Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue met with a delegation from USA Rice today in a wide-ranging discussion of industry priorities including trade, flooding in the mid-south, the upcoming Farm Bill, labor shortages in California, food aid, and the importance of rice research programs.
“With 50 percent of our crop exported each year, and 20 percent of that going to Mexico, we can’t overstate the importance of the North American Free Trade Agreement,” USA Rice Chairman Brian King told the Secretary at the start of the meeting.
Keith Glover, chairman of USA Rice’s World Market Price Subcommittee, continued the trade theme, reminding the Secretary about the lack of progress on signing the U.S.-China Phytosanitary Agreement for rice and the refusal of Iraq to purchase U.S. rice for the last year, despite a Memorandum of Understanding between the U.S. and the government of Iraq.
“The message we gave the President on NAFTA was clear, ‘don’t go backwards,'” the Secretary said. “On China, we don’t have any disagreements on the phytosanitary deal, it’s just going to be a question of putting our names on the dotted lines.”
The Secretary told the group that moving China forward on rice was definitely on his radar.
On the issue of Iraq, Perdue offered that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, “with the full U.S. economy in his portfolio, has sunk his teeth into agriculture because he understands how much ag helps with our trade surplus.”
Missouri rice farmer Paul T. Combs discussed food aid saying, “USDA food aid programs are quite important to the rice industry, and we believe food aid should be food, not cash, which can more easily be corrupted.”
Curtis Berry, a Mississippi rice farmer, stressed the importance of the rice industry’s partnership with the Foreign Agriculture Service (FAS) to promote U.S. rice around the world.
“Those promotion programs are very important to the rice industry, and we match every dollar we receive from the government with more than seven dollars from industry, so you can see we value the programs and believe in them,” Berry said.
Sean Doherty, a California rice farmer, shared his concerns about labor shortages in California as a result of rhetoric coming out of the White House and also made the case for improved access to the Japanese market for U.S. rice.
Also on the domestic front, Arkansas rice farmer Dow Brantley thanked Secretary Perdue for his recent trip to Arkansas to survey flood damage and reminded him about difficulties with the “practical to replant” regulations and used it as an opportunity to share rice priorities for the upcoming Farm Bill, including a safety net provision that works for rice, as the current Price Loss Coverage (PLC) program does, and a closer look at current policies that do not work, including the Actively Engaged provision.
“Really important, I think, is to give farmers an opportunity to adjust to any rule changes in the new Farm Bill, we didn’t get that last time and it hurt a lot of people,” Brantley said.
Texas rice farmer L.G. Raun talked about the exceptional conservation story the rice industry has to tell as the providers of so much habitat. He praised the work of USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service, stewards of the Regional Conservation Partnership Program of which the rice industry is a major beneficiary, and reminded the Secretary of the unique relationship between USA Rice and Ducks Unlimited that works to preserve habitat and improve water quality.
Louisiana rice farmer Jackie Loewer also praised robust rice research programs that are helping the rice industry remain competitive.
“All the issues you heard about today are important, but we really have a three-legged stool of trade, safety net programs, and research on which we sit,” said Loewer, who is also the chairman of the Louisiana Rice Research Board.
“This could not have been a better meeting,” said USA Rice President & CEO Betsy Ward. “It was apparent to all of us that Secretary Perdue is going to be a strong advocate for all of agriculture, but that he also understands the unique challenges confronting the rice industry and he is going to work with us, both domestically and internationally, to improve conditions for us.”
From a release
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