A nontraditional December fit for 2020

Betsy Ward
By Betsy Ward
President and CEO
USA Rice

Under normal circumstances as the year draws to a close, we would be gathering at the USA Rice Outlook Conference to learn, celebrate, and spend time with friends and colleagues from the industry around the country. Of course, these aren’t normal circumstances.

Public health concerns and travel restrictions have prevented us from getting together this time around, but it can’t stop us from getting our work done and honoring those in the industry who have been exemplary in their work, leadership and innovation.

This year, although our main office just outside Washington, D.C., has never officially closed, we have pivoted almost all our operations to virtual, from our many committee and board meetings to our everyday staff and team meetings.

While we’ve grown proficient with Zoom and Microsoft Teams and settled into alternative office setups more than we ever thought we’d need to, we’ve also been working hard to ensure we don’t lose any momentum as the world changes course around us.

Pivoting to online versions

Many of our promotion programs here and around the world have pivoted to online versions, and this month some of the most popular programming from the annual Outlook Conference is making a similar shift. The annual state research and outlook reports are becoming webinars.

While it’s a shame we can’t host these in our big expo hall with all the excitement that they entail, the webinar format has a lot of benefits when it comes to accessibility and convenience.

david lacour, katie maher
Louisiana rice producer David Lacour (left) shows Katie Maher of USA Rice a photo on his phone as fellow producer Dane Hebert looks on during the 2019 USA Rice Outlook Conference opening reception — photos by Vicky Boyd

First, there’s no seating limit, so anyone who wants to attend has a guaranteed front-row spot. The reports won’t have to compete with other programming, so no being forced to make tough choices or rushing across the conference center, looking up room numbers as you go.

And if the live broadcast doesn’t quite fit into your schedule, that’s OK too — all the webinars will be available to watch after the fact at your leisure from the comfort of your own home, office or truck! You’ll get all the information you need at your own pace.

If you do choose to join the event live, you’ll even be able to participate and interact with the speakers, just as if you were there in person. And if you don’t typically attend the Outlook Conference, the webinars will give you a taste of what you’ve been missing.

New podcast

Our new podcast, “The Rice Stuff,” has been helping keep us all connected since it launched in July, and it will be the perfect platform for some of the events we can’t host at Outlook this year. On Dec. 8, the podcast will be celebrating the winners of the 2020 Rice Awards that you find in this issue.

While you will be on your own for a nice lunch, we hope you will join us to fete the people who so proudly represent our industry. The next episode of the podcast, available Dec. 15, will be a roundup review of the annual state research and outlook report webinars, so if you missed the webinars or just want a refresher on all that good info, tune in for the bullet points.

You can listen to “The Rice Stuff” on your favorite podcast app, or visit TheRiceStuffPodcast.com for episodes, pictures and more.

In the end, there is no true substitute for in-person connection. I wish more than anything we could gather together to celebrate, catch up, reflect on all that has happened in the last year and plan for the future together.

But I’m so proud of how this industry has risen to the many challenges of 2020. And when we are eventually able to convene like we normally do, we’ll have two years’ worth of fun to make up for lost time.

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