Producers attending a joint meeting of the Arkansas Rice Council and the Arkansas Rice Producers' Group Jan. 14 in Brinkley, Ark., were told to expect a tough fight in the current session of Congress over whether or not to maintain funding of existing farm programs.
Ben Noble, the USA Rice Federation's new vice president for government affairs and a native of Ethel, Ark., told growers the federation will fight to maintain funding for farm programs and will work to secure disaster assistance for U.S. rice producers.
“While we're going to be aggressively seeking funding for many farm programs, the budget realities are tough,” Noble said. “We'll be playing a lot of defense just to protect what we already have.”
More than 350 rice producers, millers and industry leaders discussed pressing issues on Capitol Hill, improving domestic rice consumption and expanding overseas markets at the joint annual membership meeting of the two rice groups.
“Maintaining federal safety net programs is critical, especially now during some of the roughest economic times our industry has ever seen,” said Stuart Proctor, president and CEO of the USA Rice Federation. “At the same time, we will continue to maximize our dollars to implement effective domestic and international promotions to market our way to profitability.”
The biggest challenge, Noble says, is going to be convincing the non-farm state members of Congress that continued farm support is necessary. “There was a large misperception last year that agriculture received more than its fair share of the budget pie. We know this is not true, and we're working to educate members of Congress about the need for continued funding.”
“We're going to continue working with our allies in Congress to stress the importance of the farm income safety net,” he says.
Securing disaster assistance for producers, Proctor says, is more critical now than ever before. “If the federal government had not imposed embargoes on our top former markets — Cuba, Iran and Iraq — the rice industry would not be the position of needing additional support now,” he says.
The Arkansas Rice Council and Arkansas Rice Producers' Group belong to the USA Rice Federation.