• Rice and More than 100 Others Go “On the Record” for Ag Trade with Cuba

    by Katie Maher | Jan 13, 2017
    GA-cubaWASHINGTON, D.C. – Yesterday, USA Rice, along with more than 100 state and national agriculture-related organizations and agribusinesses sent a letter to President-elect Trump and his team asking his administration to prioritize the removal of private financing and trade barriers for agricultural commodities and equipment.

    “With less than one week until the Trump administration takes the reins, it’s important that the agricultural community voices its support for policies that will allow us to sell our crops and products in a free and open market,” said Ben Mosely, vice president of government affairs for USA Rice.

    Mosely added, “Trade with Cuba is not just a priority for U.S. rice but the dozens of other organizations and businesses that represent nearly every sector of our vital industry that signed-on in support of reduced trade and financing barriers for agricultural commodities.”

    While the needed fixes fall under the jurisdiction of Congress, the letter asks the administration to consider “progress made in normalizing relations with Cuba, and also solicit [the administration’s] support for the agricultural business sector to expand trade with Cuba to help American farmers and our associated industries.”

    The groups highlighted the fall of the U.S. as Cuba’s go-to for food, “the U.S. has fallen from its position as the number one supplier of agricultural products from 2003 to 2012, to now the number five supplier after the European Union, Brazil, Argentina, and Vietnam. The U.S. needs to be number one again. Especially given many of Cuba’s imports, including rice, poultry, dairy, soy, wheat, and corn make up more than 70 percent of what they import and they’re all grown right here in the U.S. by hardworking American farmers.”

    The letter was organized in part by USA Rice and the dozens of state agriculture organizations and businesses that make up Engage Cuba’s state councils for Cuba.
  • Castro’s Death, Trump’s Ascension Muddy the Waters for Access to Cuban Rice Market

    by Deborah Willenborg | Nov 28, 2016
    No mixed signals here - Castro loved U.S. rice
    ARLINGTON, VA -- On Friday, longtime Cuban leader Fidel Castro passed away at the age of 90 after governing the island for nearly 50 years before his brother, Raúl, officially took the reins in 2008.

    Many are wondering what this means for U.S.-Cuba relations moving forward and whether longtime hold-outs in Congress will begin to slowly budge.

    Ernesto Baron, a regional consultant for USA Rice, said, “We may see some tempering of the ‘not-while-Castro-is-alive’ hardliners in Congress which would potentially allow for a path forward.  At the end of the day, Raúl is still a Castro and he’s been in power for the last decade so short-term change within Cuba is unlikely.”

    Baron also raised the issue of the incoming Trump administration, whose position and direction of action have yet to be confirmed.  The President-elect has named Mauricio Claver-Carone, a vocal pro-embargo lobbyist, to work on the transition team tasked with the selection of high profile positions within the U.S. Department of the Treasury that has jurisdiction over trade with Cuba.  Claver-Carone recently rescinded his lobbying registration for the Cuba Democracy Advocates after being named to the transition team.

    Ben Mosely, USA Rice vice president of government affairs, said, “If Claver-Carone’s appointment to the Treasury Department’s transition is any indication of the direction the Trump administration is headed, we’re going to have our work cut out for us to maintain the positive actions in Cuba taken under the Obama Administration and to persuade Congress to remove the financing barriers for products like U.S.-grown rice.”

    Mosely added, “As the Cabinet is named and appointees start to come into place over the next several weeks we’ll have a better idea of what direction the next administration is headed with regard to the U.S.-Cuba relationship.”
  • USA Rice Once Again Participates in the Havana International Fair (FIHAV)

    by Katie Maher | Nov 04, 2016
    It's good to be back in Havana
    HAVANA, CUBA – This week, USA Rice exhibited at the 34th annual Havana International Fair (FIHAV).  The USA Rice delegation was led by Ernesto Baron and Ana Vettorazzi, USA Rice representatives for the region, and Dr. Michael (MO) Way from Texas A&M.  In addition to meeting with several hundred attendees, USA Rice also held meetings with delegates from ALIMPORT (the Cuban Import Company), the National Institute of Agricultural Sciences, and from Grupo Empresarial Agricola-GAD (Agriculture Enterprise Group).

    ALIMPORT informed USA Rice that they have always had a good impression of U.S. origin rice quality and would like to once again be able to import from the United States, but that the main barrier to trade remains the lack of ability to negotiate credit terms/financing with U.S. companies.  Currently Cuba imports around 80 percent of their rice from Vietnam, Brazil, and Uruguay.  These purchases enjoy 100 percent credit with terms averaging 120-180 days.

    National Institute of Agricultural Sciences representatives discussed current rice production challenges in Cuba and opportunities, and said they are looking forward to developing research and educational programs with U.S. research institutions for the benefit of rice industries in both countries.  Top among the research opportunities they identified were chemical and biological pest/disease management practices and water use.

    “We are excited to be a part of the positive steps between Cuba and the U.S.,” said USA Rice President & CEO Betsy Ward.  “We look forward to working with our colleagues Ambassador Cabañas Rodríguez and Minister Counselor Ruben Ramos Arrieta at the Cuban Embassy to continue to develop our positive trade relationship.”
  • Cigars, Rum, and Tractors but Why Not Rice?

    by Michael Klein | Oct 17, 2016
    Sorry, Rice, you aren't on the list.
    Sorry, rice, you are't on the list

    Last week the Obama Administration announced a number of new directives that will bolster trade between the United States and Cuba, and while one is particularly welcome, others point to the continued exclusion of rice – a potentially top export to the island if only remaining hurdles can be cleared.

    On the positive side, trade vessels will now be permitted to return to the U.S. in fewer than 180 days after loading or unloading freight at Cuban ports. Previously, vessels would be required to stay at sea for a minimum of six months after stopping in Cuba.  This rule that discouraged trade and added logistical complexity for the maritime industry is now history.

    Another adjustment to regulations clears the way for agricultural items such as pesticides and tractors to be exported to Cuba without being paid for cash in advance or through third-country financial institutions.  While expensive high tech farming equipment may be out of reach for much of Cuba at the moment, the ability to import sophisticated agricultural technology produced in the U.S. will help to strengthen Cuba’s own agriculture industry moving forward.

    The change does not apply to commodities such as rice.

    “While we think the Administration’s tweaks to Cuba-related regulations are a sign of goodwill, U.S. agriculture has been excluded again and we just became the most disadvantaged industry in this situation,” said Ben Mosely, vice president of government affairs for USA Rice.  “This move further solidifies how singled out U.S. farmers are within the Cuba discussion; we can now buy their prized exports like rum and cigars but they can’t buy our crops? It’s up to Congress to act this year to level the playing field for U.S. ag, giving us the same ability to extend credit that other products now have.”

  • Rice Spotlighted in House Ag Hearing on Trade with Cuba

    by Colleen Klem | Sep 14, 2016
    Mark Isbell

    WASHINGTON, DC – This morning, the House Committee on Agriculture held a hearing to examine American Agricultural Trade with Cuba and hear testimony from a variety of industry-related witnesses.

    The hearing has been on USA Rice’s “wish list” for a number of months and provided a forum for witnesses from the credit, economics, exporting, and farming sectors to share positive aspects of opening agricultural trade with Cuba along with a perspective from the movement’s opposition. Witnesses providing oral testimony before the Committee included: Matt Gibson, Bunge North America; Karen Lowe, CoBank ACB; Dr. Luis Ribera, Texas A&M Department of Ag Economics; Mauricio Claver-Carone, Cuba Democracy Advocates; and Mark Isbell, USA Rice.

    Isbell traveled to Washington to represent USA Rice as a fourth generation Arkansas rice farmer, Rice Leadership Program graduate, and staunch advocate for removing barriers for agricultural trade and financing with Cuba.

    In his oral remarks, Isbell made it clear to the Members of the Committee that he left his operation mid-harvest to provide his testimony to them because of the gravity of the market situation:  “Cubans will buy our rice.  However, as a cash-deficient economy, the Cubans need flexibility in attaining credit to purchase our products; globally, everyone has offered it to them except for the U.S.  The question is not if Cuba will buy American rice, or even how they will buy American rice.  The question is when we as a country will let them,” he said.

    Isbell was not done yet, he indicated that the ball is in Congress’ court and it was their turn to make the next play which could be done through the passage of Congressman Rick Crawford’s (R-AR) bill, H.R. 3687, the Cuba Agricultural Exports Act.  He described the legislation as, “an attainable path forward towards a natural lifting of U.S. commodity prices, and could be the beginning of the end of a multi-generational feud that hindsight has proven ineffective in helping the Cuban people and harmful to our farm economies.”

    A bipartisan swath of Committee Members currently supports the Cuba Agricultural Exports Act that would remove the restrictions on U.S. businesses from providing private financing for agricultural exports to Cuba.

    Proponents of the Act are now advocating for its attachment to legislation that has the potential to be passed before Congress leaves session for the year in December. There’s a possibility that the bill’s underlying language will be included in some form of continuing resolution or omnibus funding legislation moved before the end of September or during a lame duck session. 

    To watch the archived webcast of the hearing, click here.

  • Vilsack Announces USDA Post Added in Havana

    by Colleen Klem | Jul 18, 2016
    Welcome to the neighborhood

    DES MOINES, IA -- On Saturday, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced during the National Governors Association Summer Meeting here that USDA would officially be sending a temporary detail to Havana, Cuba, later this year.

    USDA's announcement came following $1.5 million in funding for such a position included in the Senate's Fiscal Year 2017 agriculture funding bill.  The position, part of USDA's Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS), would be the first step to providing U.S. agricultural interests with real-time logistics of the Cuban agriculture industry.

    USA Rice and 65 other agricultural organizations and businesses sent a letter to Congress on April 8 calling for increased funding specifically to accommodate the USDA personnel in Cuba.  The letter emphasized the importance of having staff in country, saying, "...funding these USDA positions in Cuba in anticipation of an eventual lifting of the embargo will help to make the transition process run more efficiently, assist U.S. agribusinesses to regain the role as Cuba's top exporter, and advance U.S. agricultural interests."
  • First Anniversary of Reestablished Relations with Cuba

    by Deborah Willenborg | Jul 08, 2016
    Cuban Ambassador Cabanas is
    at the center of the celebration
    1st-Anniversary-of-Reestablished-Relations-with-Cuba, embassy party
    WASHINGTON, DC -- Yesterday, USA Rice staff attended a reception at the Embassy of the Republic of Cuba here to commemorate the first anniversary of reestablishing diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States.  

    "We always enjoy the Cuban hospitality and the opportunity to talk with our friends and colleagues at the Embassy," said USA Rice Director of International Promotion Sarah Moran.  

    “As our two countries develop closer ties, USA Rice continues to advocate to end the embargo and push for finance credit so that Cuba can be a viable trading partner.  A lot of progress has been made over the past year but there is still a long way to go,” Moran added.  “We know some naysayers in the ag community don’t support these efforts, however, USA Rice believes that when this huge market finally does open, those with good, long-standing relationships with Cuba will benefit.”
  • Rice Industry Cautiously Optimistic for Removal of Ag Financing Barriers with Cuba

    by Deborah Willenborg | Jul 07, 2016
    Rep. Rick Crawford (R-AR)
    WASHINGTON, DC – In a swarm of legislative activity by Congress over the past three days, Rep. Rick Crawford (R-AR) last night withdrew his amendment to the House’s FY 2017 Financial Services Appropriations Bill that would have removed the restrictions on private financing by U.S. businesses for the sale of agricultural products to Cuba.  Crawford’s effort to improve the underlying legislation had gained significant bipartisan support amongst several Members of Congress over the last two weeks since the amendment was first introduced.

    Crawford said, “This week, I sought to pass an amendment to appropriations legislation that would have opened the Cuban market to our agriculture producers.  However, instead of taking the appropriations route, which would only be in effect for one fiscal year, I received a strong commitment from House leadership that we will pursue a long-term solution that will open up agriculture trade permanently.”

    “This path forward is a major victory for American producers, particularly our rice farmers, who wish to sell their commodities into the island nation’s market, which is estimated to be worth in excess of $1 billion annually," added Crawford.

    “We worked alongside the staff of Congressman Crawford and others in the agriculture sector who are supportive of ending this outdated policy to advance this amendment and we managed to gain more support,” said USA Rice Vice President of Government Affairs Ben Mosely.  “Obviously Congressman Crawford isn’t the only legislator that wants to be on the right side of history.  The vote was going to be close and the Congressman made the decision to pull back his amendment in return for commitments from opposition and House leadership that leaves us optimistic that the barriers will be addressed this year.”

    Mosely continued, “Speaking on behalf of USA Rice and agriculture as a whole, we’re grateful for the work that Congressman Crawford continues to do to support our industry.  USA Rice will continue to work towards a permanent, long-term solution to address private financing of commodities sold to Cuba so we can be on a level playing field with all the other U.S. industries doing business there.”
  • USA Rice Relationship with Cuba Deepens

    by Deborah Willenborg | Jun 23, 2016
    From left: Ruben Ramos Arrieta,
    Alina John Mayo, and Ward
    Betsy Ward meets with Cuba-Ministers-Ruben-Arrieta-&-Alina-Mayo
    ARLINGTON, VA – This morning, the minister counselor for the Cuban Embassy’s Economic and Trade Office in Washington, DC, Rubén Ramos Arrieta met with USA Rice staff to discuss details of the growing partnership between the U.S. rice industry and Cuba.

    USA Rice, the Cuban Embassy, and the Cuban Ministry of Agriculture are developing a detailed plan for regular technical exchanges between the U.S. and Cuba to address rice growing, processing capacity, and infrastructure in Cuba and the U.S.

    During the meeting Ramos Arrieta said, “I have been able to see the shift in Members of Congress over the last few months from not supporting our efforts to supporting and it’s because of the work you [USA Rice] are doing here in Washington.”

    USA Rice President & CEO Betsy Ward said she’s “looking forward to continuing to grow this productive relationship both here in Washington with the Embassy and on-the-ground in Cuba during our future technical exchanges.  I think the leg work we’re doing now is going to pay off tenfold when the embargo is lifted and we are able to very quickly gain market share through our relationships built in advance and the open lines of communications between our industry and Cuba.”

    Efforts to normalize trade with Cuba were thwarted this week by political gridlock in Congress that derailed a crucial vote on pro-Cuba amendments that would have removed financing and trade restrictions for agricultural commodities as well as withdrawn the travel ban.  The House will likely consider the legislation following their return to session after the Fourth of July holiday.
  • Past USA Rice Chairman Highlights Rice’s Role in Cuba

    by Deborah Willenborg | Jun 22, 2016
    Jamie Warshaw
    NEW ORLEANS, LA – The Louisiana Álliance for Cuba met here today for the “Doing Business in Cuba Summit” where Farmers Rice Milling Company CEO Jamie Warshaw shared the rice industry’s perspective.

    The Louisiana Álliance for Cuba is a consortium of Louisianans seeking to foster partnership with Cuba.  Its focus is to promote education, entrepreneurship, business, and social development opportunities between Cuba and Louisiana.  Today’s Summit brought together companies from across the state with interest in doing business in Cuba from the agriculture, commodities and mining, culture, food and entertainment, and healthcare/biomedical research industries.

    Warshaw spoke on a panel specific to opportunities in Cuba pertaining to the agriculture sector led by Louisiana Commissioner of Agriculture and champion to the rice industry Mike Strain.

    Making clear that U.S. taxpayers are not on the hook for the legislative changes requested by the agriculture industry, Warshaw said, “The U.S. government will not be extending credit to Cuba.  The legislation our industry supports is being debated today in Washington and would provide financial institutions the ability to extend private credit to Cuba if they so choose, enabling all agricultural businesses to export their products to the country as a free and open market.”

    Warshaw added, “This is a big deal for U.S.-grown rice.  Cuba imports the bulk of the rice they consume and we’re losing out to Vietnam and other competitors by restricting ourselves.  Focus is needed on the economic value that Cuba provides not only as an export destination but as a two-way trading partner and we need Congress to weigh-in and support these changes through passage of legislation.”

    The Louisiana Álliance for Cuba is just one part of the broad effort by USA Rice to normalize trade with Cuba on both the grassroots and the national level.

  • Texas Rice Industry Steps Up to Pressure Congress on Cuba

    by Deborah Willenborg | Jun 17, 2016
    Keith Gray
    AUSTIN, TX – Yesterday, Washington, DC-based Engage Cuba, an advocacy group dedicated to ending the travel and trade embargo of Cuba, launched their eighth State Council for Cuba here with an impressive list of 40 business leaders from a wide array of industries and sectors around the state.

    The State Council will assist in building statewide support for Congressional action on Cuba, including lifting trade restrictions on agricultural products, allowing for the extension of U.S. credit, and the liberalization of travel.

    The rice industry is well-represented on the Texas State Council for Cuba similar to the state councils launched in Arkansas and Louisiana with seven members of the Texas Rice Producers Legislative Group and USA Rice leadership.  Rice-industry members of the State Council include: Daniel Berglund, Keith Gray, Brian Ottis, Dick Ottis, Joe Outlaw, L.G. Raun, and Linda Raun.

    Keith Gray with American Rice, Inc., a subsidiary of Riviana Foods and a member of several USA Rice boards and committees, said, “It’s really exciting to be a part of this historic movement and to be one of the 40 founding members of this State Council, leading the charge for lifting the Cuban embargo.”

    Gray continued, “Access to the Cuban market would surely benefit my business, but more importantly the businesses of the hundreds of rice and other crop farmers that we work with to purchase grains.  Rice is happy to carry the flag on this issue but we’ve learned it’s going to take a collective effort amongst agriculture and the broader coalition of industries and businesses to make it a reality.  The Cuban people have made it clear that they have a preference for U.S.-grown long grain rice and the Texas rice industry is looking forward to using our logistical, economical, and grain quality advantages to help feed their country.”

    Texas is geographically and economically positioned to provide significant exports and increase business with the removal of trade, financing, and travel restrictions between the U.S. and Cuba.  Agricultural commodities, such as Texas long grain rice, would be an ideal export for generating two-way commerce with the island. 

  • Cuba and Rice Spotlighted During Ways and Means Trade Hearing

    by Deborah Willenborg | Jun 15, 2016
    Rep. Charles Boustany
    U.S. rice trade champion
    Rep. Charles Boustany at 2016 GAC
    WASHINGTON, DC – Yesterday, the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Trade held an agriculture-focused hearing on expansion and eliminating barriers for U.S. agricultural exports.

    While the hearing focused on the broader picture of agricultural exports, especially opportunities through the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement, rice and Cuba both factored into the dialogue of witnesses and Subcommittee Members.

    A champion for U.S. rice, Louisiana Republican Charles Boustany remarked during the hearing, “Louisiana stands to benefit tremendously by normalizing agricultural trade with Cuba.  Our rice industry has been the backbone of Louisiana’s economy, even as other sectors have struggled.  But we can’t have continued growth in this industry without opening new markets like Cuba.  I’ll continue fighting to open up agricultural exports so our producers can benefit.”

    USA Rice President & CEO Betsy Ward said, “The entire U.S. rice industry, both in Louisiana and around the country, is grateful for Congressman Boustany’s tireless leadership on these issues.  Whether it is helping us gain access to Cuba, or looking out for the interests of U.S. rice farmers who are increasingly at an unfair trade disadvantage because of bad actors around the world, Congressman Boustany stands as a great advocate for our family farmers and our industry.”

    Several other Members and witnesses shared their support for normalizing trade with Cuba and seconded the rice industry’s leadership role in working to reopen the Cuban market.

  • USA Rice Lunch with Cuban Delegation Yields Results

    by Deborah Willenborg | Jun 02, 2016
    Progress on the menu
    WASHINGTON, DC – USA Rice President & CEO Betsy Ward hosted a private lunch meeting here today for visiting Cuban dignitaries including Minister of Agriculture Gustavo Rodríguez Rollero, Cuban Ambassador to the United States José Ramón Cabañas Rodríguez, and several top agriculture officials to discuss normalizing trade between the United States and Cuba.

    After introducing the large group of policymakers and technical experts, Minister Rodríguez ​had questions for Ward about the U.S. rice industry and USA Rice specifically, and shared information about Cuban agriculture and rice consumption.

    “The Minister obviously has a great understanding of agriculture and rice production in Cuba and wanted to come away from our meeting with a better understanding of the U.S. rice industry,” Ward said.  “He knew production statistics per hectare and water use per kilogram at home and asked about our practices.”

    Ward said it was clear water use and efficiency is a major concern in Cuba and she and the Minister agreed on a path forward with the Government of Cuba to share technical information, resources, and experience.

    “The Minister wants the Cuban people to have access to nutritious, high quality food, and for his agriculture sector to grow and be able to tackle significant challenges head on, and I told him, the U.S. rice industry and USA Rice stand ready to help on both fronts.”

    Minister Counselor Rubén Ramos Arrieta related how impressed he was with the wide range of rice industry participants in attendance when he spoke at the USA Rice Outlook Conference last December.  The group discussed having a Cuban delegation attend this year’s event in Memphis and adding a rice industry tour as part of the visit.

    The dark shadow cast across the talks remains the U.S. embargo that USA Rice is working to end.

    “Ending the embargo is a top priority for USA Rice,” Ward told the group.  “We look forward to the day the Cuban people once again have access to our rice and we already view the Cuban agriculture sector as our partners.”

    Also attending the lunch were representatives from Engage Cuba, a leading coalition working to end the embargo.
  • USA Rice Continues Work to Open Trade with Cuba

    by Deborah Willenborg | May 31, 2016
    USA Rice's Ben Mosely (center)
    confers with Cuban officials
    HAVANA, CUBA – USA Rice Vice President of Government Affairs Ben Mosely spent last week here as part of a delegation of members from the U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba (USACC).  Rice was by far the most popular topic of discussion during the many meetings held with various departments of Cuban government, farmer cooperatives, importing agencies, and the ports system.

    The group of more than 30 U.S. agriculture representatives on the trip met with the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Trade and Investment (MINCEX) to kick off their arrival to the island last Monday.  This introductory and welcoming meeting covered a broad discussion on the current laws and regulations restricting free trade between the two countries as well as the commitment on both sides to continue efforts to achieve normalized relations and bilateral trade.

    On Tuesday, the group traveled to the Port of Mariel with officials from the Special Economic Zone to learn about the rapidly developing port and the incentives being offered to foreign investors to operate in the “free trading zone.”  Later that day the delegation visited with officials from the U.S. Embassy where Mosely provided an update on USA Rice’s efforts to persuade Congress to remove financing and commercial barriers and the trading restrictions that will allow U.S. grown rice to competitively serve the Cuban market.  

    At a meeting with the Ministry of Agriculture Mosely asked an official for assurances that the Cubans would purchase U.S. rice when financing restrictions are removed and was told, “Simple math is the assurance.  Why would we pay more money for an inferior product that takes almost a month to receive when we could instead purchase a superior product for less money and receive it in a matter of days?”

    Mosely said, “I spend a lot of my time in Washington advocating for improved relations between the U.S. and Cuba and often hear feedback from folks with a preconceived idea of what life is actually like in Cuba.  Getting the opportunity to see it firsthand was all it took to completely erase any notions in Congress that the Cuban people don’t want this embargo to be lifted.”  

    Mosely concluded, “We’ve been slowly moving the needle with Congress but we have a lot of work left to do.  The Cubans are clearly ready to engage with us so the pressure is on the United States to see this through.  USA Rice is ready to help make this market a reality but it will need to be a collective effort by all commodities, other businesses and industries, and humanitarian groups to get us to that point.”
  • Louisiana Farmers Push Legislators on Trade with Cuba

    by Deborah Willenborg | May 26, 2016
    LA farmers Eric Unkel (left) and Jeffrey Sylvester
    flank Senator David Vitter
    LA-Rice-Farmers-in-DC,-Eric-Unkel,-David-Vitter-& Jeffrey-Sylvester
    WASHINGTON, DC – Yesterday, Louisiana rice farmers and USA Rice members Eric Unkel and Jeffrey Sylvester spent the day here visiting their Members of Congress and participating in the White House briefing on “Business Opportunities in Cuba.”

    The duo arrived in the capital just in time for the first sunshine in weeks and began their busy day with Cuba-related visits with Senators Bill Cassidy and David Vitter and a stop in Rayburn House Office Building to see Representative John Fleming.

    The general request was for support on existing legislation that would lift the regulations blocking U.S. financial institutions from providing credit to Cuban buyers for agricultural commodities, such as rice.  They pointed to an economic analysis put together by the U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba and Engage Cuba and approved by the USDA that outlines the potential market for rice and soybeans in Cuba, Louisiana’s top agricultural exports. Representatives Ralph Abraham and Charles Boustany of Louisiana have already openly supported legislation and other efforts to open the Cuban market for agriculture.

    The afternoon was consumed by the White House Business Council’s briefing on Cuba with the two Administration panels with representatives from the U.S. Departments of Agriculture, State, Treasury and Commerce.  The audience of more than 160 participants from all sectors and from all over the United States participated through a question-and-answer process.  At least one of the panelists indicated Cuba’s strong desire to purchase U.S.-grown rice and the need for Congressional action to remove the financing barriers preventing agricultural exports.

    “It’s a rare feeling to leave Washington optimistically but after meeting with Senator Cassidy and getting Senator Vitter’s commitment to cosponsor the legislation that would allow U.S. financing to Cuba for ag commodities, I’m feeling pretty good,” said Unkel, president of the Louisiana Rice Council (LARC).

    Sylvester, president of the Evangeline Parish Rice Growers Association, said, “Hearing questions and comments coming from other industries was helpful to me because we’re so focused on the impacts to and by the rice industry that we forget about all of the other businesses that would benefit from normalized trade with Cuba.  There was an overwhelming excitement in the room and the Administration representatives seemed like they really want to be helpful in making business with Cuba a reality.”
  • USA Rice’s Mosely Named USACC Legislative Committee Chair

    by Deborah Willenborg | May 06, 2016
    Mosely (left) takes the lead
    WASHINGTON, DC – This week, the U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba (USACC) selected USA Rice Vice President of Government Affairs Ben Mosely as a co-chair of its Legislative Committee.  The Legislative Committee works to manage the Coalition’s collective federal lobbying efforts to remove financing and trade barriers currently in place with Cuba.

    USA Rice is one of USACC’s founding members and makes up one of more than 100 organizations that share a similar goal of normalizing agriculture trade with Cuba.

    Devry Boughner Vorwerk, chair of the USACC, said, “Ben has been a strong contributor to our legislative efforts and is a strategic and innovative thinker on Hill strategy.  We are pleased that he is willing to step up and lead.”

    In reference to his new role, Mosely said, “USA Rice has been working to end this embargo for decades so it makes sense for us to hold a leadership role in the Coalition and help provide direction for our momentum.”

    Mosely concluded, “We plan to ramp up our advocacy efforts on the Hill before Congress heads out of town for summer recess and look forward to building on our existing successes over the last 18 months.”

    To learn more about the USACC and the issues they have focused on, visit their website.
  • Widespread Support for USDA Presence in Cuba

    by Colleen Klem | Apr 08, 2016
    Can we get a deal on office space?

    WASHINGTON, DC -- Earlier today, more than 60 state and national agriculture organizations and agribusinesses sent a letter to Capitol Hill requesting funding for U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) positions that would be based in Cuba for FY 2017.

    The letter, initiated by USA Rice, outlines the need to provide USDA "boots on the ground" in Cuba to give U.S. agribusinesses the opportunity to obtain commodity market supply and demand figures, support the marketing efforts of U.S. exporters, assist in resolving phytosanitary barriers, and safeguard U.S. agriculture from the threat of new pests and diseases.

    With increases in tourism from the U.S. to Cuba, demand for food is expected to rise and it's important that U.S. commodities are offered the opportunity to fill that demand.  Cuba imports up to 80 percent of its food but typically gives the business to the European Union, Asia, or South America.

    Dow Brantley, Arkansas rice farmer and chairman of USA Rice said, "Cuba imports about 600,000 metric tons of rice per year.  That business mostly goes to Viet Nam and Brazil and none of it comes from the United States.  High quality U.S. rice could be shipped from ports about 700 miles from Cuba rather than inferior rice coming from as far as 13,000 miles away.  We see this as an opportunity to provide a cost-effective, nutritious product to the Cuban people and reinstitute beneficial, two-way commerce."  

    The President's Budget for Fiscal Year 2017 requested that Congress provide funding for USDA personnel from the Foreign Agricultural Service and the Animal Plant Health Inspection Service to be housed within the recently opened U.S. Embassy in Havana. Signees of the letter support the provision from the President's Budget and cite that presence of USDA staff would "...help to make the transition process run more efficiently, assist U.S. agribusinesses to regain the role as Cuba's top exporter, and advance U.S. agricultural interests."
  • Large Turnout at Annual Missouri Rice Conference

    by Lee Brinckley | Feb 18, 2016
    Everything MO needs to know about U.S. rice
    MALDEN, MISSOURI – More than one hundred rice farmers gathered here yesterday for the 2016 Missouri Rice Conference.  This was the first time the conference has been held in Malden and the new location drew a lot of new faces, including many young farmers interested in growing rice.

    The conference agenda featured presentations primarily geared toward ongoing rice research such as furrow irrigated row rice, rice weed control, rice varieties, and production issues.

    Research presenters included:  Dr. Michael Aide, Southeast Missouri State University; Jim Heiser, University of Missouri’s Fisher Delta Research Center; Matt Rhine, University of Missouri’s Fisher Delta Research Center; and Dr. Chuck Wilson, University of Arkansas’ Rice Research Station in Stuttgart.  The U.S. Rice Producers Association also gave an update on domestic and international markets.

    A conference highlight was a visit by Congressman Jason Smith, a Republican from Missouri’s Eighth District.  Smith represents the largest congressional district in Missouri, known as the Bootheel that encompasses the entire rice-growing region of the state.  

    Following his speech, Smith answered questions from the rice farmers in the room.  Smith told attendees, “I’m supporting legislation by Rick Crawford in Arkansas that would remove the barriers to agricultural trade in Cuba.”  He acknowledged the importance of regaining the Cuban rice market and shared his intentions to travel to Cuba sometime this year to learn about the island’s commercial needs.

    Smith also said he supports, “providing food aid through in-kind commodities rather than sending cash to refugee-stricken nations.”  He talked about USA Rice’s involvement in the food aid debate and said he agreed with the position of providing in-kind contributions rather than unaccountable cash transactions.

    USA Rice and the USA Rice-Ducks Unlimited Stewardship Partnership were sponsors of the conference.

  • Next Step in Normalization of Relations: U.S., Cuba Agree to Commercial Flights

    by Lee Brinckley | Feb 16, 2016
    Boarding soon
    WASHINGTON, DC -- The United States and Cuba signed an agreement this morning to resume commercial air traffic for the first time in five decades.  U.S. airlines can now start bidding on routes for as many as 110 U.S.-Cuba daily flights - more than five times the current number. All flights operating between the two countries today are charters.  

    Tourism is still barred by law so Americans traveling to Cuba still need to meet one of 12 criteria authorized by the U.S. government.

    “Air travel between the two countries will help facilitate tourism, business, and economic activity in Cuba,” said USA Rice President & CEO Betsy Ward.  “USA Rice has been at the forefront of the push to open up trade with Cuba because we know normal trade will get the Cuban economy moving to create capital that can be used to purchase the products they need, namely U.S. rice.”
  • USA Rice Continues to Push for Open Trade with Cuba

    by Lee Brinckley | Feb 10, 2016
    Click here to hear thoughts on Cuba and rice from Congressmen Abraham, Crawford, and Poe.
    WASHINGTON, DC – The U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba celebrated their one-year anniversary here today with a renewed call for action to lift the embargo between the United States and Cuba, and to ease the way for trade for U.S. agricultural products.

    The press conference featured keynote remarks from U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack, who headlined the Coalition kick-off last year and was described as “the first Administration official to publicly vocalize support for the lifting of the embargo, especially for agricultural products.”

    Vilsack spoke about the potential importance of the market, and the value of being able to use promotion check-off dollars in Cuba, and the need to have USDA officials on the ground in Cuba.

    He said, “Until we have improved relations, we are at a severe disadvantage when it comes to accessing the Cuban market.  We need people on the ground in Cuba to talk about our products’ quality, quantity, and stability of supply.”

    Of course USA Rice has existing relationships there having participated in the Havana Trade Fair since the 1990’s, and meeting with ALIMPORT, the government agency that coordinates all overseas purchases and authorizes the import of products to Cuba, as recently as last fall.

    Cuban Ambassador José Ramón Cabañas was interviewed at the press conference and several Members of Congress were also in attendance, including rice state legislators Rick Crawford (R-AR), Ted Poe (R-TX), and Ralph Abraham (R-LA).

    Crawford told the crowd, “We are punishing ourselves [with this embargo].  Now is the time to take action.”  Poe called for Congress to “lift the financial restrictions…to allow American banks to take the risk and get American agriculture products overseas.”  And Abraham emphasized the proximity of U.S. infrastructure and products, saying, “With our shipping, trucking, and ancillary services, we can get American products to Cuba in 36 hours.”

    Prior to the press conference, Vilsack met privately with representatives from the Coalition.  Ben Noble, executive director of Arkansas Rice, thanked the Secretary for his support on this issue.  Noble also represented USA Rice on a panel with other commodity groups discussing the effects the embargo has had on agriculture.  He said, “When the embargo was put in place there were decades where there were no rice sales to Cuba.  Back in 2000 when the law was changed to allow cash sales, we saw an increase in activity.  Unfortunately, that opportunity was shut down and we lost one of our top export markets.”

    He concluded, “USA Rice continues to support all legislative efforts to lift the trade embargo with Cuba that will allow for free and unfettered trade.”