Kennedy Rice Dryers, LLC: Growing Louisiana's Industry and Community

Rice has long been one of the most important crops grown in the world. Rice produces more food energy per acre than any other cereal grain, and is second only to wheat in terms of proteins per acre. Rice also provides more than one fifth of the calories consumed worldwide. Elton Kennedy and his company Kennedy Rice Dryers, LLC, one of the leading firms in the South, are helping to get that product to consumers.

California, with its vast acreage, is the country’s largest rice producer, but Northeastern Louisiana, with its low-lying fields next to the Mississippi River, was proven itself ideal for producing rice as well. The state is the third-largest producer of rice in the country, and rice is an integral part of Louisiana’s culture and cuisine. The crop is the state’s second largest agricultural export, valued around $144 million in 2007 according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Rice, which is grown in irrigated fields, naturally has a high moisture content when it is harvested, typically around 20 percent, but it’s marketed at 13 percent as rice with high moisture content spoils quickly. It’s common in some Asian countries for farmers to spread their rice along a roadway to dry, but here in the United States the majority of rice is dried and milled commercially in facilities such as those of Kennedy Rice Dryers.

Long History in the Industry

The Kennedy family knows its rice. The family has been growing rice and selling it under the name Kennedy Rice Farms since the 1960s. In 1974 Elton Kennedy took the next logical step and founded what is now known as Kennedy Rice Dryers.

The company, which started with one drying facility in Mer Rouge, La., has been a great success and over the years. Elton Kennedy expanded his rice business by joinging with his longtime friend and business associate in the rice business – Frank Godchaux – when they acquired a mill in Abbeville, La. Kennedy has expanded to owning and operating five drying facilities in four different parishes [Louisiana’s version of counties] around the state. Because of the quality of the production, the rice that has been dried and milled at Kennedy Rice’s facilities bears a coveted Safe Quality Foods (SQF) certification.

Food production, which is somewhat recession-proof as people can never cut back on eating completely, has resulted in steady success for Kennedy Rice. Building on this, the company has recently embarked on another exciting expansion that is getting a lot of local press with the construction of a new mill in Mer Rouge, La.

New Mill Gives Parish New Life

The news is very welcome to the people of Morehouse Parish, as International Paper, which was previously the parish’s largest employer, closed recently, putting a large number of people out of work. Kennedy Rice's new mill, which will exceed an initial $10 million investment, is scheduled to have two shifts working, which will to create 22 direct jobs and 85 indirect jobs that will generate $3.5 million in state tax revenue and almost $1.2 million in local taxes over the next 10 years. If a third shift is added, Kennedy estimates that 30 jobs will be created.

Louisiana’s Governor, Bobby Jindal, was quoted as saying, “The new Kennedy Rice Mill is great news for Mer Rouge, Morehouse Parish and Northeast Louisiana. When International Paper closed its mill in Bastrop, La., we made a promise to work with the leaders of the impacted communities to develop a plan that would get the area back on its feet. Today's announcement is another significant step in the right direction, and we will continue to aggressively pursue more job opportunities for the people of Mer Rouge, Bastrop, Morehouse Parish and all of Louisiana.”

The new mill in Mer Rouge will play an important role in producing and maintaining products that meet and exceed the safe quality foods standards produced by the Food Marketing Institute, explains Kennedy Rice Dryers. "We will use the latest milling equipment and will include some of the most advanced technology in the industry. This addition will enable us to better serve our farmers and existing customers throughout the U.S. and reach out to new customers," states the company.

Once the mill is completed in late 2011, the mill is expected to process 30 to 40 percent of the Northeast Louisiana rice crop. Also, local farmers will be able to get better freight rates as the Kennedy Rice facility in Mer Rouge will be the only mill from the Southern Arkansas border to Interstate 10.

Community has always been an integral aspect to Kennedy Rice, which has remained a family-owned firm over the years. And the company’s future as a family-owned firm is assured for one more generation with the recent addition of Elton’s daughter Meryl Kennedy, who is excited to look toward the future. She wants to expand Kennedy’s market, which is currently bulk domestic, and start selling internationally. With a fresh young generation at the helm, Kennedy Rice Dryers, LLC and its affiliated companies are poised to reach even greater heights.