Day 3 in Istanbul, Turkey: Visiting the countryside
As we drove I noticed that the landscape was very different from California. It wasn't just the unfamiliar rolling hills, the clod-filled, worked up soils and the vegetation, but it was the number and type of homes and farms we saw along the way. We were told that there are six million people actively working in agriculture in Turkey and fully one-third of the Turkish population lives in rural areas. This is a stark contrast to the United States where five percent or less of our population live in rural areas.
After driving about three hours we arrived at the ARAL Company Rice Mill in Kesan Edirne. Aral is a major rice and pulses packer in Turkey. They have a packaging facility in Mersin and are a packer for Migros Hypermarket group. We were met by Mr Zafer Aral and Mr Ismet Aral. They are the oldest and youngest of four brothers who started this company; I thought this was a fun similarity to our family business, which was also started by four brothers.
We toured their facility, saw how they handled both U.S. and Turkey rice in their impressive facility, and then shared tea with them while we talked about their business and how they import U.S. rice.
We then headed a short distance further west into the Thrace region until we reached a village. We saw the lake they used for irrigation in the area made by damming a small local river. The rice harvest looked to be almost finished, but still busy, with only a few combines cutting in the fields. The majority of Turkish farmers have small farm sizes averaging 6.5 hectares (about 18 acres); a "big" farmer would be considered 300 hectares and there are a handful of farms with several thousand hectares. The average annual income in Turkey is the equivalent of about $12,000 in U.S. but we were told that the average for people in this village was probably around $3,000 a year. Another point I found interesting is that only 23 percent of the rice seed planted is certified which means that 77 percent is farm saved or uncertified.
We got out of the van to talk to some farmers who were working with a portable drying unit at the side of a field (we saw several of these machines being pulled behind tractors on the roads around the village). We learned that this is how most rice is handled in Turkey: the rice is harvested into transport wagons and then it is brought to an area where there is a concrete slab where the rice can be unloaded.
The portable drying unit is set up with an auger to move the rice from the edge of the slab up into the dryer. Rice is pushed on the slab to the dryer with a small tractor or men with shovels.
The rice is harvested at 21 to 22 percent moisture in the field and dried down to about 14 percent within 8 to 10 hours. These driers hold about 20 tons and the hot air is generated using coal for energy. When the rice is dry it is either unloaded into the transport wagon or onto the concrete where it will be shoveled into 50 kg bags for storage.
With our minds full of these new ideas and sights we had seen as well as an appreciation for the unique challenges of the Turkish farmer, we headed back to Kesan for a meal with our hosts before our drive back to Istanbul.
Jessica Lundberg chairs the Board of Directors of Lundberg Family Farms, the United States’ leading producer of organic rice and rice products. A member of the Lundberg family’s third generation, she also manages the seed nursery, overseeing the maintenance, purity and development of their proprietary rice varieties.
The Lundbergs have practiced sustainable farming techniques since 1937 and today the company leads the eco-positive agricultural movement with a commitment to organic production and renewable energy.
Jessica manages Lundberg Family Farms as a true family business, collaborating with her father, uncles, cousins, and siblings to reach consensus on key business decisions. A pre-med student in college, Jessica’s interest in business, ecology and agriculture inevitably drew her back to the farm, where, in addition to organic and eco-farmed rice, she cultivates the bedrock values of respecting the land, honoring tradition, and producing the highest quality products. Jessica holds a degree in Biological Sciences from California State University at Chico and a certificate in Plant Breeding from University of California at Davis. She makes her home in Chico near the family farm.