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Unity and leadership are the keys to success

Inclusion of all and respect for all create strength in the field.


By Jackie Loewer
Chairman
USA Rice Federation
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The U.S. rice industry is no stranger to challenges or threats, but we have a proven way forward that’s built on unity, inclusion, leadership and plain old hard work.

Every season brings its usual challenges of weather, input costs and the price competitiveness of rice, among others. But challenges come in many forms.

The benefits of unity are needed now more than ever as the U.S. rice industry faces the possibility of intense media, public and regulatory scrutiny over arsenic in rice. We know that U.S.-grown rice and rice products are safe and nutritious, and that the presence in the U.S. diet of arsenic, a naturally occurring element, is a legitimate concern best resolved by focusing on overall dietary intake, including food and water.

Rice farmers, millers, merchants and customers are looking to the USA Rice Federation as a forum to pool resources and ideas and to lead the educational and policy effort on arsenic that will continue to allow our members to grow, process and provide a valued and nutritious food to consumers and manufacturers at home and overseas. More on how we are responding will come shortly.

Working Through A Crisis

First, let’s look at our shared past experiences that demonstrate time and again why unity and mutual respect by all segments of the rice industry have brought about success.

None of us will soon forget the mid- August afternoon in 2006 when the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced the accidental release of a genetically modified (GM) trait in the commercial U.S. long-grain rice supply. This regulatory and stewardship failure immediately caused losses throughout the rice industry, closed export markets and threatened the future of growers, millers and merchants.

Within a matter of weeks, rice growers, millers, marketers, researchers, seed dealers and input suppliers were sitting down designing a plan to remove the GM trait from the commercial supply.

Days and months of work followed as a seed-testing regime was put in place, domestic and foreign customers and regulators were educated and legal actions were undertaken by many, including depositions and testimony by USA Rice, to provide for accountability.

Today, the GM traits have been effectively eliminated, nearly all foreign markets have been restored, and there’s been settlement of most claims, including a $750 million settlement by Bayer CropScience to U.S. long-grain producers.

Focus On Sustainability

All of agriculture and the food industry are being challenged to produce more food using fewer resources to make sure there is an adequate supply for the growing world population. At the same time, our customers were asking about the rice industry’s sustainability profile.

To make sure that rice producers were prepared for this challenge, the Sustainability task force was formed in 2009 to establish a foundation for U.S. rice within agricultural sustainability. USA Rice’s goals were to highlight current sustainable practices of the rice industry and also to identify areas of research to support and expand the rice industry’s sustainability efforts, if necessary.

USA Rice completed a benchmarking study called the Environmental Indicators Report that showed rice producers have become more efficient over the past 20 years, producing more rice using fewer resources. And in 2011, USA Rice was awarded the Legacy of Conservation award in recognition for our contribution in creating wetlands habitat for many birds and animals. We are encouraging and supporting continued rice research on sustainability to stay at the forefront of this movement.

The ‘Gold Standard’ Label

The devastating growing conditions in parts of the Mid-South in 2010 brought to a head long-simmering complaints by domestic and overseas customers about the quality of the U.S. crop. Statements about the appearance, length, chalk and milling quality of U.S. long-grain became more numerous and negative. Customers weren’t happy, and the industry looked for ways to return the “gold standard” label to U.S. long-grain.

Early last year, USA Rice established the Rice Marketability and Competitiveness Task Force under the leadership of a rice producer and rice miller as co-chairs. The title is a mouthful, but the simple objective for the group is to help rice breeders develop high-yielding varieties that meet the quality demands of consumers and other end users. Marketers need varieties that “look good on the plate,” and producers need varieties that provide a return on investment.

The task force began its work with a quantitative and qualitative assessment of 2010 crop varieties. A more focused assessment will soon begin on the 2011 crop, and an additional assessment will also begin with a controlled grow-out of long-grain varieties this year. The task force hopes to make available the results of the 2012 assessment at the USA Rice Outlook Conference this December.

Educate And Inform

So now, let’s return to arsenic, which is a threat across the entire spectrum of the industry. Using the expertise of growers, millers and merchants, USA Rice has put together a comprehensive action plan that’s focused first on maintaining the safety and nutritional value of U.S.-grown rice and rice products. This means countering fear and confusion with science and education. USA Rice will do this by educating and informing consumers, customers, regulators and lawmakers.

Our successes and progress on GM, sustainability and rice quality are the result of fundamental constants embedded in the USA Rice Federation – inclusion of all, respect for all and broad-based member leadership. We take these strengths into the field in confronting the challenge of arsenic, however it develops. With everyone at the table and contributing, we certainly will prevail.

To learn more, visit www.usarice.com.

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