Farmers in Arkansas have been growing rice for nearly 100 years, but rice producers and the other segments of the state’s rice industry have never spoken with one voice — until now.

Four organizations — the Arkansas Rice Producers’ Group, Arkansas Rice Council, Arkansas Rice Millers and Arkansas Rice Merchants — have come together to form the Arkansas Rice Federation, whose mission will be to give the industry that one voice.

Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., praised the formation of the federation, which held its first official meeting at the USA Rice Outlook Conference in Little Rock, Ark., Sunday.

Lincoln was the keynote speaker for the conference’s opening general session.

“We appreciate them coming together and working as a unified rice industry,” said Lincoln, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee’s Production, Income Protection and Price Support Subcommittee. “They are a great group, and they do an excellent representing the Arkansas rice industry.”

The new umbrella group is expected to function along the lines of other commodity organizations that represent multiple segments of an industry. Politicians say they prefer working with such groups because it keeps them from having to pick one side against another.

“Arkansas has long been blessed with strong leadership among the rice industry and this trend continues,” said Ben Noble, Arkansas Rice Federation coordinator. “However, today’s changing and challenging environment calls for increased activity and proactive outreach to state and federal elected officials, the media, regulatory agencies, and state and national commodity groups.

In addition to Noble, who comes from an Arkansas rice family, the meeting was also led by Robert Petter, a DeValls Bluff, Ark., rice grower and Arkansas Rice Council chairman; Brian King, Marked Tree, Ark., rice merchant and Arkansas Rice Merchants chairman; and Gary Sebree, Stuttgart, Ark., rice grower and Arkansas Rice Producers Group chairman.

Arkansas Rice will serve as the full-time voice for the Arkansas rice industry, said Noble. Federation activities will include:

• Providing proactive outreach to the Arkansas General Assembly.

• Serving as liaison to Arkansas governor’s office.

• Serving as the primary media contact for Arkansas rice industry issues.

• Providing outreach to the state congressional delegation in Washington, D.C.

• Coordinating on key issues with state and national commodity groups.

• Attend state and national meetings of the rice industry.

In addition to holding its first meeting, Arkansas Rice Federation representatives have been meeting with outside groups to discuss the important role of rice to the Arkansas economy. Those issues have already been the subject of briefings with key elected officials, and the Arkansas Rice Alliance will continue to work to advance industry goals.

During the USA Rice Conference’s annual awards luncheon, Petter presented a special service award to Victoria Maloch, a ninth-grader from Magnolia, Ark., for her efforts to have rice named the official grain of Arkansas.

Ms. Maloch, the daughter of Rep. Bruce and Martha Maloch of Magnolia, conceived the idea for naming rice as the official state grain as a seventh-grader and later testified before the Arkansas House and Senate Agriculture Committees on behalf of a bill filed by her father. The legislation gained the support of all the major agricultural organizations in Arkansas.

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