A new year and a new normal

Betsy Ward
By Betsy Ward
President and CEO
USA Rice

Happy New Year! I hope the holiday season was rewarding and fulfilling. Considering last year’s many challenges and achievements, I think we all certainly earned it. I spent much of the past few weeks reflecting on the year that was and what lies ahead.

We all spent more time than we wanted in 2021 staring into computer screens at tiny boxes filled with industry friends and colleagues (and family, too). But I did get to travel to rice country several times and so appreciated gathering in person with many of you.

And we got to cap off the year with business meetings and the USA Rice Outlook Conference in person in New Orleans.

Almost 600 rice industry folks from across the country and around the world gathered in The Big Easy to work, learn, share their expertise and, of course, to laissez le bon temps rouler!

The value of being together

While the number is low for what we usually experience in New Orleans, participation was much higher than we could have anticipated when we started planning the conference only two months prior.

usa rice outlook conferen ce
From left: Jonesboro, Arkansas, rice producer Wayne Wiggins, his wife, Nonie Wiggins, and USA Rice CEO Betsy Ward chat during the USA Rice Outlook Conference’s Opening Reception — photo by Vicky Boyd

It goes to show that nothing can stop the U.S. rice industry when we set our minds to something, and it shows how much we value the experience of being together.

I sat around tables with members, guests, presenters and sponsors. I walked the exhibit hall that was packed and bubbling with energy. Speaking of packed, the annual Awards Luncheon was standing room only — which was great to see.

If we have learned anything these past two years, it is that each region, state and, in some cases, city has different COVID-19 restrictions in place. These can change quickly and are sometimes difficult to navigate. Living in the Washington, D.C., area, for example, we note that many of our federal agency partners have not returned to their offices and are still facing travel restrictions.

We were able to accommodate those folks and other members who could not attend, and I was glad they were able to participate while also seeing the vast majority of people in the same room.

A blend of old and new

As we move into 2022, it’s my sincere hope that we can blend these approaches — the old way of face-to-face meetings with the new means of digital meetings that technology affords us. Both are valuable, both are effective and both are necessary.

As I write this, I’m looking ahead to in-person meetings with customers in Mexico in January and the United Kingdom in March. In between, USA Rice staff will be in California, Arkansas, Texas and Louisiana, to name a few spots.

After that, we have events in Chicago and Missouri. My team and I are looking forward to them all.

As always, I’m honored to represent this industry that has so kindly and enthusiastically taken me in, and I’m happy to do it in person! I hope to really see you in 2022.

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