Annual Meetings in Louisiana Bring Rain and USA Rice Representatives

Woman and man seated at speakers
Betsy Ward and Mike Strain
Feb 11, 2020
JENNINGS, LA – Despite heavy rain the night before and off and on all day, more than 200 rice industry members gathered here yesterday for the annual meetings of the Louisiana Rice Council (LARC) and the Louisiana Rice Growers Association (LARGA), and to hear reports on how rice check-off dollars are being spent, updates from Baton Rouge, and about the Start with Rice advertising campaign that is part of the Certified Louisiana programs.
The meeting opened with the powerful Future Farmers of America creed delivered by Thomas Knight, a student at Jennings High School, before moving into the business portion of the meetings.

Louisiana Rice Council (LARC) President Eric Unkel explained the history and purpose of promotion spending on rice and thanked the event sponsors and exhibitors who make the event possible.  Louisiana Rice Growers Association (LARGA) President Paul Johnson gaveled his meeting to order, and after having their financials approved, the group elected St. Martinville rice farmer Jeff Durand as LARGA At-Large Member.
USA Rice President & CEO Betsy Ward explained how Louisiana’s volunteer rice leaders fit into the structure of USA Rice and add to the umbrella organization’s successes.  Then she shared highlights of those successes, from the outstanding working relationship USA Rice has with Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue to the inclusion of rice in President Trump’s efforts to help farmers hurt by the Administration’s many trade wars; and from the $18 million in conservation support available for Louisiana farmers to the launching of the Rice Caucus in Washington, DC, that will help keep rice issues front and center and includes most members of the Louisiana Congressional delegation.

Ward then talked about key international markets and what developments there mean for U.S. rice.  From the UK, where retaliatory tariffs made imports of U.S. rice fall off a cliff last year, to the new and evolving trade deal with China that could prove very advantageous to the U.S. rice industry.  She also touched on trade with Colombia, Haiti, Iraq, Mexico, and Central America, as well as developments in U.S. food aid where rice is a major player.

Special guest speaker Mark Williams of M H Williams Company explained the history of category marketing programs such as the well-known Milk Mustache and “The Other White Meat” campaigns, both of which he was involved with, and then provided a breakdown of how the Louisiana rice category marketing campaign, “Start with Rice” is performing.

“After two years in the marketplace, our combination of outdoor advertising, radio, and some digital, I can tell you the program is performing exactly as we thought it would,” Williams said. ”The Louisiana Rice Promotion Board and the Division of Agriculture and Forestry have made a wise investment and we are seeing a statistically significant increase in consumers’ stated intent to purchase rice more frequently.”

Following dinner, Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry Commissioner Dr. Mike Strain, an influential advocate for the rice industry, spoke passionately about the importance of encouraging consumers to buy local – including Louisiana rice.  Strain was recently elected for a fourth term as the state’s ag commissioner.  He is frequently called upon by the Trump Administration to weigh in on agriculture issues, and stressed his insistence that rice be included in any new trade deals.  In closing, Strain thanked Louisiana rice leaders for their volunteer service.
The evening program concluded with a presentation from USA Rice Vice President of Domestic Promotion Michael Klein who shared highlights from several programs, including nutrition research efforts, the 2019 Foodservice Farm & Mill tour, and the successful second installment of the Think Rice Road Trip.  Klein also discussed post tour successes for both the foodservice and the truck tour, including restaurants adding U.S.-rice to menus, and the expansion of a consumer newsletter based on data collected during the road trip.