, it comes back to me packaged when we were in two pound bags and 25 pound bags, both white and brown. Yeah.

Janice Person [00:30:34]:

25 pound bags. For the more food service side of things.

Blake Gerard [00:30:39]:


Janice Person [00:30:40]:

Although there’s a lot of individual I was going to say, although some of my family probably buys it, we’ve found bags. I know. I’ve bought similarly sized bags at times.

Blake Gerard [00:30:49]:

Absolutely. That’s what we do.

Janice Person [00:30:53]:

It works.

Blake Gerard [00:30:54]:

Yeah. It’s the most economic, most efficient way to eat rice. If you’re that much rice.

Janice Person [00:31:00]:

Yeah. If you’re going to keep some in the house warm almost all the. Time.

Blake Gerard [00:31:06]:

Yeah. Awesome.

Janice Person [00:31:07]:

Anything can be served over rice, is what we kind of figure.

Blake Gerard [00:31:12]:

Yeah, I agree. One of the things I really enjoy a lot just about the farming end of it, whether it’s the high protein rice or not, whatever, I really get into the production and the whole year round cycle of it and trying to do everything we can do to make it better.

Janice Person [00:31:35]:

So explain your cycle. Where do you start with yeah, let’s.

Blake Gerard [00:31:39]:

Say it starts at harvest. Really? So you harvest your crop that’s, like, in October. Yeah. September and October. Yeah. Hopefully we’re done by the middle of October with rice, and then we’ve also raised soybeans. But the new year starts with harvest. Right. It starts with how you manipulate the stubble to prepare for the next year.

Janice Person [00:31:59]:

Yeah. The rest of the plant, that’s not the rice seeds that we’re going to eat.

Blake Gerard [00:32:03]:

Right. And there’s a lot there, not only above ground, but below ground when the roots a lot, which is awesome because it does help build the soil, too.

Janice Person [00:32:15]:

It’s kind of like composting. I’ve tried to tell people, when you think about composting, a lot of people love doing that in their backyards for their garden. And what farmers are trying to do with managing all that plant matter out there is kind of like, wait, let’s get this to feed back to the soil some way. And those roots help bring the stuff down. The water filters down through the roots.

Blake Gerard [00:32:39]:

Yeah. Some of these fields are rotated with soybeans, about half, and then the other half are continuous rice. Just because they’re so low, it’s too risky. You’ll lose the soybean crop two out of three years.

Janice Person [00:32:51]:


Blake Gerard [00:32:52]:

So those are the most challenging. Typically, you got to be careful how we can prep that because you never know. The next spring, you may not be able to get on the field.

Janice Person [00:33:02]:


Blake Gerard [00:33:03]:

So it’s always still I’m still learning. And it’s never the same year after.

Janice Person [00:33:07]:

Year, 20 something years later, and you’re still learning.

Blake Gerard [00:33:10]:

Exactly. Yeah, I got to figure it out. But you never do. You think you do, and you don’t. So anyway, everything’s always different. But one of the most dependable ways that we get that stubble down on the ground, whether we lightly disc it or we roll it or we get it on the ground immediately and then flood back up. So after we’ve harvested, then we refloud. And if we can incorporate, what really works well is a light disc, and to get a little bit of soil up into that plant matter, and that will help dramatically decompose it and then put the water back on it as quick as we can. And we’ll hold that all the way till the end of February the following year.

Janice Person [00:33:52]:

That way you don’t get a bunch of weeds and grasses and stuff there.

Blake Gerard [00:33:55]:

No, that water will decompose the stubble. Like, amazing. And then, like, I say we’re right here in the flyway on the river. And so we’ve got all the ducks, lots of waterfowl ducks and geese and shorebirds and all that are flying through here all the time.

Janice Person [00:34:13]:


Blake Gerard [00:34:13]:

Yeah, they love it.

Janice Person [00:34:16]:

Don’t eat anything else.

Blake Gerard [00:34:17]:

They come across these bottoms and there’s just sheetwater everywhere, right? Man, they get in there and we haven’t hunted them now for several years, and especially the geese, because the geese are like the most amazing tillage tool I’ve ever seen in my life. They go through there and they’ll go from one corner of the field all mow it down for they’ll go for a half mile in a line like an army eating and flipping it all over and just stirring it up like a tillage tool. And when they get done and you still got the water on it, the water is up and down because we’re not pumping all the time. It’s a lot of times it’s just rainwater, right. And man, you pull the water off at the end of February, 1 March and it’s all gone, it’s ready to go. You burned it. And I think the waterfowl have a lot to do with that and I think I like providing that habitat.

Janice Person [00:35:11]:

I agree.

Blake Gerard [00:35:11]:

Pretty amazing.

Janice Person [00:35:12]:

I’ve seen amazing, huge movements of birds when you’re in rice territory and stuff, because you’ll get like these amazing murmurations and stuff where the birds are, like, dancing and all those nature videos that you like to watch on YouTube where it just seems like the birds all know something all of a sudden and they all turn the other way or something. And it’s pretty amazing to watch. I’ve stopped on the side of the highway before just to stand there and watch take.

Blake Gerard [00:35:42]:

Yeah, yeah, people do. We used to hunt through here, but we’re so close to Cape Girardo that I think it’s probably been hundreds of years of pressure. Not hundreds of years, but I don’t you those big waves of waterfowl will leave really quick right here if you fire a gun.

Janice Person [00:36:00]:

It’s amazing.

Blake Gerard [00:36:05]:

And then now they just swarm, which is pretty cool.

Janice Person [00:36:12]:

Let them swarm here instead of like my backyard.

Blake Gerard [00:36:16]:

Well, they’re doing the job.

Janice Person [00:36:18]:

Yeah, I was going to say.

Blake Gerard [00:36:20]:

And they eat like all the leftover rice. They eat it up. So for volunteers, the next year they get rid of the majority of that. Okay, so the biggest challenge okay, now.

Janice Person [00:36:30]:

You figured out the answer.

Blake Gerard [00:36:31]:

Yeah, and I was going through the whole year, wasn’t I? Sorry, you get off on a tangent. But the biggest challenge is dealing with that river by far.

Janice Person [00:36:38]:


Blake Gerard [00:36:39]:

Okay, so when that river gets up, laid up on our levee, like at the flood stage, 32ft here, and it’ll start seeping, it starts coming out of the ground. And my lowest fields at like 28ft, it’s been to 50 before. And so then the pressure is unbelievable, pushing up out of the ground when there’s water coming, like my irrigation wells, we got to cap them off because they’re shooting water out. Like, if they’re turned on, that’s what makes it really challenging.

Janice Person [00:37:03]:

Well, and that works with the cycles, too. Right. When you talk about planting versus at planting time, you’ve still got snowmelt coming from Minnesota sometimes. And the river the river does different things on levels, but in the spring, it can be pretty here.

Blake Gerard [00:37:23]:

Okay, so we’ll pull the water off in February, and then we’ll do whatever we need to do as far as manipulate soil or whatever, prepare the field to plant. And if we can catch a dry spell in March, and then we’ll start planting April 1, no matter the temperatures, whatever the calendar, it’s time to plant. And especially because here, our river won’t necessarily like that spring melt isn’t here yet. It’s coming.

Janice Person [00:37:48]:


Blake Gerard [00:37:48]:

So we might end up with a not so big river. If we can get a dry week or two, we can plant a lot here, and then the river comes up. And that’s the ideal scenario.

Janice Person [00:37:55]:

If we can get it planted, then the water comes on after you’ve got the seed out.

Blake Gerard [00:37:59]:

Yes. And we are not having to drive on it.

Janice Person [00:38:02]:


Blake Gerard [00:38:02]:

So if we can get it planted before the river comes up, that works awesome. Or at least get it totally prepared, like, get our water seeded, fields prepared, and then I’ll wait till about May 1 to plant them. But if the river is up, I don’t care. At that point, we’ve got them ready to plant. Yeah, we’ll disc them and rough them up and water seed into that. It works great. An early flood that starts in March is going to be a tough year for it’s. Going to be hard. That’s by far and away our biggest challenge. We didn’t flood at all this year. I don’t think we got over flood stage once this year, which was unheard of. Like, I can’t remember a year like that. Last year was pretty dry, but this year was really dry. It was so easy.

Janice Person [00:38:47]:

A dry year was so easy for you.

Blake Gerard [00:38:49]:

I made a plan, and you have.

Janice Person [00:38:51]:

Corn farmers and soybean farmers who are going, oh, my God, this is insane how dry it is. So it really does matter. Like, the weather really makes a big difference for one kind of farmer versus the other.

Blake Gerard [00:39:03]:

Yeah. And it’s awesome to go to different parts of the country and see how people do things. So I made my plan this year, which I always do. Right. Hopefully it goes this way. Never do you follow through with a plan A. You have to adapt because the river.

Janice Person [00:39:19]:

Not while you’re in July or we.

Blake Gerard [00:39:22]:

Followed Plan A and knocked it all out. It was unbelievable. I’ve never done that just because I’m like this. Farming is easy when it doesn’t rain.

Janice Person [00:39:29]:

Finally figured out.

Blake Gerard [00:39:33]:

It’Ll never happen again.

Janice Person [00:39:34]:

But I love it.

Blake Gerard [00:39:35]:

The big river is our number one challenge for sure. So the cycle is then we’ll plant in April or May. Cut off date of about the 20 May.

Janice Person [00:39:45]:


Blake Gerard [00:39:45]:

And then most rice goes to flood about June 1, no matter when you plant it. Because around here, you could plant April 1 or you can plant May 1. It’s all going to come up about May 5 because it doesn’t warm up enough. Right. There’s a little window in there. When it all comes up, what is.

Janice Person [00:40:02]:

The rest of the season? I mean, like, from May and June to harvest? You got a lot of time on your hands.

Blake Gerard [00:40:10]:

Oh, no, we’re killing it all day. It’s just now starting to slow down. And here we are, the end of July to get it to where it can go to flood. Now we’re starting June 1, going to flood and then trying to get it all flooded by July 1. We’ve got some zero grade fields that are flat, but with the majority of what we got are sloped fields that you got to put levees in. And so that’s a lot of work. We’ve got probably a couple of hundred levees out this year. And every one of those you have to put a tarp in, put a levee gate, and then control the water. And then when it doesn’t rain hard part about when it doesn’t rain is you’re gating nonstop. And we’re scattered from you drove by Carroll Airport. That’s our southernmost field, and we’re 25 miles from there. 20, yeah. And we’ve got fields scattered in between here and there. At Olive Branch, we’ve got farms, and then here, and then 20 miles north, we’ve got acres up there. So we’re strung out for 50 miles up and down the river here.

Janice Person [00:41:12]:

Putting water on and taking water off.

Blake Gerard [00:41:16]:

Keeping it all pumped.

Janice Person [00:41:16]:

Heck of a chore, right?

Blake Gerard [00:41:18]:

Yeah. And calling the right timing on fertility applications. And any, we’re really lucky here. Insects are not much of an issue here. Maybe we’re blessed with that. I think that’s part of the environment. Just common rice insect.

Janice Person [00:41:36]:


Blake Gerard [00:41:36]:

Rarely do we have to make an application. Water management, fertility management. I don’t know. It keeps us running, like there’s always something.

Janice Person [00:41:49]:

Yeah. Well, I love it. I really appreciate you spending this time with me. And now we’re going to go out and drive around a little bit.

Blake Gerard [00:41:56]:


Janice Person [00:41:57]:

See a little bit of rice so I can grab some video and show people what this part of the world looks like.

Blake Gerard [00:42:03]:

Okay, that sounds great.

Janice Person [00:42:05]:

Thanks so much.

Blake Gerard [00:42:06]:

Thank you.

Janice Person [00:42:07]:

After we finished that episode and we’re talking and looking around the office and headed out in the field, it’s really funny. Blake asked me, oh, should I have talked about more of the ways I enjoy rice and things we eat and stuff? And I went, no, man, we’re good. To me, this episode really does highlight some of the pieces of enjoying rice. By the way, he frequently adds fresh fruit like peaches or blueberries or something to his rice. Loves it. And it made me think about mango sticky rice in Thailand and stuff. So it’s made with that creamy texture and mango. Oh, my God. So I had to have some of that soon after. Anyway, we’ll put up the video, some photos and all. Thanks, and we’ll talk to you guys again in two weeks.

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