• USA Rice Outlines Commodity Title Priorities Before House Ag Subcommittee

    by Michael Klein | Apr 04, 2017
    It's all in the title
    GA-Rice Outlines Commodity Title Priorities Before House Ag Subcommittee-170404

    WASHINGTON, D.C. – This morning the House Committee on Agriculture’s General Commodities and Risk Management Subcommittee held their second of a two-part hearing series looking at commodity policies ahead of the 2018 Farm Bill.

    Blake Gerard, a rice farmer from Cape Girardeau, MO and chairman of the USA Rice Farmers Board of Directors and USA Rice Government Affairs Committee was tapped to testify before the Subcommittee on behalf of the U.S. rice industry. Other witnesses participated in the hearing representing the cotton, canola, peanut, and sugar industries.

    Gerard’s written and verbal testimonies focused primarily on protecting the Price Loss Coverage (PLC) program along with some recommendations for accelerating the timing for growers to receive PLC assistance and increasing the reference price for California’s Temperate Japonica Rice to reflect higher than average production costs.

    “Operating costs for rice exceed every other crop covered by the Commodity Title – and, according to USDA, the 2018 crop year is forecast to have some of the highest production costs on record – nearly $1,000 per acre for rice,” said Gerard. “Because of specialized infrastructure, field equipment, and soil types needed for rice, it’s difficult to economically justify a shift from year-to-year. So rice farmers are in it for the long haul – we intend to ride out the storm, but we could not do so without the safety net that the Price Loss Coverage program provides.”

    Gerard was vocal about the importance of a strong Title I program for rice farmers. “It’s safe to say that one of the reasons I’m still in business, along with the majority of rice farming families, is because of the 2014 Farm Bill’s safety net, specifically PLC.  Ninety-nine percent of long grain rice farms and 94 percent of medium grain farms selected PLC – and it has in fact provided critical counter-cyclical assistance when needed most,” said Gerard.

    “While overall we feel that PLC is working the way Congress intended, the reference price for Temperate Japonica needs to be increased,” he added.

    USA Rice is working with the California Rice Commission to develop a more accurate accounting of the operating cost using on-farm data to provide the most current and accurate recommendation to the Subcommittee.

    Gerard was also sure to mention the impeding role that Actively Engaged in Farming regulations, payment limits, and adjusted gross income (AGI) limits play in the rice farming industry.

    “Along the lines of program eligibility, we are opposed to any additional limitations based on a farmer’s adjusted gross income. In fact, we firmly believe that this AGI limit should not exist at all. We shouldn’t punish growers for farming larger tracts of land, or doing what it takes to be profitable by disqualifying their operations from farm safety net programs,” he said.

    “It seems wrong to maintain policy that provides full assistance to producers when they experience some losses, but only partial assistance to those that are hit the hardest.”

    Gerard also highlighted the many trade challenges facing rice in his testimony and pressed for finalizing the China Phytosanitary protocol, protecting the benefits for rice in NAFTA, and combating unfair trade practices.

    When asked by Subcommittee members about the factors affecting the downturn in prices Gerard was quick to tout the benefits an open market with Cuba would offer for the U.S. rice industry within the first two years alone. He finished by reminding the Subcommittee that the U.S. needs to go after global competitors that over-subsidize their producers, both violating their World Trade Organization obligations and distorting the world market prices – ultimately costing U.S. taxpayers.

    In closing, Gerard said, “If it were up to us as farmers, we would prefer to prosper only by the prices our crops bring at the market. But commodity markets aren’t always kind. Right now our crops are simply not bringing enough to pay our bills without the assistance of the 2014 Farm Bill safety net. I am here to ask for this Committee’s consideration in not only maintaining our Commodity Title programs, but strengthening it.”

    The House and Senate Agriculture Committees are expected to host additional hearings and listening sessions in D.C. and throughout rural America to continue to solicit feedback from constituents ahead of reauthorizing the farm bill in 2018.

  • Farm Bill Opinions a Mixed Bag at Event

    by Michael Klein | Apr 03, 2017
    No need for name calling
    GA-Farm Bill Opinions a Mixed Bag at Event-170331

    WASHINGTON, DC – While most of Washington’s agriculture organizations and their memberships throughout rural America are optimistic about farm policy, the future of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the outlook of a strong safety net in the 2018 Farm Bill, recent gatherings here indicate that a resistance effort is brewing.

    American University’s School of International Service hosted a day-long conference, “Farm Bill 2018: Policy, Politics, and Potential” earlier this week to highlight some of the lesser-seen angles surrounding the farm bill. Speakers included a broad range of academics, civil society leaders, producers, policy makers, and the general public on relevant research and rising issues for the next farm bill.

    Kathleen Merrigan, former Deputy Secretary for USDA, drew attention to the agricultural dissenters during her opening remarks that kicked-off the conference. Merrigan encouraged those in attendance not to prejudge USDA Secretary-Designate Perdue. “I am troubled to see the 39,000 signatures on MoveOn.org requesting Senators to vote “nay” on Sonny Perdue,” she said.

    Merrigan added, “If we wish to get anything accomplished in the next farm bill, it is important that those of us in the agriculture industry strive for some level of unity and understanding amongst one another in order to get a [farm bill] written and passed in a timely manner.”

    Topics ranging from the Commodity Title through the Nutrition, Credit, and Research Titles were addressed. Panelists discussing commodity and credit programs laid out what they believed would be the key drivers for changes within the 2018 Farm Bill.

    Carl Zulauf a professor emeritus in agricultural economics at The Ohio State University and contributor to the
    Farmdoc Daily blog said, “I believe commodity prices, 2017 crop revenues, the state of U.S. exports, the federal budget, and President Trump’s agenda will be the determining factors for the next farm bill.”

    Another somewhat contentious panel focused on international trade. “Land grant universities have shifted their focus from farmers and have invested their resources into large companies that supply inputs of production,” claimed Gerardo Otero of Simon Fraser University. “This kind of research in biotechnology has led to global surpluses and now farmers are facing a qualitative issue rather than a quantitative issue. Farmers are producing too many calories and too little nutrition which is causing obesity in developing countries, furthering their struggles to keep up with the modernized world.”

    There was no shortage of opposing viewpoints but ultimately the panels agreed that a unified front will be required to move a strong farm bill forward in 2018.

  • One-Day Summit Brings Farm Bill into Focus

    by Deborah Willenborg | Mar 21, 2017
    Today is National Ag Day!
    WASHINGTON DC – The Farm Bill Summit, hosted by Agri-Pulse, at the National Press Club yesterday provided insight on the conversations developing around the next Farm Bill.  The summit consisted of several panel discussions on topics ranging from “Conservation: What Works, What Doesn’t in Farm Policy” to “How The Farm Bill Can Help Bring the Next Generation Back to the Farm Through Investments in Infrastructure, Research, and Rural Development.”

    Conservation panelists expressed the need to make farmers more aware of the current economics of agriculture, technological advancements, run-off management, and conservation programs.  “Seventy percent of the land in the lower 48 states is owned by regular people,” said Dave White, a former chief of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Services and current partner in the 9b group, conservation consultants.  “The quality of the environment will be determined by the quality of the decisions made by the men and women who own that land and that is why we have to help them stay informed.”

    Those on the panel for how the farm bill can help bring the next generation back to the farm focused on the need to create finance programs specifically designed to help beginning farmers, succession planning, and the crucial role the internet plays in attracting millennials back to rural America.  “We should view the issue of spreading internet to rural communities as our leaders viewed the spread of electricity after the Great Depression,” said Travis Medine, a Louisiana sugarcane farmer.  “The internet is as necessary to current agriculture infrastructure as tractors and grain storage facilities.  Data collection and basic communication technologies play a fundamental role in the development of rural economies just as electricity did in the past.”  

    The event also featured speakers from both sides of the aisle on the House and Senate Agriculture Committees.  Representative Mike Conaway (R-TX), House Ag Committee Chairman; Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS), Senate Ag Committee Chairman; Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Senate Ag Committee Ranking Member; and Representative Collin Peterson (D-MN), House Ag Committee Ranking Member all encouraged farmers and ranchers to voice their needs and concerns early in order to have the farm bill passed in a timely manner.

    “The legislative process and timeline for the next Farm Bill seem to be right on track,” said USA Rice Vice President of Government Affairs Ben Mosely.  “USA Rice will stay engaged as the Ag Committees work toward the September 2018 deadline, ensuring rice priorities stay at the forefront as the new bill is crafted.”
  • Ag Groups Request Additional Resources Ahead of 2018 Farm Bill

    by Deborah Willenborg | Mar 16, 2017
    The Gerard Family of Cape Girardeau MO - waiting
    for that next generation to come of age
    Blake Gerard and Family
    WASHINGTON DC -- USA Rice joined 16 other agriculture groups in a letter to the Chairmen and Ranking Members of ​House and Senate Committees on Budget and Appropriations yesterday to express growing concerns over ​financial pressures faced by American farmers and to request additional funding for the next Farm Bill.

    The letter explains how many farmers across the country – young farmers in particular – are feeling the pains and anxieties brought on by low prices and high costs of production.  Net farm incomes are down 50 percent from where they were four years ago, leaving producers no choice but to dip into capital reserves.  This poses a major obstacle for young farmers who have not had the luxury of time to build sustainable reserves.  On top of domestic issues, a strong U.S. dollar and discouraging trade rhetoric has decreased export potential, making hard times even harder.

    “The average age of the American farmer, currently 58 years old, should be of major concern to this Administration, equal to concern over the country’s aging infrastructure,” said Blake Gerard, Missouri rice farmer and chairman of both USA Rice Farmers and the USA Rice Government Affairs Committee.  “Without needed funding during difficult times, the future of the next generation of farmers is uncertain.”

    The letter was sent to Congress ​the day before the administration released ​its first budget proposal, dubbed the "skinny budget," which calls for steep cuts to discretionary spending at several federal agencies including the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).  The proposed cuts to USDA reflect a 21 percent decrease from current funding levels which would be achieved through a reduction of personnel in USDA's service centers and the outright elimination of several unspecified programs.  Other programs, however, were specified for elimination including the McGovern-Dole Food for Education Program, which sources U.S.-grown rice to be used for international food aid efforts.
    Since FY 2016, the share of U.S.-grown rice shipped through international food aid programs has increased substantially.  The budget proposal threatens to reduce many years of progress and investment in developing a highly nutritious fortified rice, recently approved for use in food aid.  

    “The 2018 Farm Bill is an opportunity for Congress to respond to the troubling condition of the agricultural economy by providing ​additional resources to ensure a sustainable future for ​farmers in America,” said Ben Mosely, vice president of government affairs for USA Rice. 
  • New Conservation Stewardship Program Finalized

    by Lee Brinckley | Mar 10, 2016
    NRCS Chief Jason Weller (left) and Jeff Durand
    NRCS Jason-Weller-& Jeff-Durand
    WASHINGTON, DC – Earlier today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) published its final Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) rule in the Federal Register.

    The CSP was updated following the guidelines set by Congress in the 2014 Farm Bill and after reviewing nearly 500 comments on the Interim Rule, the agency is finally ready to put the new rule into effect.  

    CSP is known as the USDA’s largest conservation program by acreage.  Since its inception in the 2008 Farm Bill it has provided financial assistance on more than 70 million acres of working lands.  The program has been utilized by U.S. rice farmers since it was first introduced and provides a number of enhancements that work particularly well on rice-growing operations.  

    USA Rice submitted comments to NRCS regarding the Interim Rule asking for payment equity for using existing versus new conservation practices and more transparency in the ranking process for CSP applications. The final rule did this by removing the much-criticized and complex Conservation Measurement Tool and using a public set of ranking criteria similar to the process used by EQIP.  

    Jeff Durand, Louisiana rice farmer and co-chair of the USA Rice Ducks Unlimited Stewardship Partnership, shared his thoughts, “Conservation definitely comes at a cost but CSP gives us as rice farmers the opportunity to cost-share some of the expenses for implementation and maintenance of enhancements and practices that keep our industry sustainable.”

    Durand added, “Earlier this year, USA Rice and Ducks Unlimited put together the Rice Growers’ Conservation Handbook that outlines the CSP and EQIP practices that are most commonly used by rice farmers and provides some additional background information on the programs.”

    Last month, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced $150 million available to enroll 10 million new acres in CSP for Fiscal Year 2016.  Applications are due to local NRCS offices by March 31. Vilsack said of the CSP, “[It is one of the most] popular programs with producers because it results in real change on the ground by boosting soil and air quality, conserving clean water, and enhancing wildlife habitat.”

    The Stewardship Partnership’s Sustaining the Future of Rice project through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program will also offer the opportunity for rice farmers to sign-up for CSP later this year in all six rice-growing states.

  • USA Rice Government Affairs Conference Kicks Off

    by Lee Brinckley | Feb 23, 2016
    Capacity Crowd
     GAC Crowd Shot 2016
    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."
  • New USDA Proposed Nutrition Rule May Present Opportunity for Rice

    by Lee Brinckley | Feb 17, 2016
    Making healthy food choices on a budget
    WASHINGTON, DC – Yesterday, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services Kevin Concannon announced a proposed rule designed to provide Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participants increased access to healthy foods by requiring stores that accept SNAP to stock a wider array of food choices.

    SNAP, formerly known as the Food Stamp Program, is the nation’s largest nutrition assistance program accounting for 79 percent of Farm Bill costs at $756 million.

    "USDA is committed to expanding access for SNAP participants to the types of foods that are important to a healthy diet," Concannon said.  "This proposed rule ensures that retailers who accept SNAP benefits offer a variety of products to support healthy choices for those participating in the program."

    The proposed rule would require SNAP-authorized retailers to offer seven varieties of qualifying foods in four staple food groups for sale on a continuous basis.  The staple food groups are dairy products; breads and cereals, which includes rice; meats, poultry and fish; and fruits and vegetables.  In addition, the proposal calls for retailers to stock at least six units within each variety, leading to a total of at least 168 required food items per store.

    While the majority of SNAP benefits are redeemed in supermarkets and superstores, this proposal could provide a new opportunity to expand rice distribution in retailers accepting SNAP, and potentially increase rice products on shelves.
  • Northeast Louisianans Gearing Up for 2016 Rice Crop

    by Lee Brinckley | Feb 03, 2016
    SRO at NELA Rice Forum
    MS-LA Rice Mtg photo-150205    
    RAYVILLE, LA – Yesterday morning the Rayville Civic Center was standing room only as more than 50 rice growers crowded the hall for the Northeast Louisiana Rice Forum.

    Attendees heard from a star-studded line up of speakers from the Louisiana State University AgCenter with updates on rice varieties, diseases, fertility, insects, weeds, and the new Price Loss Coverage program.  Speakers included:  Dr. Tara Smith of Winnsboro; Dr. Steve Linscombe of Crowley; Dr. Don Groth of Crowley; Dr. Dustin Harrell of Crowley; Dr. Sebe Brown of Winnsboro; Eric Webster of Baton Rouge; and Dr. Kurt Guidry of Baton Rouge.

    USA Rice staff rounded out the presentations with Farm Bill program updates and a legislative and regulatory report from Washington, D.C.

    Jason Waller, a Louisiana rice farmer and outgoing president of the Louisiana Rice Growers Association, said, “We’re happy USA Rice has been able to partner with us and participate at our meetings and field days over the years.  It’s important for us to be able to have our state and region’s voices carried to Washington; we’ve seen results that actually make sense for us on the ground level as growers.”

    Waller concluded, “The number one issue we want prioritized by the industry is increased exports for rice.  That’s really what’s going to keep us in business and keep us planting rice year after year.”

    Following the presentations and a hearty lunch, the Northeast Louisiana Rice Growers Association met and elected Jim Lingo and Scott Franklin as their new president and vice president, respectively.  USA Rice looks forward to working closely with the Association and its new leadership.

  • Budget Conference Report Reveals No Farm Bill Cuts

    by Temp 1 Temp 1 | Apr 30, 2015
     WASHINGTON, D.C.-The House and Senate Agriculture Chairmen received welcome, but not entirely unexpected news when they reviewed the 2016 budget conference report. The report stated that neither the House nor the Senate Agriculture Committees are required to trim money from the Farm Bill.  
    "The conference report as it relates to agriculture is a clear indication that Congress recognizes that the Agriculture Committees stepped up to the plate by reducing spending through the Farm Bill signed into law last year," said USA Rice's vice president of Government Affairs Ben Mosely.  
    According to reports, even though the no-cut decision was anticipated, it was still appreciated. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), a Senate Budget conferee and ranking Democrat on Senate Agriculture, credits the backing of 400 different groups for their efforts in keeping House reconciliation directions for cuts to agriculture out of the budget conference reports.
    Contact: Michael Klein (703) 236-1458
  • House Agriculture Subcommittee Addresses Actively Engaged, Crop Insurance

    by Temp 1 Temp 1 | Mar 26, 2015
    WASHINGTON, DC -- The House Agriculture Subcommittee on General Farm Commodities and Risk Management met today to discuss current issues in farm bill implementation.  The hearing was well-timed, on the heels of the USA Rice Federation supplying information to the committee about rice priorities and concerns.
    Subcommittee Chairman Rick Crawford (R-AR) opened the hearing with an emphasis on the importance of the Farm Bill and the programs it authorizes as well as concerns about the actively engaged proposed rule and margin coverage insurance for rice farmers.
    Crawford called newly proposed "actively engaged" regulations "arbitrary and capricious," noting that the regulation "ignores the remarkable diversity and complexity in agriculture today."
    The hearing focused more specifically on crop insurance programs including how the Supplemental Coverage Option (SCO) applies to rice.
    "After years of low participation and recent news that basic revenue protection will not be available this year to rice producers, I hope you will do all you can to ensure that this new margin product works for rice producers, in particular," Crawford said.
    USDA Risk Management Agency Administrator Brandon Willis responded with an assurance that his agency is eager to find a solution to price discovery and county coverage issues for rice and will continue to seek input from stakeholders.
    Contact:  Lydia Holmes (703) 236-1440