At home and abroad

As you prepare your fields for this year’s crop, USA Rice is developing marketing plans to help move the rice you will grow.

Betsy Ward

By Betsy Ward
President and CEO
USA Rice

The state agriculture and research meetings are winding down, and you’re in the process of making plans for your farm for the coming season. Many of you are already prepping your fields, and by the time you read this, some of you may already be planting.

It’s always an interesting time of year for us at USA Rice. We establish our budget for the coming year based on acreage and given prices, and we have every reason to believe total rice acres will be down nationwide this year.

Regardless of the total rice acreage planted in the next few months, we know you’re going to have a high-quality crop, and we’re doing what we can to help move it.

The international front

On the international front, we are working to expand and protect existing markets, such as our top market, Mexico, and our very high-value market in Japan. Traditional markets where we face challenges, including Iraq and Cuba, and potentially new huge markets, such as China, receive attention from us as well. But with the Trump trade team still getting their sea legs, uncertainty is abundant.

A looming trade war with Mexico over North American Free Trade Agreement renegotiation, the wall or something else gives us pause. However, the possibility of bilateral negotiations between former Trans Pacific Partnership countries—like us and Japan—present opportunities.

The fact that Iraq has been removed from the Trump Administration’s new travel ban may also go a long way to help us with trade there. Additionally, a recent decision by the government of Colombia to open the door to U.S. rough rice is a positive development.

As always, international trade is a bit of a mixed bag with many factors usually out of our control and far from our fields and mills that influence outcomes. Which is why it is important for us to look inward as well.

Closer to home

Growth in domestic rice consumption is very slow, and much of it is traced back to specialty varieties that are unfortunately not grown here in sufficient quantities. Yet one of our central charges is to increase acceptance and use of U.S.-grown rice.

We tackle this enormous undertaking by dividing the task in two. On one side we have consumers: you, me, your neighbor, your aunt, your child’s coach, etc. On the other side we have foodservice: chefs and cooks at restaurants, colleges and universities, hospitals, on cruise ships, etc.

As with the 100-plus countries around the world where we sell U.S. rice, we can’t reach everyone, so we must pick and choose and be as strategic as possible. In part, we use third parties to reach our targets. Influencers.

We reach out to consumers through supermarket retail dieticians and health professionals to explain why rice should be a part of their diet—it’s free of gluten, cholesterol and sodium; is a whole grain and more.

In foodservice, we encourage chefs to talk to colleagues about how and why they should include rice on their menus—it’s versatile, cost effective, and carries a great conservation and “eat local” message.

As you read this, we are developing and refining our plans for next year even as we are still executing last year’s activities. From printed and online materials to farm and mill tours, and from earned and paid media to in-market demonstrations, we will continue to promote your crop and work to steady markets for you at home and abroad.

Whatever decisions you’ve made or will make about your rice crop for the coming year, know that we’ll be working tirelessly to increase demand for it.