LITTLE ROCK — The U.S. rice industry is having its share of ups and downs. Going up are rice yields and production, thanks to new varieties and products, innovative technologies and better management.

Prices are down, however, to the lowest levels in years. Also going down is rice acreage in several states. The problem is that it's going down for all the wrong reasons. For example, real estate investors, who often don't live anywhere near a rice farm, have suddenly become speculators, buying rice land, some hoping to garner lucrative conservation payments.

These are just few of the issues to be addressed at the 2002 Rice Outlook Conference, Dec. 8-10, at the Statehouse Convention Center, Little Rock, Ark.

The program includes: a session on new products and technology, "What's here? What's coming? What will it mean to you?"; a domestic and international rice situation and outlook; and a look at the 2002 farm bill's impact on rice, including an in-depth look at conservation provisions.

Rice producers will hear the latest information from Capitol Hill and state-by-state rice production outlooks. Top production practices and cutting edge research will also be discussed.

Rice producers raised Francis, herbicide-resistant (Clearfield) varieties, and several new rice hybrids this year. Experts will discuss these developments and more in a session on rice varieties of the future.

Last but certainly not least, rice producers can get a better idea of what their customers are looking for in a session called "The future of food — what the customer wants and how you can supply it."

The official hotel for the conference is The Peabody Little Rock, which connects to the Statehouse Convention Center. Other conference hotels, The Capital and Doubletree hotels, are within walking distance.

A limited number of rooms have been reserved on a first-come, first-served basis at the conference hotels. You can register for the conference on-line at www.usarice.com. For registration packets and additional information, call Jeanette at 703-236-1447 or 703-236-1472.

The USA Rice Outlook Conference provides an annual forum for all segments of the rice industry to convene and examine the critical issues that ultimately will affect your business operation's bottom line, whether you are a rice producer, miller, marketer or in any rice-related business. The conference program assembles rice industry and outside experts to bring you timely information and perspectives on the rice situation today and the outlook for the future.

Meanwhile, the conference trade show is the nation's most comprehensive exposition devoted exclusively to rice-related technology, products and services.

There will also be several special events associated with the conference, including a Spa Day tour to Hot Springs, Ark. on Dec. 7; Little Rock city and history tour on Dec. 8; tour of Dale Bumpers National Rice Research Center in Stuttgart, on Dec. 8; and Antiques Shopping tour, Dec. 9.