As U.S. rice farmers head back to their fields to grow a new crop, they are asking consumers to look for the new “Grown in the USA” logo on packages of rice in grocery stores and soon on restaurant menus, said Fred Zaunbrecher, a rice farmer from Duson, La., who serves on the USA Rice Federation’s Domestic Promotion Committee.

“People want to know where their food is grown, and we can proudly point to rice grown right here in the USA,” Zaunbrecher said. “We know how important rice is in Louisiana. Now we have to educate the rest of the country.”

To date the Grown in the USA rice logo has been licensed to 19 companies that together account for more than 72 percent of the domestic U.S. rice trade. Zaunbrecher said chefs and foodservice operators also are taking note.

“Many chefs said they choose U.S.-grown rice to support farmers and our economy, but others said they do not know the origin of the rice they are using. This new logo is a big aid in USA Rice’s foodservice communications,” Zaunbrecher said. “And, of course, we’d like to see Louisiana chefs get behind it and use it on their restaurant menus.”

While USA Rice promotes all types and forms of U.S.-grown rice around the world, some of the most important markets for Louisiana rice are close to home, said Randy Thibodeaux, a rice farmer from Midland, La., who serves on USA Rice’s International Promotion Committee.

“Mexico is our largest export market and where USA Rice spends the most international promotion dollars,” Thibodeaux said. “Mexico imports mostly rough, or paddy, rice from the United States. Exports rose by 7.6 percent in 2008, topping a previous record set in 2007.”

Even top export markets require constant vigilance, Thibodeaux said. “In December, we had a disruption in trade when more than 60 railcars were detained at the border by Mexican officials on a question of plant disease. USA Rice went to work right away to resolve the issue, working with USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, and trade was restored,” Thibodeaux said.

“Having a strong association gives us the ability to stay on top of things and to move quickly when there’s a problem. This was potentially a big problem for rough rice exports that we were able to successfully address.”

Louisiana rice farmers take an active role in promoting their product at the local, state and national levels.

“Through the Rice Council and USA Rice, we’re at the table, planning and overseeing programs to promote rice in the United States and internationally,” Zaunbrecher said.