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Rayne, La., rice producer Fred Zaunbrecher says his farm is prepared to meet the challenges of a scaled-back farm program, but wishes more could be done to resolve unfair trade practices that are undercutting U.S. markets.
Grain bins with drying capability help Fred Zaunbrecher identity preserve his rice, a practice that is becoming more and more important for producers.
When Fred Zaunbrecher isn’t tending to his rice crop in Rayne, La., he’s talking about rice to congressional leaders, trade representatives and domestic users of the commodity.
As chairman of the USA Rice Council and chair of the USA Rice Domestic Promotion Committee, he’s had time for little else than running back and forth between the farm and the airport. “I’m up to here in rice, which is a good thing,” Zaunbrecher said, waving a hand in front of a sun-drenched neck.
He’ll be the first one to admit, he picked a heck of a time to get involved in rice industry affairs. The new farm bill will be without direct payments for the first time in many years, replaced by revenue and price loss coverage options. Trade policies and perceptions of rice quality are threatening U.S. rice exports and the price of rice, well, it could use a little boost.
But Zaunbrecher understands that every chairman has a unique set of challenges.
Zaunbrecher, who also serves on USA Rice Federation’s International Promotion and Trade Policy Committees, says his committees are making progress on rice industry issues, but if his experience beyond the farm gate has taught him anything, it’s that change happens much faster on the farm than within agencies of the federal government.
Zaunbrecher farms 2,050 acres of rice, about 1,600 acres of soybeans and 1,000 acres of crawfish, on GF&P Zaunbrecher Farms with his brothers Phillip, Paul and Bill. In 2014, they planted 1,200 acres of Clearfield (111 & 151), 250 acres of conventional long-grain, 300 acres of conventional medium-grain and 300 acres of a specialty purple rice, Blanca Isabel.
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Last year, the Zaunbrechers had one of their best seasons ever, with high yields for soybeans and rice, plus excellent quality in rice and high soybean prices. They used the surplus revenue to prepay some of their production costs for 2014 to get a head start on what was sure to be an uncertain year and to reduce what they had to borrow for the crop. It’s looking more and more like a wise decision.