Dealing with both federal and state issues affecting Arkansas rice growers means it’s a busy time for Ben Noble. Reached as he rushed between meetings in Washington, D.C., the coordinator of the recently-formed Arkansas Rice Federation spoke with Delta Farm Press . Among his comments:

On rice issues in the current Arkansas legislative session…

“We’ve seen a couple of things that came through the legislative hopper. First, the reauthorization of the Rice Certification Act passed and went through the House and Senate. There were also deliberations over the check-off structure. The (relevant) committee considered that and chose not to advance it” to the full legislature.

“If my recollection is accurate, this is the fourth session such an attempt has been made. It’s the fourth time the general assembly decided the current structure is working and modifications aren’t required.

“There’s been a lot of confusion over” the proposed “check-off” legislation. “Farmers who have any concern, or interest, in how promotion dollars are being spent in Arkansas should know they’re being spent wisely. They should come to Rice Council meetings. A third of the Rice Council is elected annually. Farmers are electing other farmers to serve in those leadership positions — and that’s the way it should work.”

On looming water issues…

“Water is a huge issue for rice farmers. When you talk about water there are two avenues: regulatory agencies and the general assembly. (Rice farmers) in California have faced years of fights over water rights and usage. I think some of that will eventually evidence itself in Arkansas.

“We’re monitoring the various ways (water issues) might impact farmers down the road.”

On field prep and other issues…

“Rice farmers are getting fields ready. April is right around the corner and they’ll be planting. So, they’re appropriately focused on their business.

“But on the governmental affairs side of the equation, there are many issues on the federal level. That includes the implementation of last year’s farm bill. A lot of that isn’t even out of the gate and the new (Obama) administration is proposing changes.

“We’ve got our hands full in D.C. just trying to hold on to what we’ve already got and trying to protect the safety net provided last year. There’s a lot of energy and effort being put there.

“Your readers should know we’re working as hard as we can to ensure they’ve got stability over the life of this farm bill. That way they can keep their focus on growing crops.”

On trade with Cuba…

“There are some trade opportunities on the horizon. There’s a lot of activity surrounding Cuba, right now. That was seen in the back-and-forth between Congress and the Obama administration over the recent stimulus package.

“Hopefully, we’ll have some new opportunities for market growth. We’ve seen it grow over the last eight years. There’s a lot of optimism over where that might head.

“The general mood of the farmers (is impacted) by input costs as the economy is in the tank. Some have said rural America didn’t experience the peak of (a good economy) so they aren’t feeling the decline. But I know a lot of the folks I’m talking to are very concerned about their bottom line this year with declining prices and high input costs. I’m hoping some bright spots appear on the horizon.

“I’ll tell you this: Vice President Biden was down for the (kick-off of) Sen. Blanche Lincoln’s campaign on Saturday. There were a few rice farmers right behind me as we went through the receiving line. Every one of them mentioned Cuba to him. So the administration is hearing it.”

e-mail: dbennett@farmpress.com