Rice Farming

 - USA Rice Federation Update -

The story that wasn’t:
No rice shortage for U.S. consumers

By Betsy Ward
USA Rice Federation
President and CEO

During a promotion trip to Asia in mid-April, journalists repeatedly asked me about the global rice situation and the social unrest in rice-dependent countries throughout the region. It turned out to be a precursor for what would come next — a six-day media blitz in reaction to U.S. stores limiting consumer purchases of rice. Then the words “riot,” “ration” and “rice” were being applied not just to other countries but also being used to describe a seemingly dire situation right here in our own country.

When selected Costco and Sam’s Club stores restricted rice purchases, the news media quickly jumped to the conclusion that the United States was running out of rice (even though at Sam’s Club customers were limited to an 80-pound purchase per visit!).

All reporters asked the same questions: Is there a rice shortage in the United States; Why is rice being rationed; How high will prices go, and of course, farmers must be getting rich? Requests for interviews came in at a furious pace, so the USA Rice Federation quickly developed a set of talking points on the rice situation and distributed them to our members — producers, millers, merchants and allied industries — because we knew that they would be inundated with calls as well. This coordinated response really helped turn the tide on this story.

Opportunity to educate reporters/American consumers
As events unfolded during the course of the last week, we took advantage of the exposure to educate reporters and American consumers about the safe, reliable and affordable rice supply U.S. producers grow each year. Most reporters, like most Americans, were unaware of the extent to which the U.S. rice industry supplies domestic and world rice markets.

Our message was simple: about half of the annual U.S. rice crop supplies nearly 90 percent of the domestic rice consumed, and the other half is traded internationally, making the United States the world’s fourth largest exporter of rice. Many news stories in high readership or broadcast viewing markets included those facts in their stories, and they were even included on the CNN crawler, the text running across the bottom of the screen.

We had the opportunity to share our story in many different ways – on live and taped TV and radio interviews, and in more than 60 interviews with print media. And that was just at USA Rice Federation headquarters in Virginia. We know that the California Rice Commission fielded a huge amount of calls as did producers, millers and merchants in all rice-growing states. Many took the time to appear on local television programs to promote the rice industry, and where appropriate, to remind reporters of the key role that a viable farm safety net plays in maintaining the stable and affordable food supply we all enjoy. Despite the climbing world commodity prices, current farm law and constantly improving farming practices have helped keep U.S. consumer food prices among the lowest in the world. Americans today spend only about 10 percent of their disposable income on food.

International exposure for USA Rice Federation
In addition to the television coverage on CNN, Fox News, Associated Press TV, Reuters TV, the Canadian Business News Network and CCTV in China, the USA Rice Federation was repeatedly cited in Web site stories, including on CNN-Money, MSNBC, Yahoo! News and others. We were also quoted in The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, The Salt Lake Tribune, The Denver Post, The Houston Chronicle, The Boston Herald and many, many other outlets, including the trade press.

We know that media attention on the global food situation will continue as will concern in this country about high commodity and food prices. Many of us are not surprised by recent events, but were taken aback by suddenly being in the spotlight of consumer concern about food shortages in America. Quick action and a united industry response helped us reassure our customers in this country and abroad that the United States can be counted on now and in the future to meet their rice needs.

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