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Richard E. Bell has led Riceland Foods, Inc. to become the world's largest miller and marketer of rice, a top ten U.S. grain company and a major Mid-South soybean processor.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Riceland Foods, Inc., Stuttgart, Arkansas

Richard Bell is "the behind-the-scenes guy who makes good things happen for Riceland Foods."

Richard E. Bell has led Riceland Foods, Inc. to become the world's largest miller and marketer of rice, a top ten U.S. grain company and a major Mid-South soybean processor. He has stood at the forefront of many issues important to Arkansas' large agricultural community. Bell's 25 years of service to Riceland, coupled with his public service in the U.S. Department of Agriculture, has enabled him to play a key role in shaping the agricultural and trade policies of Arkansas and the United States. A July 2001 Arkansas Democrat Gazette feature described him as "the behind-the-scenes guy who makes good things happen for Riceland Foods."

Bell was born on Jan. 7, 1934, in Clinton, Ill. He attended Wapella High School. His father raised corn, soybeans and cattle. Bell was active in the Future Farmers of America. He received a bachelor's of science degree with honors and a master's of science degree in agricultural economics from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. His interest in international affairs began when he spent a summer in college on an exchange program in Ecuador.

After he joined the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in 1959, he served in the Foreign Agricultural Service and the Economic Research Service where he was an agricultural attache at the American Embassies in Ottawa, Canada; Brussels, Belgium; and Dublin, Ireland.

While working in Washington for the USDA, he met Maria Christina (Chris) Mendoza of Alexandria, Va., and the couple married in 1960. They have two sons, David Lloyd Bell, who lives in Little Rock and works at ALLTEL; and Stephen Richard Bell, who is executive vice president of the Stuttgart Chamber of Commerce.

In 1968, he became the chief for foreign marketing for the grain division of the Foreign Agriculture Service and served as director of the grain division from 1970-73. He was brought into the Nixon Administration to work on Russian affairs after relations were reopened with the Soviets. Then Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz asked Bell to exchange his civil service and foreign service status for a political appointment. He was deputy assistant secretary and then assistant secretary of agriculture in the USDA International Affairs and Commodity Operations from 1973-1977. In 1975, he received the USDA's Distinguished Service Award for his work in international trade. He also served as president of the USDA's Commodity Credit Corporation and as chairman of the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation.

During this time, Bell served as a principal negotiator in the development of the first long-term grain agreement with the former Soviet Union. He also monitored trading between Canada and the Soviet Union, when he worked in the American Embassy in Ottawa.

In 1977, Arkansas Senator John McClellan suggested that he talk with the people at Riceland. Bell told the Arkansas Democrat Gazette some years later, "When I came here (Arkansas), I thought to myself, wow, this has potential. This is not what I expected." At the time, he did not see rice as a very progressive business, but was drawn to Arkansas because of the soybean processing. Today, 75 percent of Riceland's rice commerce is domestic as rice has become a prominent part of the American diet. Bell joined Riceland in 1977 as executive vice president.

In 1921, a group of Arkansas farmers banded together to market their crops, creating the farmer-owned cooperative now known as Riceland Foods. Riceland provides marketing services for rice, soybeans, wheat and feed-grains grown by its 9,000 farmer-members in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Texas. Riceland distributes its products in more than 50 countries in North America, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, Africa and Asia. In addition, Riceland is recognized as one of the nation's seven grain storage companies. Riceland has approximately 1,800 employees who received, stored, transported and marketed more than 130 million bushels of grain in 2001-2002.

In 1991, Riceland opened its new state-of-the-art Research and Technical Center to support its continued position as the premier supplier of rice, edible oil and lecithin products. When the Center opened, Bell told The Stuttgart Daily Leader, "New products must be found for rice as well as soybeans and other crops grown in this region. This Center is dedicated to that job." The facility also expanded technical services to customers.

Under Bell's leadership, Riceland landed for the first time on Fortune magazine's listing of the 500 largest U.S. industrial corporations in, entering the list for 1985 at No. 442.

At Riceland's 82nd annual meeting in November 2002, Bell reported income, before distribution to patrons, of $426.3 million for the fiscal year, ended July 31, 2002, a $22.6 million increase over the previous year and sales and revenues of $749.8 million, an increase of $2.7 million over the last year.

A strong proponent of trade with Cuba, Bell and his staff negotiated a contract with representatives of the agency responsible for importing rice and other food products into the island. In November 2001, Riceland became the first U.S. company to sell rice to Cuba since the embargo began over 40 years ago. More than 70,000 tons of U.S. rice have been sold to Cuba in the current year, with Riceland supplying about a third.

In October 2002, after years of negotiations, Bell announced that Riceland had made the first rice sale to a company in Iran since 1995. According to the U.S. State Department, 142 licenses have been issued this year to do business with Iran. U.S. Representative Marion Berry of Gillet, Ark., said in an Arkansas Democrat Gazette article, "When you have commerce with people and a country, you're a lot less likely to go to war with them."

Bell is chairman of the board of trustees of Arkansas State University. He currently serves on the board of directors of the Stuttgart Regional Medical Center and as a trustee of the Stuttgart Agricultural Museum. He was recently elected to the board of Easter Seals Arkansas. He is a member of the Chicago Board of Trade and serves on the international trade policy committee of the National Oilseed Processors. He was awarded the FFA State Farmer Degree by the State of Illinois and, in 1993, the Honorary American FFA Degree. In the past, Bell has served on numerous other boards and committees, including the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, GTE Southwest Inc., First Commercial Corp., and the St. Louis Bank for Cooperatives.

Milo J. Shult, vice president for Agriculture, University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture, said, "Dick Bell has had a long and illustrious career in both the public and private sector. As CEO of Riceland Foods, one of the nation's top food companies and the nation's largest rice company, he is truly a leader in Arkansas business."
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Publication:Arkansas Business
Article Type:Biography
Geographic Code:1U7AR
Date:Jan 20, 2003
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