Jul 08, 2019
DALLAS, TX -- During this Fourth of July weekend, rice industry leaders celebrated not only the founding of our nation but also the 25th anniversary of the USA Rice Federation. Braving both the Texas heat and a Texas-sized thunderstorm, members and staff from across the country convened in Dallas to conduct annual business meetings and take a moment to appreciate how far the organization has come since its creation in 1994.
“For the first time in the history of the U.S. rice industry, farmers, millers, and allied businesses were coming together to take their fortunes into their own hands. They were visionaries in every sense of the word,” said USA Rice President & CEO Betsy Ward during the general session. “They saw a rapidly changing world of new markets, new trade agreements, new technologies, complex geopolitics and shifting politics here at home. They knew that in order to succeed against this evolving landscape they had to work together. And they knew they’d be stronger standing together than in their own camps.”
USA Rice Chairman Charley Mathews noted how much the world has changed since the USA Rice Council, the Rice Millers’ Association, and the U.S. Rice Producers Group decided that they could accomplish great things if they combined efforts, shared resources, and advocated for themselves as a united front.
“In 1994, a one-ton F-350 crew cab truck cost about $23,000,” said Mathews. “And there was no GPS in that truck. No drones, no precision leveling. And the first iPhone wouldn’t exist for another 13 years. So yes, a lot has changed.”
Since the historic meeting in Washington, DC, in February 1994, which laid the groundwork for what was to become USA Rice, the U.S. rice industry has witnessed international trade agreements shift, foreign markets come and go, and imports and rice pretenders become more of a threat.
But if this weekend’s meetings proved anything, it’s that the coming together of farmers, millers, and merchants has made the industry stronger than ever, balancing the unique interests of different sectors and regions while preserving the goal of unity.
“We weather these storms together, because the ship of state that you all have built is very strong, and I think together we are a great crew,” said Ward.
Many attendees at this year’s meetings were original members of the organization when it was first formed. Michael Rue, a California rice farmer who served on the inaugural USA Rice Board, spoke in recognition of USA Rice’s own COO and Vice President of Trade Policy Bob Cummings, who is slated to retire this summer after 20 years of service to the rice industry.
“Since the time he’s been with us, he’s been instrumental in every multilateral and bilateral negotiation concerning rice over these past 20 years,” said Rue, detailing Cummings’s career including prior experience at the USDA Foreign Agriculture Service and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. “His value is more than just what he does every day; it’s the history that he brings with him.”
Despite a little rain, it was a beautiful weekend to celebrate USA Rice’s silver anniversary, and to look back at all the many things its members have accomplished together over the years.