• Disaster Aid Available through FSA Program

    by Michael Klein | May 19, 2017
    GA.w-Disaster-Aid-via-ECP-170519Lawrence County, AR earlier this month 

    WASHINGTON, DC -- The Emergency Conservation Program (ECP) helps farmers repair damage to farmlands caused by natural disasters by offering financial assistance.  Eligible practices that could be beneficial to many in flooded areas include debris removal from farmland, and grading, shaping, or leveling land.

    To determine if you qualify for assistance, contact your local FSA office as soon as possible. Eligibility may require field inspections before any work is done.

    Go here for more information about the program. 

  • USDA RMA Promotes Practical to Replant Guidance Document

    by Michael Klein | May 19, 2017
    guidanceimage

    WASHINGTON, DC - In light of recent severe flooding in the mid-South and parts of Louisiana, many growers have questions about Practical to Replant provisions.  USDA's Risk Management Agency (RMA) is offering guidance in an attempt to clarify the rules and regulations.

    As always, growers should work with their specific agents and consultants to ensure their specific circumstances are being addressed.

    Here is a link to the RMA guidance document.

  • USDA Reorganization Matches Up with Rice Priorities

    by Michael Klein | May 12, 2017
    Secretary Perdue leading the way
    GA-USDA Reorganization Matches Up with Rice Priorities--170512

    Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue has announced a reorganization of his agency that shows a clear emphasis on trade – a priority of this Administration’s – and a philosophical shift on policy priorities at the farm level – both of which are in line with USA Rice initiatives.

    Trade Up
    An Under Secretary for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs (TFAA) has finally been created; the position was included in the 2014 Farm Bill but never filled by Secretary Vilsack.  The Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS), that is vital to the rice industry, has been pulled away from the Farm Service Agency (FSA) and Risk Management Agency (RMA) and placed under the auspices of the new TFAA.

    FAS manages the Market Access Program (MAP) and Foreign Market Development (FMD) program, that together provided USA Rice with more than $4 million this year to help develop U.S. rice markets and promote American-grown rice overseas.

    The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), also important for rice, remains under the Marketing and Regulatory programs Under Secretary at USDA, however as a means of facilitating communication among all agricultural trade components, the new TFAA will chair an inter-agency committee including FAS, APHIS, the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS), the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), and the Federal Grain Inspection Service (FGIS).

    “U.S. agricultural exports have quadrupled over the past 40 years so it makes sense to have a component of USDA completely devoted to trade,” said Carl Brothers, chair of USA Rice’s International Trade Policy Committee.  “With 50 percent of the U.S. rice crop exported each year, export markets are hugely important to our industry, so seeing an Under Secretary dedicated to trade is quite encouraging.”

    Brothers explained that while tariffs and duties on U.S. goods remain a major obstacle and concern, non-tariff barriers have grown substantially over the past several decades and require the expertise of agencies such as APHIS to deal with foreign sanitary and phytosanitary restrictions.

    Home Front
    Perdue also announced his intention to create an Under Secretary for Farm Production and Conservation, to include the Farm Service Agency, Risk Management Agency, and the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Realigning these domestically-oriented departments logically puts farm services, crop insurance, and conservation programs under one roof and recognizes that conservation programs, like the very successful Regional Conservation Partnership Program of which rice is a major benefactor, are the way of the future for farming and farm policy.

    Since the number of Under Secretaries the Department can have is limited by Congress, Perdue eliminated the position of Under Secretary for Rural Development and will have the agencies and functions dealing with this area report directly to ​him.

    “This reorganization has been a long time coming and is quite welcome,” said Brian King, Chairman of USA Rice. “It shows that this is an agency well-aligned with our priorities and I expect our already great working relationship will only improve as we look to help our industry with strong and growing foreign markets and domestic policies and programs that ensure our farmers can continue to feed their families and families around the world in a safe and sustainable manner.”

  • Trump’s FDA Commissioner Could Have Far-Reaching Impact on Rice

    by Deborah Willenborg | May 11, 2017
    New FDA Commissioner
    Dr.-Scott-Gottlieb-Named-Head-of-FDA
    WASHINGTON, DC – President Trump’s choice to head the Food and Drug Administration, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, was confirmed by the Senate this week and moves in to head the agency where he served as a deputy FDA Commissioner under President George W. Bush.  The regulatory agency touches the rice industry at several points and if Gottlieb takes the agency in a new direction, there could be significant impact for the industry.

    First, the FDA oversees food labeling, and in May 2016 unveiled new regulations regarding nutrition fact panels, (see “Updates to Nutrition Facts Panel Could Spell Rice Rewrites,” USA Rice Daily, June 1, 2016).  The new fact panel was set to take effect in July 2018 for large food companies and July 2019 for smaller companies.  Several food industry groups, however, have asked the Trump Administration to delay the rollout of the new labels by another three years.  (USA Rice has not petitioned the agency on this issue.)

    There’s been no indication how the petition will be received, however, the President, Dr. Gottlieb, and Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, (FDA is housed within HHS), have all made it clear they look upon regulations with a gimlet eye.

    Additionally here, FDA has regulatory authority over not just statements of nutritional value, but food names and categories – something the rice industry has a growing interest in with the proliferation in the marketplace of “rice pretenders.”

    “Vegetables that have gone through a ricer are still vegetables, just in a different form,” said USA Rice President & CEO Betsy Ward.  “Only rice is rice, and calling ‘riced vegetables,’ ‘rice,’ is misleading and confusing to consumers.  We may be asking the FDA and other regulatory agencies to look at this.”

    The rice industry has also worked closely with FDA on food safety issues for the last several years.  

    “We’ve had as constructive a relationship as a regulated industry and their regulators can have,” Ward said.  “We had healthy and vibrant discussions and I always felt like, even though we disagreed at times, both sides listened to each other.”

    FDA is expected to continue its work “protecting the public health by assuring the safety, efficacy, and security of…our nation’s food supply,” and U.S.-grown rice is surely a part of that safe, sustainable food supply, so the industry and agency will continue to work together.

    “FDA is an important agency with a serious mission and we look forward to working with Dr. Gottlieb and his team,” Ward concluded. 
  • Trump Asking for More Information and Enforcement on Trade

    by Michael Klein | Apr 05, 2017
    He's got his marching orders
    ITP-Trump Asking for More Information and Enforcenment on Trade-170405

    WASHINGTON, DC – On Friday, President Trump signed two executive orders (E.O.) dealing with trade issues, both of which are of interest to the U.S. rice industry.

    The first provides for enhanced collection and enforcement of antidumping and countervailing duties and for stepping up enforcement of existing U.S. trade and customs law.

    The second E.O. directs the Secretary of Commerce and the office of the U.S. Trade Representative to prepare, within 90 days, an Omnibus Report on Significant Trade Deficits for the President’s review.

    This report will contain “…current and comprehensive information regarding unfair trade practices and the causes of United States trade deficits.”  The report is expected to identify those trading partners with which the United States had a significant trade deficit in merchandise in 2016 and address the causes of the deficit and whether the foreign country is unfairly burdening U.S. exports or the commerce of the United States, among other requirements.

    Media reports indicate that the Report will focus on trade deficits with the following countries:  China, Japan, Germany, Mexico, Ireland, Viet Nam, Italy, Korea, Malaysia, India, Thailand, France, Switzerland, Taiwan, Indonesia, and Canada.  Several of these countries are either major export markets for U.S. rice or competitors on the global rice market.

    “USA Rice has long called for increased action by the U.S. government to make sure that other countries are acting fairly in international and U.S. markets and living up to their international obligations.  These two executive orders show a shift in focus, and we look forward to providing information to the administration as details about implementing the president’s directives become known,” said USA Rice COO Bob Cummings.

  • 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.

  • USA Rice’s Ward Sees EPA’s Pruitt as a Partner, Not an Opponent

    by Michael Klein | Mar 31, 2017
    CEO Ag Council and EPA Senior Staff
    COMM-USA Rice’s Ward Sees EPA’s Pruitt as a Partner, Not an Opponent2-170331.jpg

    WASHINGTON, DC – USA Rice President and CEO Betsy Ward met yesterday with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt and thanked him for his early decisive action on the Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule and for his back to basics approach to science-based regulation.

    The Pruitt meeting occurred during a multi-day planning session of the CEO Agriculture Council that brings together leaders from all major agricultural organizations to coordinate alignment on core issues.  The group, that makes its members available to the government’s ag policymakers, also met with U.S. Department of Agriculture transition officials and with leaders from other major associations up and down the food supply chain.

    Administrator Pruitt told the group he sees his agency as pro-growth, pro-jobs and pro-environment, and that he is firmly committed to work across agencies to solve complex problems.

    “All the CEO’s around the table enthusiastically welcomed Administrator Pruitt to the leadership of EPA,” Ward said.  “It was refreshing to be told we can work together to tackle important issues facing our industries and our nation as opposed to having an adversarial relationship from the get go.  The first few actions of the Trump Administration signal a real shift in process with outreach already happening between EPA and USDA which is something USA Rice has been encouraging for some time.  Administrator Pruitt’s approach to regulatory reform as a means to economic growth is certainly welcome by the rice industry.”

  • Rice Industry to Congress: “Reject Conservation Programs at All Our Peril”

    by Deborah Willenborg | Feb 28, 2017
    TX rice farmer Tim Gertson reminds Congress
    to 'Think Rice'
    Tim-Gertson-Testimony
    WASHINGTON, DC – This morning, the House Committee on Agriculture’s Conservation and Forestry Subcommittee held a hearing to solicit feedback from rural America on conservation policy ahead of constructing the 2018 Farm Bill.  USA Rice was invited to provide a witness to testify and Timothy Gertson, Texas rice farmer, graduate of the Rice Leadership Program, and member of the USA Rice Federation and USA Rice Farmers Board of Directors was tapped to represent the industry.

    “The Conservation Title of most farm bills is typically not the most contentious but has steadily grown to absorb a larger portion of the legislation’s overall budget, making it look ripe for cuts,” said USA Rice President & CEO Betsy Ward.  “But the investment in voluntary working lands conservation programs – the mission of the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service – is vital to the future not just of agriculture, but of the planet.  Many groups in agriculture, including USA Rice, will stand together to fight to protect this investment in our future.”

    Gertson credits the rice industry’s “unique relationship with waterfowl” as one of the reasons rice farmers are by default, some of the best stewards of the environment and said the USA Rice-Ducks Unlimited Rice Stewardship Partnership “could be used as the model for commodity and wildlife groups working together going forward.”

    Gertson’s testimony focused on the effectiveness of the “workhorses” of NRCS working lands programs:  the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), and their economic benefits.  “With working lands programs the land is still in production, so the economic drivers of small communities are still working, unlike some programs like the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) that pay farmers not to grow a crop,” he said.

    “The [EQIP] practices I have put into place over the years have helped make my land more resilient to the multi-year drought we experienced a few years ago,” Gertson continued.  “These conservation practices have helped me stay in business over the course of this depressed farm economy.”

    And when a community’s farmers stay in business, so does the community.  “The revenue generated from my farm is reinvested in inputs for the following year and ends up in the hands of other small, local businesses,” he said.  “Small towns like mine rely on the agriculture industry for jobs and investment or they would disappear.”

    Aside from asking for the Regional Conservation Partnership Program to be reauthorized and the removal of several regulatory provisions that deincentivize conservation, the continuity of Gertson’s operation was a major concern.

    “My boys want to be farmers just like dad and someday farm the same land our family has been working for the last 108 years.  But without being able to make a living for my family and maintain the natural resources to keep my land in production, there won’t be anything left to hand to the sixth generation,” he said.

    “I am here to ensure that this Subcommittee fights to maintain Conservation Title funding and important working lands program investments so my children can play a part in feeding this great nation,” concluded Gertson.
  • Congressional Staff Awards Recognize Extra Efforts on Behalf of U.S. Rice

    by Deborah Willenborg | Feb 27, 2017
    Ted Verrill is literally the center of attention
    at award ceremony
    GAC Award-Jackie Loewer, Ted Verrill & Ralph Abraham
    WASHINGTON, DC – At the Government Affairs Conference earlier this month, USA Rice continued its tradition of recognizing Congressional staff that go above and beyond their duties to support the U.S. rice industry.  The 2017 recipients of the USA Rice Outstanding Congressional Staff Award are Ted Verrill and Carlisle Clarke.

    Ted Verrill has been a staple in the halls of Congress for quite a while and currently serves as the deputy chief of staff and legislative director for rice champion, Representative Ralph Abraham (R-LA).  Verrill is no stranger to the issues facing the rice industry as prior to joining Abraham’s staff, he served as legislative director and counsel for Representative Rick Crawford (R-AR) and also worked for former Senator Dale Bumpers (D-AR).

    “Ted is certainly most deserving of this award,” said USA Rice Vice President of Government Affairs Ben Mosely.  “He is a great communicator and frequently reaches out to us as a resource to make sure he and Congressman Abraham can effectively support the rice industry.”

    The Senate awardee, Carlisle Clarke, currently serves as the clerk for the Senate Appropriations Committee’s Agriculture Subcommittee, overseeing the annual funding bills for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration.  Clarke has worked under Subcommittee Chairmen Roy Blunt (R-MS), Jerry Moran (R-KS), and most recently John Hoeven (R-ND), but got his start as the legislative assistant covering agriculture for rice champion Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS).

    Mosely said, “Carlisle has been instrumental in ensuring that programs that are vital to the needs of the rice industry continue to be funded in the annual appropriations bills, including food aid and conservation-related accounts.  His efforts on behalf of the industry go all the way back to his days serving on Senator Cochran’s personal staff.”

    “Verrill and Clarke are just two of the many Congressional staff that USA Rice has strong relationships with,” added Mosely.  “It’s important to continue to strengthen our ties with staff and recognize those who really take our issues to heart and work overtime for the rice industry when the needs arise.”

  • USA Rice Meetings with the Trump Administration

    by Deborah Willenborg | Feb 17, 2017
    Leadership Class makes the case for U.S. rice
    at the Cuban Embassy
    Ldrshp-&;-Cuba-170217
    WASHINGTON, DC – While much of the action at this week’s USA Rice Government Affairs Conference took place on Capitol Hill, attendees also participated in a dozen meetings with Trump Administration officials around the city to share priorities and hear updates.
     
    Groups made up of producers, millers, and merchants from all the major rice producing states visited with representatives and leadership at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Department of State, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), World Food Program (WFP), Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR).
     
    “Preserving trade agreements that work and holding our trading partners accountable that don’t live up to their obligations was our message in meetings with USDA and the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office,” said Carl Brothers, chairman of the USA Rice International Trade Policy Committee and COO, Riceland Foods, Inc.  
     
    “We were very clear that NAFTA works for the rice industry and any improvements to this nearly 20 year-old trade deal can’t come at our expense,” Brothers said.  “Looking forward, many heavy hitters in the global rice business like India are over subsidizing their rice producers which means U.S. growers and exporters have to compete with surplus production on the world market.  The U.S. government needs to enforce existing trade agreements.”  
     
    Kick-starting the U.S. effort to sign a long-completed phytosanitary protocol permitting the purchase of U.S. milled rice by China’s importers was a key topic of USA Rice’s meeting with USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.  “This bilateral negotiation has been going on in one form or another for over a decade,” according to Michael Rue, California producer and vice chairman of the International Trade Policy Committee.  “China is delaying signature and we’re asking the incoming Administration to bring this protocol across the goal line.  They understand how important this is to the rice industry and we will assist in any way possible.”
     
    Members also engaged in productive discussions with officials from USDA’s Foreign Agriculture Service (FAS) on international market opportunities and USA Rice promotional strategies for 2017 in key export markets.  Acting FAS Administrator Holly Higgins hosted the meeting, which included a welcome by Acting Deputy Undersecretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services Jason Hafemeister.  
     
    Members expressed appreciation for the strong commitment of FAS in helping rice industry efforts maintain and grow export markets.  FAS officials also reviewed the state of play regarding NAFTA and Mexico, WTO panels on China’s domestic support and TRQ administration, rice trade with Cuba under the new Administration, and the future of Brexit and its impact on EU and UK trade agreements.  
     
    Food aid was high on the agenda of USA Rice members in meetings with officials from USDA, USAID and the WFP.  Members received an update on a study of rice fortification technologies and the use of fortified rice in food assistance programs.  This study is near completion, and the results could help fortified rice be increasingly integrated into existing food aid programs.  

    “Rice fortification is a proven, cost-effective way to combat malnutrition” said Bobby Hanks, CEO of Louisiana Rice Mill and Chair of the USA Rice Food Aid Subcommittee.  “We encourage USDA and USAID to utilize every technology at their disposal so that fortified rice can be used successfully, and as a healthy and nutritious option for feeding programs”.   

    In meetings with WFP officials, USA Rice members were clear in their support of in-kind commodity contributions in food aid programs as opposed to cash or vouchers, which can seriously increase the risk of fraud and abuse of funds that cannot be easily monitored.

    A robust group of growers attended back-to-back meetings with the USDA sub-agencies overseeing farm programs including, the Farm Service Agency (FSA), Risk Management Agency (RMA), and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).
     
    Daniel Berglund, a rice farmer and crop insurance aficionado from Wharton, Texas, participated in all three of those meetings.  Berglund said, “It’s great to get a chance to meet with USDA staff that can really get in the weeds with us about technical issues and historical knowledge because of long careers in the industry.  We were able to cover a lot of ground ranging from several new insurance endorsements we’re submitting to the latest ‘practical to replant’ dates regulated by RMA.”
     
    “Our meeting with NRCS just felt really effective, the room was brimming with excitement because of our great partnership with the agency, not to mention the $25 million in cost-share funding that’s been collectively secured by the industry through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program.  Our staff have clearly built strong relationships with many of the folks within the agencies and it makes working with USDA that much easier on us when we come into town,” said Berglund.
     
    All of the officials shared the sentiment that meeting with a unified rice industry is helpful as they begin navigating their portfolios under the new Administration.
     
    “We think it was important to get into these agencies to reinforce our positions and expectations even before many of the Trump appointees are seated,” said USA Rice President & CEO Betsy Ward, who attended most of the Administration meetings.  “Those appointees are going to have to hit the ground running, but at least from a rice perspective, their staffs are well-briefed.”
     
    Finally, in an annual tradition, members of the newly graduated Rice Leadership Development Class met with Ambassador José Ramón Cabañas Rodríguez at the Cuban Embassy to review the current state of relations between the two countries, and relay information to the Ambassador about their discussions on Cuba with Congress earlier in the week.
     
    Class member Hudgens Jeter, an Arkansas rice farmer, said, “We left the Cuban embassy with a sense of positivity because we know the Cuban people yearn for U.S. rice and our industry is willing and able to provide it.  We just need to keep moving forward toward our common goal of opening this market.”

    The annual Government Affairs Conference is a great way to blanket Washington with rice priorities over a few days.  As President Trump staffs up key agencies, USA Rice members will be called upon to engage with these new political appointees on a regular basis.

  • USA Rice Stormed the Hill

    by Deborah Willenborg | Feb 16, 2017
    Trending now: #RiceOnTheHill
    2017-GAC-TX-&-John-Cornyn
    WASHINGTON, DC – More than 140 rice farmers, merchants, and millers participated in USA Rice’s annual Government Affairs Conference here this week to share policy positions and priorities with Members of Congress, their staffs, and Trump Administration officials.

    There were 54 meetings with individual Congressional offices and key committees including at the House Ways & Means and Senate Finance Committees.

    “We had a very strong showing from all segments of the industry and all the major rice states, and our messages were well-received in all of the offices we visited,” said Blake Gerard, a Missouri rice farmer and chairman of USA Rice Farmers.

    "It’s important to thank our Members for their past help and express our concerns about the future,” said fellow Missourian Rance Daniels.  “What I find most encouraging is when we express those concerns to our home state Member and they are able to share with us the work they’ve already started on the issue."

    Trade dominated many of the conversations.

    “Given the Trump Administration’s new trade agenda, it was important for us to be here to let Members know that maintaining and expanding export markets is vital for us – from Japan and Iraq, to our top market of Mexico and what was once our top market, Cuba,” explained Robert Trahan of Falcon Rice Mill in Crowley, Louisiana and chairman of the USA Rice Millers’ Association.

    The looming Farm Bill and pending nomination of Governor Sonny Perdue to be Secretary of Agriculture were also central to discussions.

    “[House Agriculture Committee] Chairman Conaway is pretty determined to get the new Farm Bill in place by the time the current bill expires in 2018,” said Linda Raun, a Texas rice farmer who was instrumental for the rice industry in the development of the 2014 Farm Bill.  “They’ve already had more than 80 hearings which is good, but as the Chairman told us, there are some things that work really well in the current bill, particularly for rice, but there are also some things that need fixing, so it is going to be interesting.”

    “One of the things we told Members we met with is that we feel very good about Governor Perdue because he understands commodity agriculture, the importance of trade, and the plight of farmers today,” said Joe Mencer, an Arkansas farmer.  “We only heard back positive things about the Governor and expect he’ll be confirmed, which is good because there are a lot of important positions within USDA that the new Secretary needs to fill.”

    One of the highlights of the USA Rice conference is the unity that is on display.

    “The fact that we come here together – farmers, millers, merchants, and end users – to talk to our government with one voice is really important,” said Mississippi rice farmer Kirk Satterfield.  “Of course there’s strength in numbers, but the way the country and Congress seem divided now, I think us coming here and showing our leaders that we unite for our common good is encouraging, and frankly, I hope sets a good example.”

    Flooding and mandatory evacuations at home colored the experience for many of the California participants.

    "Almost all of our Hill meetings began with Oroville Dam situation," said Nicole Van Vleck, a rice farmer from Yuba City, California.  “But frankly, that provided us with the opportunity to drive home the point to the Members we met that water fixes are extremely important in California, especially additional surface storage, Sites Reservoir, and the need for regulatory agencies to take a serious look at our Salmon Recovery Plan as a way to save salmon and still allow farmers to farm."
  • What’s Good for Rice is Good for Ducks and It’s All Good to Eat

    by Deborah Willenborg | Feb 16, 2017
    DU-USA Rice Luncheon: Can you spot the decoys?
    2017-GAC-DU-Luncheon
    WASHINGTON, DC – The annual Ducks Unlimited-USA Rice Congressional Luncheon took place here yesterday, with more than 200 USA Rice Government Affairs Conference attendees and Congressional staff and Members mixing and talking rice and politics.

    The menu consisted of several U.S.-grown rice and duck dishes including sushi, arancini, and spicy duck and andouille sausage gumbo served over rice.

    “We’ve been hustling from meeting to meeting, on the Hill and off the Hill, for a day and a half now.  It’s nice to have a slightly more casual setting to visit with Congressional staff and grab a bite that really lets us naturally talk about the great conservation story rice has thanks to the unique relationship between rice and ducks,” explained California rice farmer and Chairman of the USA Rice Conservation Committee Leo LeGrande.

    “It’s great to bring everyone together to showcase our Rice Stewardship Partnership here in Washington,” said Kellis Moss, DU’s director of public policy, who worked closely with USA Rice to coordinate the event.  “The folks in the field see the benefits rice provides for ducks everyday but it’s even better to have growers in town to help us tell our story and hopefully they’ll later act as our advocates when we need help with policy and legislation.”

    The break didn’t last long.  Soon after the luncheon, the USA Rice Hill teams were back on schedule with a host of meetings that took them right into the dinner hour.
  • 2017 USA Rice Government Affairs Conference Opens with a Bang

    by Deborah Willenborg | Feb 14, 2017
    House Ag Chairman Mike Conaway (left) and LG Raun
    Mike Conaway-&LG-Raun
    WASHINGTON, DC – The USA Rice Government Affairs Conference opened here with a General Session this morning with encouraging remarks from House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R-TX) and Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS).
     
    “I am driven to get the next Farm Bill done on time, which hasn’t been done in 16 years,” Conaway said.  “If you want drama, go to a different theater, we are going to do everything we can to get this done before the current bill expires.”
     
    Roberts, who is now working on his seventh farm bill, offered insights into some of his priorities.
     
    “It’s no secret that there’s been an assault on agriculture through regulatory overreach,” the Roberts said.  “Someone ought to think about farmers and ranchers as an endangered species rather than every critter on earth.”
     
    He also said he would like to see limited research funding being invested wisely to spur agricultural innovation.
     
    Both Chairmen expressed their desire to work with the rice community, but also stressed they would need the industry to continue to advocate on their own behalf.
     
    “Another goal of mine is to be your best friend,” Conaway said.  “But don’t stop telling your story.”
     
    “We’re going to stick with you and fight for you,” Roberts echoed.  “And we’re going to fight for better trade policies.”
     
    “We were honored to have the Chairmen address us today,” said USA Rice Chairman Brian King.  “A lot of experience, a lot of influence, and a lot of our fate is riding on those two.  We are fortunate both of them took questions and really listened to our concerns.”
     
    The session concluded with the graduation of the 2015/17 Rice Leadership Development class and remarks from class spokesman, California rice farmer Greg Van Dyke.
     
    “The perceptions we have change over time, and we’re so lucky, as people, to have the opportunity to have experiences to change us,” he said.  “As a fifth-generation California rice farmer I definitely entered this program with certain perceptions of the industry, of myself, of our future.  And participating in this program helped me realize some of those perceptions needed adjusting.”
     
    Van Dyke thanked the alumni in the room; program sponsors RiceTec, John Deere, and American Commodity Company; as well as Rice Foundation Executive Director Chuck Wilson, and his fellow classmates.
     
    “We have the opportunity now to do something unique with these experiences we’ve been given, and I know even if it’s just the seven of us, we’ll all be okay.”
     
    Following the graduation ceremony, the 130 rice farmers and millers in attendance began fanning out across the city for meetings with Administration officials and Members of Congress that will span today and tomorrow.
  • Rice Gets Full Coverage at Southwest Ag Issues Summit

    by Deborah Willenborg | Feb 10, 2017
    Summit coordinator and emcee Linda Raun
    Linda-Raun-@-SoWest-Ag-Conference
    FORT WORTH, TX – Earlier this week, USA Rice participated at the Southwest Ag Issues Summit, hosted by the Southwest Council of Agribusiness and the Texas Ag Forum, where farm policy leaders from across the country with an interest in Texas agriculture came together to discuss the 2014 Farm Bill, the upcoming 2018 Farm Bill, and the ever-changing landscape of Texas and national politics.  House Ag Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R-TX), Representatives Louie Gohmert (R-TX) and Filemon Vela (D-TX), and Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) were there talking about the important role agriculture plays in the U.S. and state economies.

    Ben Mosely, USA Rice vice president of government affairs, participated on a panel of veteran Congressional staff talking about what it will take to pass the 2018 Farm Bill.  Other panelists from national grower organizations representing corn, sugar beet, wheat, sorghum, and cotton, joined in the discussion.

    Mosely shared frank advice with the audience: “It’s important for commodity and other farm groups to come together ahead of Farm Bill negotiations.  Reaching consensus will be a challenge but we’d all be better off if we have a united front going in to the Farm Bill.  At the same time, I believe that it’s equally important to stay in your own lane and really focus on what’s best for your organization without getting caught up in someone else’s priorities or the type of safety net that works or doesn’t work for them.”

    “We shouldn’t get ahead of our Congressional leaders who have to carry the Farm Bill through the legislative process,” Mosely cautioned.  “We have to free them up to navigate their respective chambers and avoid boxing in the [House and Senate] Ag Committee Chairs, with regard to splitting the nutrition title or ways to handle other legislative approaches.  It’s best to trust that they can maneuver through the legislative process without a truckload of backseat drivers from industry.”

    Blake Gerard, Missouri rice farmer and chairman of the USA Rice Farmers, participated on a grower panel with other commodity representatives and was quick to mention the importance of a strong farm safety net for the viability of rice farmers.  “Rice is a unique crop in terms of the world market, we have a really volatile price and those fluctuations make it hard to plan for the future, especially since our input costs are higher than most other commodities and the investment in irrigation-related infrastructure just adds to that expense.  If we don’t have the certainty that we’ll at least be able to recoup our cost of production, we cannot stay in business.”

    Gerard added, “Rice is approaching the next Farm Bill with a vested interest in a lot of different policies so it’s important that we’re evaluating what we have and building upon that.  Everything from commodity programs, conservation programs, crop insurance, and food aid, all play a big part in the viability of our complex market.  We’re looking forward to working with the rest of the commodity and agriculture organizations to ensure this legislation provides the certainty we rely on.”

    Another rice industry rep on the Summit program was Linda Raun, Texas rice farmer and chairman of the Texas Ag Forum and Texas Rice Producers Legislative Group.  Raun helped coordinate the landmark event, and in addition to organizational responsibilities, she served as the emcee for Monday’s lunch session and provided closing remarks for the Summit.

    Dr. Joe Outlaw, co-director of Texas A&M’s Agricultural and Food Policy Center joined Raun in planning and participating in the two-day event, and said, “One of the most interesting parts of this entire meeting for me is how commodity groups sat side by side and said that they're going to work together.  The reality is this:  they're going to try to, but it's all going to come down to money.”
  • USA Rice, CEO Ag Council Ask Trump to Value Ag Appropriately

    by Deborah Willenborg | Feb 09, 2017
    Stuffing the in-box
    Dear-Mr.-President
    WASHINGTON, DC – USA Rice joined 15 other agriculture industry organizations to send a strong letter to President Trump to remind him and his team of both the challenges the sector faces and the value it offers.

    “Many experts emphasize that producers must grow as much food in the next 50 years as was produced over all of previous history to meet the demands of our expanding global population. A firm commitment by the U.S. government to aggressively support agricultural innovation and science-based regulatory decisions will be necessary to ensure farmers have the tools they need to produce a safe and abundant supply of nutritious food,” the letter reads.

    USA Rice President & CEO Betsy Ward explained the timing of the letter that will reach the President before his agriculture team is in place.

    “The policy and regulatory environment this Administration establishes can ensure agriculture flourishes and we wanted the new administration to know that we are ready to help,” she explained.  “The next Farm Bill will be here before we know it and the President’s ag team, presumably led by former Governor Sonny Perdue, needs to hit the ground running and set us on a sound course.”
     
    The diverse group of the CEO's of major ag commodity groups that signed the letter offered their expertise and experience to the White House.

    “We are ready to provide the White House and the Executive Branch Departments and Agencies, as well as Congress, with policy concepts that foster stability in the U.S. agriculture economy with a strong and predictable farm safety net and promote American competitiveness through research; marketability and trade of agricultural commodities; rural economic growth; and plant, animal, and environmental health, among many other things,” the letter concludes.
  • Amidst Senate Drama, Trump EPA Designee Remains in Limbo

    by Michael Klein | Feb 01, 2017
    Not yet
    Scott-Pruitt-EPA-Nominee
    WASHINGTON, DC - As decorum breaks down in the Capitol over President Trump's designees and nominees for cabinet, sub-cabinet posts, and now the Supreme Court, his pick for Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, was once again, put on hold, by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee during a hearing that was boycotted by Democrat Members of the Committee.

    Arkansas Senator John Boozman and Mississippi Senator Roger Wicker attended the hearing and spoke in support of AG Pruitt's nomination and decried the Democrat boycott of the hearing. Without a minimum of two Members of the minority party present, Committees are unable to achieve a quorum to advance nominees to the full Senate. (Earlier today, the Senate Finance Committee waived those rules to pass out of Committee the nominations of Congressman Tom Price for Secretary of Health and Human Services and Steve Mnuchin for Treasury Secretary.)

    Two weeks ago, at a sometimes contentious hearing on his nomination, AG Pruitt was grilled by a bipartisan group of Senators on his views regarding climate change, ties to "Big Oil" and "Big Gas," ongoing lawsuits against the EPA, and what his agenda as Administrator would look like.

    Today, Committee Chairman Barrasso (R-WY) added that "Pruitt was required to answer more questions than any EPA Administrator nominee in recent history." In total, Pruitt responded to more than 1,200 questions during and after his hearing was initially held.

    Frank Lucas (R-OK), the former chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture, said, "Scott Pruitt is a terrific choice to restore common sense and rule of law to the Environmental Protection Agency.  [Pruitt] has stood up to Washington time after time to fight for the conservation of our country's natural resources while protecting the jobs and well-being of American families and workers.  I look forward to working with him on a number of issues to ensure science - not political agendas - guides our nation's environmental policy."

    Last month, USA Rice, along with a number of other agriculture and commodity trade associations and companies, signed a letter of support for Pruitt's confirmation as the EPA Administrator.  He is expected to be approved for the job by the Environment and Public Works Committee and the full Senate, though no schedule for either vote has been announced.
  • House Ag Committee Fully Stocked, Adds 11 New Members

    by Katie Maher | Jan 12, 2017
    WASHINGTON, DC – In 1820, the U.S. House Committee on Agriculture consisted of seven Members of Congress solely representing the East Coast.  Today, the powerful Committee consists of 46 Members with representation spreading across rural America, our cities, and even the U.S. Virgin Islands.

    Earlier this week, the House Committee on Agriculture added 11 new Members of Congress from both urban and rural Congressional Districts.

    Six Republicans were named to the Committee: Jodey Arrington (TX-19), Don Bacon (NE-2), James Comer (KY-1), Neal Dunn (FL-2), John Faso (NY-19), and Roger Marshall (KS-1).

    Representative “GT” Thompson of Pennsylvania was named Vice Chairman of the Agriculture Committee, replacing retired Rep. Randy Neugebauer of Texas.

    The Committee added five Democrats to the roster, including: Dwight Evans (PA-2), Al Lawson (FL-5), Tom O’Halleran (AZ-1), Jimmy Panetta (CA-20), and Darren Soto (FL-9).

    “My team and I, along with all of our members within the rice industry, are looking forward to working closely with current and incoming Members on the House and Senate Agriculture Committees,” said USA Rice Vice President of Government Affairs Ben Mosely.  “Several of the new Members represent ag-heavy Districts and we think that USA Rice will share some common priorities and be able to work cooperatively with them as we gear up for the 2018 Farm Bill.”

    Mosely noted, “Seeing Congressman GT Thompson appointed as House Ag’s Vice Chairman while also serving as the Subcommittee Chairman for Conservation and Forestry is a good sign for us.  We hope that voluntary, working lands conservation programs will continue to be a priority for the Committee moving forward, especially with Mr. Thompson’s new leadership role.”

    Three new Senators were added to the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Roster, as reported in the USA Rice Daily last week.

  • And They’re Off! 115th Congress Begins with Ceremonial Traditions

    by Deborah Willenborg | Jan 04, 2017
    Bear true faith and allegiance
    Speaker Paul-Ryan
    WASHINGTON, DC – Yesterday marked the start of the 115th United States Congress as Members of the House and Senate were sworn-in on the floor of their respective chambers by Speaker Paul Ryan and Vice President Joe Biden.

    Shortly before the swearing-in ceremony, House Members formally voted to re-elect Paul Ryan (R-WI) as Speaker of the House and Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) as Minority Leader.

    The 115th Congress includes 51 new Members of the House and seven new Senators following the general election last fall.   Additionally, several new Members will be elected through special elections and appointments following the confirmation of President-elect Donald Trump’s Cabinet and mid-level agency heads in the coming weeks that could leave several vacancies in Congress.  For example, Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) has been nominated as the U.S. Attorney General, Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-SC) as the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) as head the Department of Health and Human Services, and Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS) as CIA Director.

    Yesterday the Senate also announced that Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Steve Daines (R-MT), and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) have been added to the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry.  The House plans to announce their updated Committee rosters in the next week.

    USA Rice attended a number of receptions for Members of Congress representing rice-growing states to show support and begin visiting about priorities for 2017.

    “We’re looking forward to calling on new Members and catching up with our friends who held their seats,” said USA Rice Vice President of Government Affairs Ben Mosely.  “This is a great time to re-evaluate industry priorities and look at advancing some issue areas that may have fresh momentum given the new political landscape.”

    “As the Trump transition process unfolds, USA Rice is remaining engaged in providing input and ensuring that the U.S. rice industry’s priorities are at the forefront,” added Mosely.

    Congress will need as much time as possible in Washington to accomplish their hefty agenda for the year; the House calendar has added more than three additional weeks in session compared to 2016.

  • Prevented Planting Update Good for Rice

    by Michael Klein | Nov 23, 2016
    Not that kind of prevent

    GA-Prevented Planting Update Good for Rice-161123

    WASHINGTON, DC -- Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Risk Management Agency (RMA) announced changes to the agency’s prevented planting rules.  Among the changes, RMA included updated factors for prevented planting coverage for a number of crops, including rice.

    Prevented planting coverage provides farmers with protection if they are unable to plant an insured crop due to adverse weather conditions.  Prevented planting coverage is a useful risk management tool for rice farmers due to the wide variability of precipitation and water availability in rice producing areas.  Prevented planting indemnities help growers by covering a portion of those pre-planting costs generally incurred in preparation for planting the crop. Such as fertilizer, actions taken to ready the field, pesticide, labor, and repairs. The prevented planting factor, which RMA updated, is a percentage of the individual insurance guarantee and varies by crop, and is based on an estimate of pre-planting costs.

    Among the changes is a positive change from a rice farmer’s perspective.  Currently, if rice acreage is prevented from planting the guarantee under insurance is equal to 45 percent of the normal indemnity to account for fewer input costs.  However, under yesterday’s announcement, beginning with the 2017 crop year, the rice prevent planting guarantee will actually increase to 55 percent of the normal indemnity.  This change is to ensure that rice farmers are more properly indemnified for losses associated with a prevent planting situation.

    “We are still absorbing all of the changes but this particular change is positive for rice and worth highlighting,” said Ben Mosely USA Rice vice president of government affairs.

    Mosely said the updates were required to address the recommendations in an Office of the Inspector General’s 2013 report: RMA Controls Over Prevented Planting.  That report led to RMA commissioning a third-party evaluation of prevented planting coverage, which provided recommendations for determining prevented planting factors.

    “USA Rice submitted comments on the recommendations last year supporting more accurately quantifying rice’s coverage factors,” Mosely said.  “We’re pleased with the update.”