Jemison, Berken receive rice industry awards

Bruce Schultz  |  2/23/2018 5:53:44 PM

(02/23/18) JENNINGS, La. — Randy Jemison, of Kinder, retired Louisiana field representative for USA Rice, was honored by the Louisiana Rice Council and the Louisiana Rice Growers Association with a distinguished service award.

The award was presented at the annual joint meeting of the two organizations on Feb. 21 by rice grower Kevin Berken. He said Jemison, who had been a rice farmer, became a vital part of the rice industry with his keen organizational skills and his knowledge of farm policy.

“He knew what we were thinking before we asked the questions,” Berken said. “He was simply very good at his job.”

Jemison, who was surprised by the award, said he enjoyed his work because of the people. “The greatest people to work for in the world are the people in the rice industry of Louisiana,” he said

Jemison retired last year after working for USA Rice since 2001. He was replaced by Cane Webb, of Lake Charles.

Berken also received an award for his work as chairman of the Louisiana Rice Political Action Committee. It was presented by the current chair, farmer Jeffrey Sylvester, of Whiteville.

Two elected state officials spoke at the meeting.

Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser told the organizations that his office is working on several plans to boost state tourism. He said Louisiana had a 37 percent increase last year in the number of international tourists who stay longer and spend more.

Several development possibilities are being explored in public-private partnerships at state parks, including Chicot State Park near Ville Platte and Fountainbleau State Park near Mandeville, he said.

The “Feed Your Soul” slogan was rolled out on Mardi Gras, and it has been displayed on food trucks across the United States, Nungesser said.

Louisiana Commissioner of Agriculture and Forestry Mike Strain said rice promotion and research funds are vital to the rice industry, but the money is at risk during the current state budget struggle with a $1 billion shortfall. “They’re your dollars, and they have to be protected,” he said.

A bill introduced during the current special legislative session would remove the tax exemptions on farm fuels, and another would impose full taxation on agriculture inputs and the sales of commodities, he said.

Legislators should be advised how those measures would hurt farmers. “We pay our fair share of taxes and more,” Strain said.

Betsy Ward, USA Rice president, said the U.S. has a World Trade Organization case against China for unfairly subsidizing rice, wheat and corn by $100 billion per year. “If we win that case, it sets a precedent,” she said.

The WTO has agreed that the U.S. faces unfair competition from several other rice-growing countries, including Brazil and Thailand, Ward said.

USA Rice is advising the Trump administration of the importance of the North American Free Trade Agreement in the renegotiation of NAFTA. “I’m hopeful our message is getting through,” she said.

A few hurdles remain in the effort to sell American rice to China, and Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue has helped. Chinese authorities have to inspect American rice mills. “We know there is demand for U.S. rice in China,” Ward said.

The Colombian Free Trade Agreement has resulted in that country becoming the 15th largest buyer of U.S. rice, she said, moving up from 51st in just a few years. The agreement also has generated more than $60 million in research funds, with $8.6 million for Louisiana rice research.

Iraq bought 120,000 tons of U.S. rice last year, and it is in the market for a 30,000-ton purchase, Ward said.

Ben Mosely, USA Rice vice president for governmental affairs, said the next farm bill will probably not have many changes, and maintaining the farm bill safety net is essential. “It’s not going to be a big departure from what the current policies are,” he said.

Michael Klein, USA Rice vice president for communications, said a program to bring chefs to rice farms and mills has been a success to familiarize the food industry with the rice industry. The Yellow Rails and Rice Festival in Louisiana, started by Berken, has been well received by bird enthusiasts, Klein said.

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Kevin Berken, center, was recognized for his work as chairman of the Louisiana Rice Political Action Committee. Pictured with Berken are his wife, Shirley, and Jeffrey Sylvester, current LARPAC chairman. Photo by Bruce Schultz/LSU AgCenter

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Randy Jemison, second from right, was honored recently with a distinguished service award from the Louisiana Rice Council and Louisiana Rice Growers Association. Jemison retired last year as the Louisiana field representative for USA Rice. Also pictured are, from left, Jemison’s daughter Megan Blanchard, son-in-law Todd Blanchard, wife, Mary Jemison; and son David Ross Jemison. Photo by Bruce Schultz/LSU AgCenter

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