As the year ends, we check the rearview mirror

Betsy Ward

By Betsy Ward
President and CEO
USA Rice

USA Rice kicked off the third leg of the Think Rice Road Trip in October. And it seems to me like a good time to take a look in the rearview mirror and reflect on the many rice success stories from the past year as our journey culminates at the USA Rice Outlook Conference in San Diego in December.

Anyone who’s worked in agriculture knows the road isn’t always smooth, but we buckle up and take things as they come. There was a lot of uncertainty this year for farmers, from tariffs to the modernization of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

As always, the rice industry weathered the storm, and we’re grateful for the stability and efficiency the new trade agreement, the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, will afford us. I’m sure we are all breathing a sigh of relief knowing that U.S. rice’s position is secured in our largest and fourth largest export markets.

A different approach on the ‘Hill’

USA Rice worked tirelessly this year to advocate for the issues that matter most to you. Our members made a big impact on Capitol Hill in February at our Government Affairs Conference, sitting down with legislators on both sides of the aisle to talk about the Farm Bill and other priorities for rice.

This year we broke with tradition by visiting with representatives who aren’t from rice-producing areas, a strategy I think really got our message beyond the traditional agriculture circles.

Another accomplishment was Iraq’s purchase of 90,000 metric tons of U.S. rice in October after a 30,000 MT sale in August. USA Rice worked closely with U.S. and Iraqi officials to secure a major export market at a time when trade wasn’t always smooth sailing.

Fighting the great pretenders

We ramped up our battle against rice pretenders by sending formal complaints to major retailers and fighting for a national standard of identity for rice. When the Food and Drug Administration moved to enforce the standard of identity for milk, we were front and center at the public hearings in Washington, D.C., voicing our concern over rice pretenders.

In Arkansas, our members’ persistence paid off with state legislation to establish a standard of identity for rice, a move that strengthens our push for a national standard.

Rice Stewardship Partnerships

The USA Rice-Ducks Unlimited Rice Stewardship Partnership hit a milestone this year, marking five years. We were fortunate to welcome new partner Nestlé Purina into the fold and celebrate the expanded commitment of Anheuser-Busch, which, along with the many other participants, help us conserve critical habitat, keep working ricelands in production and address important consumer expectations.

Record food donations

It was a banner year for National Rice Month in September, highlighted by record donations to area foodbanks in Louisiana and Arkansas, as well as a partnership with Roti Modern Mediterranean to donate rice to local food pantries and call out its use of U.S.-grown rice.

ride with rice truck

USA Rice’s big green “Ride With Rice” truck is touring the country, promoting U.S.-grown rice.

And of course, who could forget the Think Rice truck? Our team partnered with Aroma Housewares and has been blazing a trail across the country, donating industrial rice cookers and bulk rice to charitable organizations.

We also are handing out 3,000 household Aroma rice cookers and about 2 tons of U.S.-grown rice donated by our members to put in them, spreading the “Start with Rice” message.

We’re looking forward to seeing everyone at the Outlook conference in San Diego, where you’ll have a chance to win that new Ford F-150 in the raffle.

It’s the perfect event to wrap up the year and reflect on the obstacles overcome and achievements made, as well as to look toward 2019’s market trends, new technologies and potential challenges. This year has been a journey. Thanks for making the trip with us.