Help on two fronts

A new risk-management program aids growers of specialty and organic rices, while another sleuths out fraudulently labeled organic rice.

Betsy Ward

By Betsy Ward
President and CEO
USA Rice

As the national organization dedicated to successfully representing and serving all segments of the U.S. rice industry, I wanted to share with you two new initiatives we are tackling on the organic rice front this year. Though a small segment of our industry, it is growing, and organics touch every rice- growing state.

The first effort is to ensure organic rice in our market is what it says it is; the second is to help empower the growers of organic and other specialty rices to manage their risk effectively.

Another kind of pretender

Organic food sales increase each year by double digits as Americans take a greater interest in their food. Although consumers have plenty of misconceptions about organic crops — what they are, what they are not and what the real benefits may or may not be — the simple fact is food labeled as organic commands a premium in the marketplace.

We believe this is leading unscrupulous people to label rice as organic when it almost certainly is not. This is specifically a problem with imports.

For the marketing year 2015-16, the U.S. imported almost 18,000 metric tons of “organic” rice. Ninety-nine percent originated in Thailand and India, and some quick math signals something isn’t right.

We have a good idea of what it costs to grow an organic rice crop, mill it, package it, ship it halfway around the world, market it and still be in business next year. What we are seeing for prices of these imported organics make us highly suspect.

There is no question the U.S. Department of Agriculture has quite specific and exacting standards when it comes to organic crops; however, we question whether these high standards are being upheld by third-party certifiers on the other side of the world.

We have already raised the issue with USDA, the Food and Drug Administration, and Customs and Border Patrol, and we will support the efforts of the Organic Trade Association as it tackles this as well. We want to see greater inspections and enforcement of our high standards, as well as some indication that third-party certifiers are meeting our expectations.

Helping understand and manage risk

organic rice

USA Rice is advocating that growers of organic rice in other countries adhere to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s strict definitions of organic — photo by Vicky Boyd

There is no question that the crop insurance landscape is complex and confusing, and missteps can be devastating. In an attempt to empower rice growers in this area, I’m pleased to report that USA Rice is partnering with USDA’s Risk Management Agency to support the agency’s education efforts on mitigating risk management for rice farmers.

Having secured a grant from RMA for this program, we worked with the agency and other experts to develop a robust plan to inform all growers, but especially those with specialty and organic varieties, about crop insurance, whole farm revenue protection, prevented planting and record keeping for organic crops.

The program helps growers identify a good crop insurance agent and offers tips about how to choose and tailor a crop insurance policy to meet the farm’s risk management needs. Issues such as prevented planting, downed rice endorsement, margin protection policies, detailed record keeping and more are all a part of the program.

Our program kicked off at last month’s USA Rice Outlook Conference in a dedicated session that growers found helpful as they weigh their options ahead.

We will be continuing our outreach in the coming weeks as USA Rice staff attend rice meetings in Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas and Mississippi, and I urge you to attend and seek us out.

I know the organic rice segment today is not large, but it is growing, and ensuring the integrity and viability of the sector has positive repercussions for our entire industry. I hope you find our efforts helpful, and I hope you avail yourself of these new programs we are undertaking.