As much for what did not happen as for what did, 2009 was a good year for rice farmers and the rice industry in Washington. Progress was made on some fronts of importance to producers, while threats to the industry were largely held at bay.

This is good news in the short run. However, many of these threats remain, and constant vigilance will be required to combat them in 2010 and beyond.

President Obama signed the fiscal 2010 agriculture appropriations bill into law on Oct. 16. This was the earliest that a bill providing agriculture appropriations for the entire fiscal year had been signed into law during the entire decade. This is good news because it provides some certainty of funding and administrative consistency for the fiscal year for any number of important agriculture programs.

Of key importance to rice producers, the bill included a $10 million increase in funding for the National Agriculture Statistics Service (to a total of $161.830 million), and full funding of $200 million for Market Access Program.

The US Rice Producers Association and other agricultural champions were successful in advocating the increased funding for NASS and that MAP be funded at the levels provided in the 2008 farm bill.

In a key victory for rice producers, the $10 million in additional funding for NASS will fund improvements in several of the periodic reports prepared by NASS. A key victory for rice producers, the increased NASS funds will allow for the implementation of an additional rice stocks reporting date on Sept. 1 of each year. The Sept. 1 stocks reporting date has been a priority for the USRPA for several years.

Some in the industry initially opposed the collection and publication of this vital information. But USRPA pushed ahead for several years to successfully build a producer-based consensus for additional stocks reporting.

Additional stocks reports will increase NASS’ ability to provide more market information and hopefully enhance the ability of rice producers to profitably market their crop. We look forward to working cooperatively with NASS to implement the new Sept. 1 rice stocks report.

USRPA partners with USDA and matches MAP funds to operate innovative export enhancement programs in Central America, Mexico, Latin America, and elsewhere overseas.

Unfortunately, the president’s budget recommendation earlier this year was to cut MAP funding by $40 million per year, from $200 million to only $160 million. USRPA is pleased that through our cooperative advocacy with other agriculture groups, MAP is fully funded at the mandatory level of $200 million in fiscal 2010. We stand ready to protect this important funding in the coming fiscal years.

Agriculture research is one area of the federal budget where there exists a strong consensus for increased funding. Earlier this summer USRPA took a leadership role with 43 other agriculture groups who signed a letter to Congress urging increased agricultural research funding.

The fiscal 2010 agriculture appropriations bill includes over $262 million for the USDA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI). This funding for USDA’s flagship competitive agriculture research program represents an increase of $61 million above both the fiscal 2009 enacted level and the president’s fiscal 2010 request. This is more than a 30 percent increase over the fiscal 2009 appropriated level. This will hopefully set a new base for AFRI funding that we can build on in fiscal 2011 and beyond, to the benefit of farmers and all of U.S. agriculture.

USRPA is pleased with the outcome of these and other funding levels for programs critical to our industry in the agriculture appropriations bill. All of these positive results were achieved without any reductions in the basic farm commodity programs or other critical rice producer priorities.

Fred Clark is a lobbyist in Washington, D.C., for the US Rice Producers Association.