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It’s time to move on

Rehashing history won’t move the rice industry forward; new dialogue will.

By Jackie Loewer
Chairman
USA Rice Federation
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In early February, the USA Rice Federation’s Board of Directors extended an invitation to the US Rice Producers Association (USRPA) to join the USA Rice Federation as a full participating member, with all the rights, privileges and opportunities of the current members: The USA Rice Council, USA Rice Producers’ Group, USA Rice Merchants’ Association and the USA Rice Millers’ Association.

USRPA was not asked to bring any dues or financial contribution to the table. They would continue to operate all their programs as they have been. The proposal was made in the spirit of unity and working together, but has not been accepted. Most recently, I proposed a grower-only meeting between the leaders of both groups. I will continue to press for this.

Don’t Sell Farmers Short
The vocal opponents to USA Rice’s offer cite a disagreement during discussions on the 1996 Farm Bill, some 15 years and several Farm Bills ago. Or, they say farmers can’t work effectively in a structure that brings together all segments of the industry, including millers and merchants. That mindset sells farmers short, especially the young producer leadership in our industry.

Those who dwell on old grievances are using history not as a guidepost, but rather as a hitching post to keep individuals and organizations tethered in one, shortsighted spot. That is like having a rear view mirror larger than your windshield; you are so busy looking back you cannot see forward.

Rice Growers Face Challenges
Should we really be spending valuable time and resources revisiting what divided the organizations in the last century? Perpetuating discord jeopardizes our industry’s credibility and effectiveness on Capitol Hill and elsewhere.

It is time for a 21st century dialogue. The decade at hand brings a multitude of challenges for rice growers. And as a rice farmer myself, my concerns grow daily. With the development of the 2012 Farm Bill and the potential for significant cuts in farm support programs, increasing energy prices and the looming threat of burdensome federal regulations all jeopardizing our future, there could be no better time to come together.

Seeking Face-To-Face Talks
The producer leaderships of both USA Rice and USRPA have a responsibility to our respective constituencies to at least get together – farmer-to-farmer – to discuss the proposal. Doing so would provide an opportunity to talk face-to-face about our concerns and priorities and resolve any issues that would prevent industry unification when it is most needed.

USA Rice is resolute in its mission to move forward. Most importantly, USA Rice is a member-led organization that is fully accountable and transparent at all levels, and is working on behalf of rice producers’ interests on multiple fronts every day.

Our success in international and domestic promotion, trade policy and legislative and regulatory advocacy would not be possible without the structure we have in place. Ultimately, our work is focused on expanding markets for U.S.-grown rice – and this should be the primary reason for the existence of either organization.

It is time for a new dialogue and a 21st century solution. Our open invitation to the producer leaders of USRPA to come to the table to discuss moving forward together still stands. The issues that should unite us are far greater than any old issue that divides us.

To learn more about USA Rice programs, visit www.usarice.com.

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