U.S. rice sales to China becoming more likely

News Release Distributed 01/11/13

CROWLEY, La. – The possibility of selling American rice to China is becoming more likely as trade negotiations progress, according to the director of the USA Rice Federation.

Talks have been under way for the past seven years, and upper-income Chinese consumers prefer higher-quality rice, Betsy Ward, federation chief executive officer, said at the annual joint meeting of the Louisiana Rice Council and the Louisiana Rice Growers Association Thursday, Jan. 10.

“We think we can capture some of this market,” she said.

But talks are continuing on Chinese sanitary regulations. “They have pretty tough standards,” Ward said.

The Chinese are net importers of rice, said U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany, R- Lafayette, who also spoke at the rice meeting. He said it’s possible the Chinese farmers cannot produce enough rice, or perhaps the Chinese government is stockpiling rice to prop up rice prices artificially.

Ultimately, Boustany said, the global price of rice should increase.

The congressman said he will be fighting for dredging funds to keep waterways open to allow farm products to get to market. He said he also will be investigating why fertilizer prices continue to stay high even though natural gas prices have fallen.

Boustany said the United States needs a new five-year farm bill. The 2008 farm bill has been extended for another year, but Boustany said he doubts action will be taken soon.

“The longer we go, the more difficult it will be,” Boustany said.

Ward also said the new free trade agreement with Colombia will open the South American country to American rice, and funds will be generated from the agreement that will direct $434,000 in rice research funds for Louisiana this year.

Those funds would be in addition to the checkoff funds earmarked for Louisiana rice research. Farmers have agreed to assess themselves a nickel for every 100 pounds of rice they sell, with the money earmarked for research. They also pay a 3-cent assessment for promotion.

But the two checkoff programs have been challenged in court by a small group of farmers who contend the checkoff referendum last year was not conducted properly, even though the measures passed overwhelmingly.

The check-off programs have worked successfully for 40 years, and the plaintiffs “have threatened the profitability and viability of every grower in the state,” said Clarence Berken, Louisiana Rice Council chairman.

The plaintiffs have obtained a court order that prevents Mike Strain, Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry commissioner, from distributing the checkoff funds until July 1. Strain said Thursday that he will ask the legislature to change wording in state law so he can return to the practice of distributing the funds monthly.

Bruce Schultz
1/14/2013 9:45:41 PM
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