CROWLEY, La. – Leaders of the rice industry are urging Louisiana producers to persevere but brace themselves for possible price support cuts.

The admonition came during Tuesday’s joint annual meeting of the Louisiana Rice Growers Association and the Louisiana Rice Council.

Also Tuesday, the association elected Linda Zaunbrecher of Gueydan, La., as president for 2005, the first time a woman has been chosen for the office.

Morgan Smith, outgoing Louisiana Rice Growers Association president, said the talks on the 2007 farm bill will start this year.

"We need to prepare to defend ourselves," Smith said, stressing that members of Congress will look at commodity price supports for cuts.

"They want what we think we are due," he said, adding, "Keep your head up and don’t be dismayed by the fog they’re putting up in front of you."

Smith said it’s expected that Congress will direct more money to conservation programs.

Overseas rice markets have either been lost or restricted by American embargoes against Cuba, Iraq and Iran, Smith said.

Betsy Ward, USA Rice Federation vice president for international and domestic promotions, said negotiations are still under way to sell American rice to Iraq.

The night’s speaker, veteran agriculture broadcaster Orion Samuelson of Chicago, said he opposes the administration’s continuation of the embargo against Cuba.

"Embargoes don’t work unless you totally control the commodity," Samuelson said, drawing applause.

Stuart Proctor, president of the USA Rice Federation, said hearings on the new federal farm bill will start in the fall, with passage by the end of 2006.

"We who participate in the safety net program…are the most likely to get cuts," Proctor said – pointing out, however, that price supports under the 2002 farm bill have cost the federal government $7 billion less than anticipated.

Proctor said it’s unknown if reduced price supports would lead to an increase in rice exports.

He said the USA Rice Federation will hire lobbyists and consultants to represent the rice industry for deliberations on the farm bill and World Trade Organization talks.

Proctor also said the low-carbohydrate diet fad has hurt the rice industry, although brown rice does have a role in the most popular low-carb diets.

In addition, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s recently revised dietary guidelines list brown rice and enriched white rice equally for the grain category.

He said details of a study by Iowa State University will be released soon that show people who eat rice are generally healthier, consuming fewer fats and sugars.

Bruce Schultz is a writer for the LSU AgCenter.

e-mail: bschultz@agcenter.lsu.edu