Editor’s note: El Campo, Texas, rice producers
Linda and L.G. Raun, Jr. recently sat
down with Rice Farming magazine to share
their expertise on the state and federal levels
on farm policy and the local and state levels
on water policy. Linda currently serves as
the USA Rice Producers’ Group chairman
and just rotated off the Lower Colorado River
Authority (LCRA) board last April. LCRA’s
primary focus is on surface water.
For the past six years, L.G. has served as
chairman of the Texas Rice Producers Legislative
Group, which deals with legislative
issues on the state level, including topics such
as water and environment, and farm policy
on the national level through the USA Rice
Federation. He also was instrumental in
establishing the Coastal Bend Groundwater
Conservation District and serves on the
board of directors.
Writing a Farm Bill in an election year
and experiencing a historic drought in
Texas set the stage for a challenging
2012 for the U.S. rice industry. Luckily,
dedicated and conscientious industry-wide, state
and local leadership have taken a proactive stance in
addressing these issues early on.
L.G. Raun, Jr., whose grandfather moved from
Nebraska to Texas in 1913 and started growing rice in 1915, notes that
the new Farm Bill will contain different language and, more than
likely, monetary cuts to agriculture. Hence, the USA Rice Federation
staff encouraged its members at the beginning of 2011 to begin analyzing
all of the different options that would be beneficial, and bankable,
to U.S. rice producers based on a lesser amount of available farm
“The USA Rice Producers’ Group hit the ground running early in
the year to determine our priorities before the Budget Control Act was passed during the summer to deal with the deficit reduction,” says
The Budget Control Act passed by Congress set up the Joint Committee
on Budget Reduction, which was eventually referred to as
the Super Committee. The premise was for all of the House and Senate
committees to figure out how best to take their proportionate
share of cuts and then give their recommendations to the Super Committee.
The House and Senate Agriculture Committees did their
work, but the Super Committee process failed before they could present their recommendations.
“In addition to the USA Rice Producers’ Group staff, the Federation
has reached out to consultants to help with policy development,”
Linda adds. “It is very valuable to have these resources available as
we analyze and consider options that are presented.”
Establishing Farm Policy Priorities
A 30 percent cut in funding is expected for all of agriculture, so, in
preparation, each commodity is looking at its baseline and taking
off 30 percent, then trying to figure out how to best work with the
In the rice industry, direct payments are the most important safety
net, but, unfortunately, they have been targeted as potentially not
being available under the new program. And the futures market does
not really work for rice because it’s too thinly traded.
With all of this in mind, the USA Rice Producers’ Group came up
with a list of rice-industry priorities for consideration moving forward.
They are as follows:
1. Make sure that price protection is relevant relative to the current
cost of rice production so that it is truly something that is bankable.
2. Give rice producers options – a target price option or a revenue
option – taking into account regional differences and differences in
farming practices, so that producers can choose what works best for
3. The farm program should be tailored, easy-to-understand and
4. With a shrinking amount of money going out into the ag industry,
the farm program needs to be tied to current production and current
yield to protect rice farmers who are taking the risks. The true goal
is to keep farmers in business when there is a multiple-year price
5. The reduction to the baseline should be proportional to all commodities
so that acreage doesn’t shift from one commodity to the
other because of the way the farm program is written.
6. Because of the dollar amount it takes to be in agriculture, don’t
limit farmers access to the program with the payment limit eligibility
test. Even though a farm may increase in size to justify the cost of
production, it is still a family farm operation.
Timing Is Key
Besides the language of the new Farm Bill, another critical factor
is timing, considering that the current Farm Bill expires on Sept. 30.
Had the Super Committee process been successful with an up or
down vote, the Farm Service Agency would have had a year to work
out the details and be ready to implement the new Farm Bill in 2013.
Now, however, a typical Farm Bill process, which is much more
difficult and public, begins in January with House and Senate Ag
Committee hearings. Then the farm program will be taken to the
floor of Congress where, potentially, it can be amended by those
who don’t understand farm policy and how what they are proposing
Meanwhile, the clock is ticking.
“The timing involved with a new Farm Bill is especially challenging
for the South,” Linda says. “We begin our loan process and
land preparation in the fall, so if we don’t have a new Farm Bill in
place by Sept. 30, farmers won’t know what to do.”
L.G. also points out the challenge of writing a new Farm Bill in an
“If it’s not done by Sept. 30, then it’s probably not going to get done
between then and the elections, which puts us into a lame duck session
between the November elections and Jan. 1,” he says. “We’ve
already started encouraging our leaders to get the farm program written
by Sept. 30 to give us time to educate producers and our lenders
on the new language and the changes in farm policy.
“The first step going forward is for all of the commodities in the
nation to sit down together and iron out our differences, educate each
other about our concerns and come to a common agreement,” L.G.
adds. “It’s imperative that the participants – farmers and the commodity
groups – present a united front to the ag committees.”
Another positive, Linda notes, is that during the Super Committee
process, the House and Senate ag committees had the opportunity to
do a lot of research and analyzing to try to find a farm program that
works for all of the crops.
“I think they will be able to move forward,” she says.
Water, Water, Anywhere?
Another important area in which the Rauns have dedicated time and
energy involves the historic drought that the state of Texas is experiencing
and the water issues associated with it.
To put into perspective how these water issues affect Texas rice production,
consider that three counties – Colorado, Matagorda and
Wharton – raise 50 percent or more of the rice in the state.
“In Texas, we typically use 60 percent surface water and 40 percent
groundwater to irrigate our rice,” L.G. says. “Of the three counties that
account for 50 percent of the rice in the state, Colorado and Matagorda
are 100 percent surface water, and Wharton is 50-50 – surface
and groundwater. All of the surface water comes from the Highland
Lakes and the Colorado River.
“In the middle of December, we were at 13 inches of rainfall for the
year in Wharton County compared to the normal amount of 42 inches
per year,” he explains. “That’s the lowest I’ve ever seen for this
area. Specific to the Colorado River, if it doesn’t rain significantly
between now and March 1 to fill up the reservoirs, allowing them to
release water, there will be zero surface water from the Colorado
River for rice irrigation.”
Comparing 2011/2012 Water Supplies
L.G. says although there was enough water to grow rice in 2011,
the Texas rice industry will be more affected by surface water availability, not groundwater, in 2012 because 60 percent of the irrigation
depends on surface water.
“Crop insurance provisions for prevented planting may cover
some costs for the farmer for a year, but that doesn’t help employees
who are laid off or Texas seed sales, fertilizer sales and equipment
sales or the rural community as a whole,” he says. “We are all going
to feel the effects if this happens.”
In addition, the rice mills in Houston will have to look outside of
Texas if the acres aren’t there to keep the mills operating, which
will incur more expenses for these mills.
Although the dearth of surface water in Texas is an obvious detriment
to rice production, even farms like the Raun’s located on the west
side of Wharton County, which utilizes groundwater for irrigation, the
drought has affected them, too.
“Groundwater was available, but we had to pump more in 2011
because we had no help from rainfall at all,” L.G. says. “And it’s
very expensive to pump groundwater; it was a really high cost year
The Coastal Bend Groundwater Conservation District board of
directors, on which L.G. serves, is, for the most part, responsible for
determining policy and regulating the withdrawal of groundwater
within the boundaries of the district for the purposes of conserving,
preserving, protecting and recharging the groundwater within the
district and preventing waste of groundwater within the district.
L.G. gives particular credit to the work done by Texas rice producer
Ronald Gertson, who serves as current president of the board and Policy
Committee chairman of the Lower Colorado Regional Water
Rauns’ Approach To Variety Selection –
A Thoughtful Process
Long-Term Water Planning
The last drought of record that occurred in the 1950s prompted the
building of more reservoirs to increase water supplies. However, in
the past 40 years, nothing has been done looking forward.
L.G., who has been involved in water planning and environmental
issues for the past 15 years, notes that Texas has a population of
25 million, and the projection for 2050 is 40 million.
“Today, we are not going to meet the demand for water with that
increase in population unless we begin developing more water supplies
for the state,” he says. “To do that, we need to build more reservoirs.
The other principle technology available right now for increasing
water supplies is desalination.”
One of the consequences of not taking action, he says, is that water
curtailment for irrigation will start happening more frequently. If
more water supplies are not created, then existing supplies will be reallocated
to the cities and industry that can pay more. And, obviously,
people have to have water to drink.
“In the state water planning process, we have been looking at current
supplies and projected supplies for the next 50 years to see if those
equal out,” L.G. says. “Right now, we believe the demand will be
much higher than the water supplies that we have. It’s imperative that
we dedicate funding to infrastructure water supply projects, although
it’s difficult to do in our present economy.
“However, as we start climbing out of this present drought, we’ve
got to have the leadership to drive the development of more water supplies
in the state of Texas,” he says. “We’ll always have droughts, but
with effective water planning, we will be better prepared to deal
Contact Carroll Smith at (901) 767-4020 or email@example.com.