Meryl Kennedy

"More women are in the industry than you'd realize, but it's still a male dominated world. I think I might add a little spunk to the mix!"

AGE: 24
HOMETOWN: Mer Rouge, LA
CROPS: Rice, Soybeans
FARM LOCATION: Mer Rouge, LA
NAME OF BUSINESS: Kennedy Rice


FAVORITES:

  • Music: I like techno music — it is my favorite. But I also listen to country and the Rolling Stones are my favorite of all time!
  • Food: Frozen yogurt plain (tart) with honey, the soft serve kind, but any brand.
  • Drinks:  I’m a coffee lover — and after dinner is the best time for it. Love sweet tea and red wine.
  • Blue Jeans: 7 Jeans.
  • Thing to do AFTER work: Sit outside on my porch, just look outside and enjoy the view, unwinding. Sometimes I run after work to relieve stress.
  • Movie Stars:  Jack Nicholson, Catherine Zeta-Jones.
  • Mantra: Namaste...

How did you get into farming?

My degree is in International Affairs at University of Georgia, and I was going to grad school for Latin American Studies at Oxford in England, and my father told me that he wouldn’t pay for it unless I worked for him for a summer. I did and I ended up loving it so much that I have stayed here ever since.

What do you think a big MISCONCEPTION is about farming?

I don’t think that people realize what it takes to put a food product on the shelf. They don’t realize how many steps it takes to get from the farmer to the elevator to the mills to the retailers — there are lots of steps, a chain process. Also, growing food, producing it, and then making it into an edible commodity is very expensive! I feel that people just don’t fully realize how involved it all is and may take for granted that they can just go to the grocery store and find everything there.

What's your relationship status?

Engaged to be married spring ‘13.

Do you have children?

Not yet.

What is your attitude about money?

Personally speaking, it’s nice to have, but it doesn’t bring happiness. From a business perspective, I think because we come from a farming background, it’s especially important to us that our farmers make a profit but also while we can continue to do what we do and keep our business going.

Where is the farthest you have traveled? Where would you like to go?

Capetown, South Africa — safari and sightseeing. A friend of my father’s was a safari guide and so we toured Tanzania, Zimbabwe. It was incredible. I would like to go to Thailand, Vietnam and India because they’re rice growing countries and most agriculture there is still by hand, so I’d really like to see that!

If you could meet a few famous people, dead or alive, who would they be?

Jackie Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe. I love that era — my favorite era.

TELL US ABOUT A DAY at the office:

I arrive at the office by 8 a.m., checking my emails for few hours. My days change often, because I do sales & marketing for ‘clean’ products. On behalf of the mill, I spend a lot of time discussing pricing on the commodities. I also do the PR work, personal relations with different companies, and I spend time traveling on business and developing our relationships, because we sell clean rice all over the US and also all over the world. So we travel to our domestic customers. Also, we sell second heads, which are the large "brokens" which go for rice flour. Over half a kernel. Anything below that is a ‘brewer.’ So I sell those and brewers — small broken pieces, which go for pet food and beer, which is how it got its name.

What makes you HAPPY in a day?

When I make a big sale! We have a lot of fun in the office. I work with my dad, and we have a lot of fun together. When we make a ‘sale’ together, it just tends to be a really good moment that we share. When we finalize something.

What makes you FRUSTRATED in a day at the office?

No ink pens, I can never find my pen! (Laughs). Miscommunication between employees frustrates me a lot. I have to sort it out and it can be very challenging, dealing with lots of different personalities.

What's the BEST part of a day?

There’s a lady that cooks here everyday, she cooks southern soul food and we all get together and socialize — it’s probably the best part of the day. That’s at least one constant in the day of my life.

What's the WORST part of a day?

The 3 p.m. drag ... everyone gets tired and ready to call it a day. But it all depends on if I’m selling something or not, and how that is going!

Do you wear sunscreen?

Is selling the product stressful?

We’ve developed strong relationships with our other mills in Southern Louisiana, and we’ve been able to maintain those great relationships over time. But if I’m in a time crunch or if the price of ‘rough’ rice doesn’t leave much margin on the ‘clean’ rice side, it can be stressful because you’re having to negotiate with your farmers based on what you can get for your ‘clean’ product.

Do you sell rice in advance?

Yes, normally we don’t sell more than 2 months in advance. We’ll negotiate a price with a customer based on what we think we can buy from the farmers. Then we’ll go out into the market and buy grain from the farmer that relates directly to the price. During the harvest we’re buying a lot of grain at market value that we won’t sell until spring time. So we do have some risk that you might not get the right price or you might bump the price up (with the farmers) in the process. So if you’re buying 100,000 of cwt ("hundredweight", a unit of mass), you can run up the price really fast. Because they know you’re buying - but everyone has to come out ahead. The farmers have to get the price that they want, because they are our customers just like the others. You’re dealing with both the farmer customers and the buyers on the opposite side, so you have to make it work for everyone and still be worthwhile.

What was the HARDEST part getting started?

Being in a sink-or-swim situation. My father had just had surgery so I was making phone calls on his behalf. During that time, I lived with him for 3 months. At 5 a.m. he’d knock on my door to help him do some things for work, and I would and then we’d discuss and work on things all through the day — late, until 8 or 9.

Any other difficulties?

Outside of having no business degree and being inexperienced in rice, when I started I had age discrimination because I was 21 at the time. People tended to know that I was lacking experience because I was new to the industry, plus I was young as well. But I had a lot of great people that helped me through that. I had a lot of great people who supported me throughout that process.

Is it difficult being a female in this industry?

I think being in agriculture and farming is already difficult – period. You have to worry about weather and things out of your control, but I think that my age has been more difficult than being a woman, to be honest with you. More women are in the industry than you’d realize, but it’s still a male dominated world. Sometimes it could be a help to be a woman! Honestly I don’t think it gives me any advantage, but it’s not hindering me at all either. I think I might add a little spunk to the mix!

What SURPRISED you about farming?

The value of relationships. The rice industry is extremely small compared to the other commodities, and there are long-term relationships (in this industry) that have lasted generations. Once you have those relationships, you work to keep them everyday because they are a very vital part of our business. The same goes with our farmer relationships — our farming customers have been with us for several generations.

What do you LOVE about it?

Working with my father. That’s the best thing about my job. But I do like to travel, and I travel a lot. I also love the peacefulness of the small town here and that most of our employees have been here for a long time — some up to 30 years.

Any lessons learned?

A lot of business is communication, and sometimes things may not be what it first may seem. One party might be telling you one thing while someone is telling you something else. So, I’ve learned to make sure I understand the full picture before I jump to any conclusions and act on something. I’ve learned to pay attention sometimes to what is ‘not’ being said.

Do you have any advice to share with fellow farmers?

Farming is a way of life and to be proud of what you’re creating, preserving.

What would you like those who have never farmed to know?

I’d like them to know how sophisticated farming has become today and the monetary investment that it takes to farm. Also, that farmers are the first step of the supply chain. Every product that they buy on the shelf at the grocery store is because of the farmers. It ALL happens because of the farmers… and again, the level of sophistication that farming has come to now. Most of our farmers are trading at the board, pricing their commodities ahead of time, hedging – these are very sophisticated farmers. Most are educated and very smart.

Anything to say to those who aren’t farmers?

To support the farming industry as a whole. It is wonderful to continue to support the local farmers through farmer markets, but it’s also important to recognize that the larger farmers who are farming soy and corn and cotton and rice are also to be supported. These are the people that will feed the world population as we continue to grow. A lot of people are against GMO’s and different crop varieties, but they may have a misconception of what a GMO is in some instances. Because it is not always a bad thing. Some have said that by 2025, if we don’t continue to increase our yields grown and on a smaller acreage, then we won’t keep up with the growth of the population. And as more people get into the middle class, more people tend to eat beef, cattle, meats – all of those meats feed on corn, soy, even rice in some instances. So this is all interconnected and essential. So please continue to support the larger farmers as well as the local farmers near you. To feed the world as it continues to grow, you HAVE to grow large acreage.

What do you think about organic?

I think it is wonderful and I support it. I know some people think being organic is essential or they won’t support the farmers, but they need to know that in many instances it is impossible to be organic. With the changing weather patterns and how that creates problems in the field, plus real financial and monetary challenges that farmers face, it’s impossible to be completely organic. It just won’t compute with the conditions larger farmers face.

Where do you think you'll be in 5 or 10 years?

I will probably be here, continuing to grow our business. And hopefully growing a family!

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