2022, move along already

Betsy Ward
By Betsy Ward
President and CEO
USA Rice


nother calendar year is coming to a close, and while it wasn’t the worst year in recent memory, I’m certainly fine to turn the calendar page.

From where I sit, just outside our nation’s capital, it felt like I was watching the Clint Eastwood movie, “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.”

The Ugly

The Ugly was, of course, the challenges facing the rice industry this year. I don’t have to tell you about the out-of-control input costs that pushed so many in agriculture, specifically rice, to an unprofitable year.

The Agricultural and Food Policy Center at Texas A&M University released an economic study in May that showed a $442 per acre loss in net cash farm income from 2021 to 2022 for rice farms, with as many as two-thirds expected to post a loss this year, which in the credit-heavy farm economy, is not sustainable.

We made this the central focus of our interactions with the government and media — even if, and especially if, they didn’t ask about it. I don’t think any government official we spoke with, at any level, on any topic, left that conversation without being well aware of the existential threat we see before the U.S. rice industry. The same was true with our media contacts, whether we were talking about unrest in Haiti or the latest TikTok recipe trends. 

And we didn’t stop there. Back in February, we made a clear and justifiable request for assistance for rice farmers to USDA, and we are working with our partners in Congress to continue to press for this much-needed support as we turn to the 2023 crop year.

Input costs were not the only factor affecting rice farmers in 2022.  Unrelenting weather issues continue to challenge the industry. From the historic drought in California that sidelined 50% of their rice acres and threatens the long-term viability of so many communities, to the record-low water levels on the Mississippi River increasing transportation costs, and from flooding in parts of the Delta that interfered with harvest to a late frost in Louisiana that hurt ratoon crops. All factors beyond our control but certainly impactful in an already tough year.

The Bad

The Bad remains India. The world’s largest exporter of rice continues to thumb its nose at trade conventions. By their own admission, they over subsidize their rice industry and then dump rice on the world market, manipulating global prices and making it that much harder for U.S. rice farmers, who follow the rules, to make a living.

India’s bad behavior is another one of the topics we constantly highlight with government officials and the media. The U.S. government has complained about India to the World Trade Organization, and it’s telling that they’re not alone. The U.S. was joined by eight other member countries in voicing concerns. We continue to press the Biden Administration to do more and look to 2023 for real progress bringing India to account for their blatant disregard for rules.  

The Good

But I did promise you some Good.

David Gairhan (from left), Jim Whitaker, Jessica Whitaker, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Betsy Ward, PJ Haynie, Jeff Rutledge and Deborah Willenborg at the Climate Smart Announcement.

Rice was one of the most successful applicants in the Biden Administration’s new Climate Smart Commodity program. At least seven rice projects were funded at more than $150 million, with the USA Rice-Ducks Unlimited-National Black Growers Council proposal receiving the highest score from USDA and a commitment of $80 million for growers over five years.

We’ve also seen improvement in U.S. grain quality and varieties and have increased our direct dialogue with customers. From hosting reverse trade missions here to our series of Quality Symposiums that are a feature at the USA Rice Outlook Conference, we are seeing positive results from these efforts.

Thank you for continuing to grow food that feeds the world and for your commitment to making U.S.-grown rice a premium, climate-friendly product that we can proudly promote to all of our customers. Our job is to tell your story and improve conditions for you and your families.   

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