WASHINGTON, DC - The Annual USA Rice Government Affairs Conference got underway here last night following a full day of USA Rice business meetings, a welcome reception, and an event for Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS).
More than 100 rice growers and millers from all six rice states packed this morning's General Session that featured remarks from Congressman Charles Boustany (R-LA), Natural Resources Conservation Service Chief Jason Weller, and USDA Deputy Secretary for Agriculture Krysta Harden.
Boustany thanked the rice industry for support and guidance as he has become one of the industry's staunchest allies on Capitol Hill. He shared his belief that the 2014 Farm Bill needs to be kept intact and that the Obama Administration needs to do more to take on trading partners who are not in compliance with WTO obligations.
He also discussed food aid programs where he believes in kind contributions, not cash, are most appropriate.
"We were successful in defending PL 480 programs recently, but the margin of victory is getting smaller each year, so I'm going to need your help to make the case for these programs," Boustany said.
Chief Weller talked about the close relationship between USA Rice and Ducks Unlimited that is dedicated to providing flyways, food, and fiber for the nation that he called the poster child for collaboration.
"The partnership between USA Rice and Ducks Unlimited is, in my view, one of the best examples of what we need in the country going forward and I'm very proud that NRCS is a part of that," Weller said.
He also talked about much needed changes to the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) to make it a better fit for rice.
Krysta Harden, who is leaving the Obama Administration this week, was honored with the USA Rice Distinguished Leadership Award for her service to the U.S. rice industry and in her heartfelt remarks said, "I have truly enjoyed my time serving the people as the Deputy Secretary of Agriculture, we are an agency that helps people and provides service on the ground and in the field to America's farmers. There is no other industry so critical as agriculture where one to two percent of our population provides the food for the other 98 or 99 percent."
Conference attendees then fanned out across the city for meetings with lawmakers and several federal agencies including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the U.S. Trade Representative and more.
"We have a lot on our plate to discuss from trade with Cuba to illegal farmer subsidies in other countries, and from onerous EPA regulations to the grower protections in the 2014 Farm Bill that are working well, and more," said USA Rice Chairman and Arkansas rice farmer Dow Brantley. "We're ramping up for the planting season at home, but this week, Washington is the place to be to protect our interests and make the case for U.S. rice. I'm glad so many of our rice family have come to carry our message forward."