May 13, 2022
CHENEYVILLE & JENNINGS, LA; CLEVELAND, MS – Rice industry leaders gathered this week to share news, hear policy updates, and plan for the future and USA Rice staff was there.
USA Rice President & CEO Betsy Ward was traveling with her vice presidents of policy Peter Bachmann, and communications and domestic promotion Michael Klein, and with senior director of government affairs Jamison Cruce.
The first day brought the USA Rice team to the Central Louisiana Rice Growers Association (CenLARGA) meeting in Cheneyville where, surrounded by rice, crawfish, sugar cane, and majestic pecan trees, they answered questions about international scofflaw India, the upcoming Farm Bill, rice pretenders, USDA climate smart programs, and more.
Kyle Soileau, with Ducks Unlimited, updated the group on conservation programs old and new, and Mark Tall, with the Louisiana Farm Bureau, provided insights into prices, which everyone knows have been lagging behind other commodities.
CenLARGA President Michael Fruge commented that although the entire rice industry is facing many outsized challenges, he is optimistic for a decent crop in Louisiana because, among other things, the weather largely cooperated in the southwest and central region.
The next stop was Jennings for the annual meetings of the Louisiana Rice Council (LARC) and the Louisiana Rice Growers Association where farmers turned out to take part in the trade show and hear formal updates from Ward and Louisiana Commissioner of Agriculture & Forestry Dr. Mike Strain.
LARC President Eric Unkel thanked those in attendance, including event sponsors and exhibitors who make the evening possible. LARGA President Paul Johnson gaveled his meeting to order, and after having their annual minutes and financials approved, the group elected St. Martinville rice farmer Jeff Durand as LARGA At-Large Member.
While everyone in the U.S. rice industry is feeling squeezed from multiple directions, Ward explained how her group sees the challenges from their vantage point in Washington, DC.
“It’s a perfect storm of so many factors – extreme weather, lagging prices, supply chain disruptions, soaring input costs, and even war,” she said. “And India's price distorting practices have made the situation worse for rice.
She went on to discuss a few bright spots on the horizon, including increasing trade with Colombia, the scheduled lifting of rice tariffs by the UK in a few weeks, renewed interest from Cuba in purchasing U.S. rice, and the unique ability of U.S. rice to meet much needed food aid needs.
Dr. Steve Linscombe, director of The Rice Foundation, talked about the Rice Leadership Development Program, sponsored by American Commodity Company, John Deere, and RiceTec.
“The program takes four weeks over two years and I hear from young growers sometimes that they can’t afford to leave their operation for that time,” said Linscombe. “I’d say they can’t afford not to.”
The evening program concluded with Dr. Mike Strain talking about a recent legal setback that harms consumers and producers as a result of a federal court striking down the state’s Truth in Labeling law.
“I’m not done fighting this fight,” Strain said. “And you can help by looking for the ‘Certified Louisiana’ seal on your food, because there will never be fake food bearing that seal.”
He also encouraged the crowd to stay politically active, especially as we approach state and federal elections this year.
The USA Rice team then headed north to attend the annual Mississippi Rice Council meeting in Cleveland.
In addition to Ward’s report, those gathered heard updates on the looming Farm Bill from Cruce; trade challenges and opportunities from Bachmann; and international and domestic promotion programs from Klein. USA Rice’s Josh Hankins, director of grower relations & the Rice Stewardship Partnership, also gave an update on conservation dollars being deployed on the ground in Mississippi.
Bolivar County Extension Coordinator Laura Jane Giacclagia described Delta Rice promotions she has undertaken and planned for the future, and Dr. Hunter Bowman, extension rice specialist at the Delta Research & Extension Center, gave a research report.
Mississippi Rice Council President Kirk Satterfield thanked all the attendees and said, “I'm happy Betsy and her crew could come down to see us and report to us in person. It makes a huge difference to be sitting together in the same room.”