I really enjoyed the joint meeting of the Louisiana Rice Council and Louisiana Rice Growers Association in Crowley, La last night. The food, fellowship, and speakers were wonderful.
Betsy Ward, President and CEO of the USA Rice Federation, www.usarice.com presented a summary of marketing efforts by the Louisiana Rice Federation. It appears that the rice federation is taking an approach to marketing that is being used by many commodity groups now. The focus is on the value of USA grown products. Commercial spotlights feature American rice farmers. Potato growers are also taking this same approach. Consumers are being educated once again that food comes from the earth and that the best, freshest foods are grown by American farmers. The response to their marketing campaigns has been very positive.
Reece Langley, Vice President, Governmental Affairs, USA Rice Federation gave comments on many issues of concern to US rice producers. I found his comments on the farm bill to be very interesting. It seems like the 2010 farm bill was just passed, but plans are already under way to draft the 2012 farm bill. Reece pointed out that more than 70% of farm bill spending goes to government food assistance programs. In the big picture, the farm bill is 1/4 of 1% of the total federal budget. This is equivalent to a minnow by comparison to a whale. American food security is an issue that we all need to work to protect. You can visit www.farmpolicyfacts.org for more information on the farm bill.
Reece also gave an update on the EPA 6th Circuit court of appeals ruling. In case you are not aware of this – briefly, it relates to possible regulations regarding pesticide applications to all crops. In particular, all pesticide applications may require a permit. As you can imagine, this could have devastating impacts on agricultural production, particularly in the south, where delaying a pesticide application by a matter of days can result in complete loss of a crop. Insects thrive in the south! The latest word is that rice may be exempt from this ruling.
The keynote speaker was Jim Wiesemeyer, Vice President, Informa Economics – Washington Bureau. He was an incredibly dynamic speaker with an intriguing topic “Obama and the Democrats – what they’ve done, what’s ahead”. Jim starting out by informing the rice producers in the room that farming is a growth industry. This is because protein is more and more in demand, especially in the growing economies of China and India. American farmers are well-positioned to meet these needs. Jim stated that this is the longest recession post world war II, but that we are not in a slow recovery. The question now is can the US economy have a sustained recovery? Comments about the federal deficit were alarming – the total debt is 1.4 trillion which is 9.9% of the US economy – a much higher level than any of us would prefer. As we project to hear in the state of the union address tonight, discretionary spending will likely be frozen in the federal budget for the next three years. Jim reminded us that there was a 24% in discretionary spending last year. So, there may be some saving from this spending freeze, but the total amount in this budget category is still higher than in the past. Politics is fascinating…
There was also an in-depth discussion about cap & trade legislation, which is likely stalled until after this next round of elections. The overwhelming consensus from all the speakers is that currently proposed actions would be damaging to US agricultural production. One of the big components causing concern is the afforestation (returning cleared land to forests) of agricultural and pasture land. If the policies about converting agricultural and pasture land into forest progress as indicated in the proposed cap & trade bill, then there could be a 25% reduction in US rice acreage by 2050. This would not be good for anybody.