Rice check-off funds and lawyer fees

ON BEHALF of the USA Rice Council and our respective state memberships, we wish to address the comments of Mr. Dwight Ellis and Mr. John Alter as reported in the June 6 (Rice check-off money and lawyers) article by David Bennett on the Mexico anti-dumping issue.

Mr. Ellis and Mr. Alter allege that, in their opinions, promotion checkoff dollars were misused. We take our accountability very seriously. When we see it called into question as it was by Mr. Ellis and Mr. Alter in this article, we must respond.

First and foremost, there was extensive member discussion and due process on this issue. This is not a new story. In Arkansas, for example, the Arkansas Rice Council board of directors deliberated and voted to support the rice industry defense against the Mexican anti-dumping charges back in January 2001. The Arkansas Rice Council is made up of 30 rice farmers, duly elected by farmers from all rice-growing districts in the state. At the USA Rice Council level, farmer board representatives from each of the member states, including Arkansas, participated in multiple discussions and votes on this issue. No actions were taken, nor expenditures made, without farmer oversight.

Mr. Ellis alleges that the expenses for the U.S. rice industry's defense against the Mexican anti-dumping case were kept “under the radar.” In fact, there has been ongoing, open communication to rice farmers and the industry on the USA Rice Council's actions and expenditures. The cost of the industry's defense was even covered in a previous Delta Farm Press article (June 21, 2002) based on information the USA Rice Federation provided, so it has hardly been kept a secret as Mr. Ellis implies.

The Mexico anti-dumping case is about defending market access for U.S. rice in our number one export market. These are hard economic times for rice farmers, which is why the USA Rice Council, through due process, voted to defend access to a market that means more than 700,000 metric tons and $100 million a year to the U.S. rice industry. There's something else to consider. Left unchallenged, the Mexican case potentially could have led to a ripple effect of contrived trade barriers in other markets. The industry cannot afford to let that happen.

It is always easier to give an opinion than it is to convey facts. We appreciate the space given in the article to Bob Cummings of the USA Rice Federation staff, who lays out the facts, background and current status of the issue. However, wrapped in the commentary of Mr. Ellis and Mr. Alter, the real story about protecting market access may be overshadowed.

Mr. Ellis and Mr. Alter have previously said they are affiliated with the US Rice Producers Association. Yet it is hard to reconcile their statements in your article with those of that association in its June 5, 2002, news release “Rice Farmers Urge Reversal of Mexican Antidumping Duties,” which states “USRPA urges that all available forms of protest be utilized to overturn this generally incomprehensible decision.”

As rice farmers in leadership positions on the USA Rice Council, we are surprised none of us were contacted for this story. However, we know Farm Press strives for fair and balanced reporting and believe this was an unintended oversight. We appreciate this opportunity to comment.
Michael Rue
USA Rice Council Chairman
Jimmy Hoppe
Immediate Past Chairman
USA Rice Council

John King III
Arkansas Vice Chairman
USA Rice Council

Charley Mathews Jr.
California Vice Chairman
USA Rice Council

Clarence Berken
Louisiana Vice Chairman
USA Rice Council


Article ‘expresses lack of knowledge’

THE LACK of sophistication and knowledge of international marketing expressed in David Bennett's June 6 article on the Mexican anti-dumping case is appalling.

Market access and market promotion are inexorably intertwined. It is legitimate to spend rice industry check-off funds and U.S. government funds to sell more rice to our number one market. Rice Council members and U.S. government officials have repeatedly said so.

We encourage close scrutiny of our international and domestic programs. That's why on July 26, 2002, the USA Rice Federation sent a four-page letter to 17,651 rice industry individuals explaining in detail the Mexican anti-dumping issue and specifically stating how funds would be expended. There's no need to file Freedom of Information requests. Just read your mail.

To discuss this and other issues, I spoke at the Arkansas Rice Council Annual Convention last January. The meeting was well publicized. Mr. Alter and Mr. Ellis did not attend.

I called Mr. Ellis in February and offered to meet him any time, anywhere to explain our programs and answer his questions.

We met in Memphis in April. I answered all of his questions, gave him a copy of the latest audited financial statements and provided all information requested including copies of cancelled checks.

The entire approval and implementation process for the Mexican anti-dumping case has been totally open and transparent and will continue to be. We're doing what's best for the U.S. rice industry. Some people may misunderstand what we're doing but that does not change the veracity of the facts and the merit of our intentions.
Stuart E. Proctor Jr.
President and CEO
USA Rice Federation


David Bennett responds: Although I don't speak for Mr. Alter or Mr. Ellis, I want to address an issue raised in Mr. Proctor's letter. In order to do so, I must first give a bit of background.

In preparing this story, there was a tremendous amount of information to sift through. The final 2,200-word story originally began at a size nearly three times as large. Something had to be left out.

I decided — rather than crafting a contentious ping-ponging, charge-countercharge story — to simply air the lawyer fee complaint and then allow the federation to explain its position (a position, incidentally, that doesn't seem unreasonable).

It turned out that to properly explore the federation's actions and fears over the Mexican situation required the vast bulk of the story. That meant that almost all of what Mr. Alter and Mr. Ellis had to say was excised (a point of interest: the federation's position got some 1,000 words more than the farmers').

With all that in mind, it bothers me that Mr. Proctor's letter suggests the men exhibit an “appalling”…“lack of sophistication and knowledge of international marketing…” In this, Mr. Proctor is mistaken.

If anyone else passed judgment on these men in such a manner, I want to apologize. In story preparation, both men spoke at length — with both “knowledge” and “sophistication” — on a number of rice-related issues including marketing. Any contrary view based on the story is my fault, not theirs. It would be unfair and incorrect for anyone to think otherwise.
David Bennett
Associate Editor, Delta Farm Press


Questions concerning check-off funds

ON BEHALF of the Arkansas Rice Growers Assn.: Bravo, Delta Farm Press, for writing about a very controversial issue. Referring to your June 6 article, Rice check-off money and lawyers, I felt it was a fair and balanced piece even though the federation got most of the copy in the article.

I have a few questions and comments regarding Mr. Cummings' comments.

  1. If these large rice mills are experts in international trade shouldn't they know what price would invite this action from any government?

    I am speaking of milled rice only in this case. There was no mention of rough rice. Mexico is one of our largest customers of rough rice and I personally felt Mr. Cummings' comments about the Mexicans were not exactly helpful.

  2. Rice farmers need rice mills to process their crop, but the decision to sell a particular market at a certain price is the decision of the mill, not the farmer. If I make a bad decision on my individual farm can I access check-off money to help fix the problem?

    Mr. Cummings stated that there were farmers present when these decisions were made. Who? We all know that there are some farmers who also serve in some capacity with a mill, some receiving compensation or perks or both. Which hat do they wear under those circumstances?

  3. Throughout Mr. Cummings' comments he refers to “defense of the industry.” This means defense of the milling industry because once again we are speaking of milled rice only in this case.

    Also, many rice farmers are wondering what is happening to the value added. Where is it? With all of this value added, shouldn't the mills be self supporting at the minimum and shouldn't they be able to pay their own legal fees? To use money that is expressly for the purpose of promotion to pay lawyers' fees simply is not right.

  4. Is the Arkansas Rice Research and Promotion Board doing their duty in allowing something like this to happen without even as much as a question? Once again, this money is for research and promotion, not legal fees.

The rice check-off system in Arkansas is not a private pot of money for any one group to use at their own discretion. The farmers are in reality paying it all and should have say-so as to its use.

(The) 2.7 cents a bushel tax was not that much when rice sold for $4.50 a bushel, but 2.7 cents a bushel tax with $1.5 a bushel rice is a different matter entirely. Where is the incentive for these people to produce results? Besides, here in Arkansas we do not have a check-off system. In order for it to fit national guidelines it must have either a refund option or provisions for a referendum and we have neither. In 1999 our legislature enacted a rice tax with no one actually providing oversight.

In order to correct this very serious matter, the Arkansas Rice Research and Promotion Board should ask for a refund of its share of the legal expenses and then invest the funds in promotion as it promised to do.
John B. Alter
Vice President
Arkansas Rice Growers Assn.


Paying share of weevil eradication is fair

SEEMS TO me these farmers in Mississippi and eastern Craighead counties are using an argument no reasonable person would think of using — them included — as an excuse to avoid helping pay for weevil eradication. The argument is I shouldn't have to pay for _____ that doesn't affect me directly. You fill in the blank with whatever you like that is done with state, federal, and even local tax money.

For example, my children are no longer in school, but I continue to help pay for public education. Should I claim that's unfair? Or that I never drive on I-90, so I shouldn't have to help pay for it.

Seems to me that if farmers are paying for weevil eradication, all of them ought to pay their fair share, whether or not all are directly benefiting. I'll bet that every one of these farmers is receiving federal dollars, most of which is being contributed by people who are related to farming only as consumers. So let's hear that one again, about weevil control only costing me $2 an acre….
Ed Ryland
Monroe, La.


Delta Farm Press welcomes letters from readers. Mail them to Editor-Letters, P.O. Box 1420, Clarksdale, Miss. 38614, or e-mail your letter to ephillips@primediabusiness.com. We reserve the right to edit responses for length and content.