FAS Japan Visits USA Rice Members in California

Two men stand in rice mill, inspecting rice grains
Steve Vargas (left) conducts a tour of Sun Valley Rice facilities for FAS attache Zeke Spears
Dec 03, 2021
SACRAMENTO, CA – Yesterday, USA Rice members spent the day here with Zeke Spears, a foreign service officer currently stationed at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo.  As part of his role as an agricultural attaché for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS), Spears is responsible for managing a range of U.S.-Japan policy issues, including rice policy.

“While FAS personnel stationed overseas often visit with American stakeholders, it is rare that they have opportunities to visit those stakeholders on U.S. turf once they’ve relocated,” said Michael Rue, California rice grower and chair of the USA Rice Asia Trade Policy Subcommittee.  “It was important for us to sit down with Mr. Spears and educate one another on the factors impacting decisions on both sides of the Pacific.”

Spears had several meetings throughout the day with California rice growers, millers, and exporters, all with ties to the market in Japan.  Discussions revolved around the importance of the Japanese market for U.S. rice and some of the complexities of doing business there because of the challenging simultaneous-buy-sell system used for U.S. exporters to sell directly to private importers.

Spears also toured the innovative milling facility at Sun Valley Rice in Arbuckle.  Sun Valley Rice provides rice to a Japanese importer that sells U.S.-marketed Calrose rice in all of Costco Japan’s stores (see USA Rice Daily, July 9, 2020).

“We were also happy to establish a new face-to-face relationship with FAS staff,” Rue added.  “In ‘normal times’ we’d have already been to Tokyo at least once or twice and created a personal relationship, but the travel restrictions we’re dealing with have prevented that.  We’re looking forward to visiting with him in Japan sometime next year.”

Japan has long served as the top market for California rice exports and often rivals Mexico for the top U.S. rice export destination by value.