Thursday, April 18, 2024

Check-off dollars: An investment in the future

Betsy Ward
By Betsy Ward
President and CEO
USA Rice

In many ways, 2022 was a disappointing and challenging year for the rice industry. After the threat of railroad strikes, India and China flouting their WTO obligations, historic drought, geopolitical unrest from Ukraine to Haiti, skyrocketing input costs and stagnating prices, rice acreage in the United States was troublingly down last year. But as always, our industry persevered and even secured some historic wins — achievements during a difficult time made possible largely thanks to the strategic use of state check-off dollars. Now more than ever, these funds are a crucial investment that keeps U.S. rice competitive, viable and profitable.

USA Rice, your national trade organization, carefully uses check-off dollars entrusted to us to fight for our position in a domestic market beset with imports, imposters and alternatives to rice. Here is a recent reminder of some of our programs and success stories.

Seeing almost unstoppable interest in aromatic varieties, we launched a campaign for U.S.-grown aromatics that targeted foodservice leaders and influencers. A combination of partnerships, paid promotions and training for foodservice distributors greatly increased awareness of these home-grown grains.  

We partner with social media influencers, supermarket retail dietitians and others to generate tens of millions of consumer impressions every year. We work with research chefs to develop new and exciting rice recipes for consumers, foodservice, the health professional space and schools — all of which lead to increased menuing and use of U.S.-grown rice. 

Research and promotion

Check-off resources are used to help tell rice’s unique success story — we launched our sensational podcast, The Rice Stuff, which is approaching 20,000 unique downloads and has featured guests such as U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack; USDA Undersecretary for Farm Production and Conservation Robert Bonnie; Arkansas Senator John Boozman, the Ranking Member of the Senate Agriculture Committee; TV chef Sara Moulton, and many more.

We also use these funds to promote our exceptional sustainability story, positioning U.S. rice for all audiences as a leader in this important public policy space.

State check-off dollars allow USA Rice to fight for U.S. rice in a domestic market.

Check-off dollars fund breeding programs, as well as research into soil, water, weeds, pest control, yields and more. University Extension programs and rice research stations are invaluable resources for farmers who do their part to make our industry the best it can be.

Check-off dollars for advocacy

But it’s not all about promotions and research. While most check-off dollars are earmarked for either promotion or research, some provisions allow for unrestricted funds that can be put toward advocacy. 

USA Rice used these funds, combined with other industry resources, to (among other things) secure the $250 million ad hoc rice assistance program appropriated by Congress in December and signed by President Biden. That is a direct return on your investment.

So, too, we will use those resources in the months ahead as we fight for improvement in the 2023 Farm Bill, and as we keep pressure on our government to hold India and other trade bad actors to account. 

We could not do any of this critical work without the support of your check-off contributions, so I thank you for continuing to participate in these programs. And if someone asks you just what you, or they, get out of the rice check-off, I hope you’ll keep a copy of this column handy and tell them you get a terrific return on investment.

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