Rice Farming

 - USA Rice Federation Update -

Rice industry leaders met in D.C.
when it mattered most

By Reece Langley
for Government Affairs

USA Rice Federation leaders representing farmers, millers, merchants and allied business during the USA Rice Government Affairs Conference (GAC), Feb. 11-14, couldn’t have been in Washington at a better time. They visited lawmakers and administration officials to emphasize the importance of crafting a Farm Bill that would maintain a safety net to continue to allow, “American farmers [to] provide a safe, affordable and abundant food supply to the nation,” as Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) put it during the Feb. 12 general session.

To press their case, USA Rice leaders met with House and Senate lawmakers and with senior Bush Administration officials that included:
• U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer
• U.S. Trade Representative Susan C. Schwab
• USDA Undersecretaries Bruce Knight and Mark Keenum
• Lawrence Blum, acting deputy administrator for the Foreign Agricultural Service’s office of trade programs, who attended the GAC opening reception.

In addition to meeting with Sen. Lincoln and individual lawmakers from rice-growing states and their staffs, GAC attendees met with:
• Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT)
• House Ag Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-MN)
• Rep. Bob Etheridge (D-NC)
• Martha Scott Poindexter, staff director for the Senate Committee on Agriculture Nutrition and Forestry, and majority senior staff member Christy Seyfer.

Reps. Marion Berry (D-AR) and Mike Conaway (R-TX) were among the attendees of a USA Rice congressional reception.

Stay within the scope of the current bills
In one of the most significant actions for the week, Peterson and Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) sent a letter dated Feb. 12 to Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Ranking Member Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) outlining a plan for producing “a Farm Bill that can be signed by the president.”

USA Rice and other farm groups had concerns about the details of the proposed framework. Rice leaders huddled, and USA Rice issued the following statement Feb. 14 after the House Agriculture Committee posted the framework on its Web site:

“The USA Rice Federation believes the House and Senate passed strong Farm Bills and the final product should reflect this, especially as it relates to the farm safety net. While we appreciate the effort by Chairman Collin Peterson (D-MN) and Ranking Member Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) to move the conference process forward, we are concerned about several aspects of their proposal that are beyond the scope of the House and Senate Farm Bills.

“We look forward to the expected Senate proposal, which we hope will stay within the parameters set by the current bills,” the statement continues. “USA Rice strongly urges the House and Senate agriculture leaders to work within the bounds of their respective bills to pass, as quickly as possible, a strong Farm Bill that meets the needs of American agriculture.”

USA Rice and 41 other agriculture groups on the same day sent a letter to the four House and Senate leaders to urge that conference committee “negotiations should remain within the boundaries set by [the] two bills.”

Well-timed conference for USA Rice Federation leaders
As this issue of Rice Farming goes to print, a Farm Bill had not yet emerged from House and Senate conference negotiations, but it is clear that a rice-industry presence in Washington for this meeting was an important part of the Farm Bill equation. USA Rice leaders also met on Feb. 11 with U.S. Trade Representative Schwab, and the USA Rice team delivered a two-hour presentation to staff members of the EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs.

This was a hard-working, valuable and well-timed conference for USA Rice Federation leaders and the 2006-2008 graduates of the Rice Leadership Development Class.

For more about USA Rice programs, visit www.usarice.com.