“Panama is tendering for purchases of the largest volume of rice in their history. The initiative to open up Cuba to U.S. trade appears to be stalled. Cuba was once one of the largest markets for U.S. rice, and we continue to work toward reestablishing trade with them.”

In the Mideast, Roberts says, “We have some good projects in Yemen, in cooperation with the U.S. State Department, and we’re seeing rice exports trickling upward.”

And he says, “We’re continuing our programs in China, which has much market potential as their population becomes more affluent and they turn more to imports of key commodities. Were China to have a major rice crop failure, they could use the entire production of U.S. rice in just 19 days.”

Roberts says U.S. agriculture faces “unique challenges” with the new Congress that has a membership that is 85 percent non-rural — including 35 new members who’ve never held office before.

“It’s imperative that we make a concentrated effort to educate them about the need for a protective safety net for agriculture and the need to continue to grow our export markets.

“The U.S. had a record $115 billion in exports last year, and agriculture continues to be one of the few sectors of the economy with a positive trade balance. We need to continue to make our case that Congress shouldn’t tinker with a sector that is so vital to our food and fiber security and that contributes so much to our economy.”
While the new chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., has a background in specialty crops and organics, Roberts says “She has made it known that she wants to better understand agriculture in the South and other areas of the country.”