New year, fresh start

Betsy Ward

By Betsy Ward
President and CEO
USA Rice

It seems like we spent a good portion of the past year counting the days until it would be over — and now it finally is. We’re turning the page on what by all accounts was a pretty terrible year. At the risk of jinxing us, 2021 is off to a good start.

Most importantly, the scientific and medical community has delivered more than one vaccine for the novel coronavirus, and tens of millions of doses are being distributed around the globe. That means we could all be resuming our normal travel schedules soon. I’ve lost track of all the meetings I was supposed to attend in person last year that morphed into video conferences or were just outright canceled.

Among them were several USA Rice events — from the world market price meetings and our annual business meetings that went online to the Rice Millers’ Association Annual Convention and the USA Rice Outlook Conference that were both canceled for 2020.

All of this has made me realize how important the face-to-face interactions are and how easy it is to take little things like a handshake or real eye contact for granted. My combination Christmas wish and New Years’ resolution is that we get back to safely traveling and gathering so we can meet in person in 2021.

Fingers crossed

As I said, we’re off to a good start. Planning is already underway for the 2021 Rice Millers’ Convention in Idaho this summer and the 2021 USA Rice Outlook Conference scheduled for December in New Orleans.

2019 arkansas rice outlook conference

(from left) Steve Linscombe, Fred Zaunbrecher and Bruce Schultz chat during the 2019 Rice Outlook Conference Expo in Little Rock, Arkansas. Planning already is underway for the 2021 Rice Outlook Conference in New Orleans — photo by Vicky Boyd

Of course, both those events are a long way off. But I’ve got them on my calendar, and my fingers are crossed that they will take place and that I will be there, visiting with my rice family and making up for all this lost time!

Other ways 2021 can top 2020 is for us to see a continuation of the strong domestic rice sales we experienced for most of the year. It’s our hope that these increased retail sales, driven in part by the pandemic, will remain strong, even as we put COVID-19 in our rear view.

New opportunities

And, of course, we have work to do with the new Biden administration to ensure that our rice priorities are front and center as they take the reigns of leadership and start working on agricultural issues. We’ve been involved in many of these transitions and have already been talking with key members of the Biden team to ensure a smooth hand off later this month.
We also saw the first delivery of U.S. rice to China in 2020 and expect great things from this massive market in the year ahead.

Likewise, we saw very strong sales of U.S. rice in Korea, expect Iraq to use new financing to purchase our rice, and even sold a significant amount of rice to Brazil that was stretched thin by the pandemic and weather. We are also hopeful that 2021 will see new trade agreements with the United Kingdom and Kenya that should benefit our rice sales in those two markets.

As I said, 2021 is shaping up nicely so far. It’s early, but I’m confident she won’t let us down. Here’s to a great 2021 — I wish us all health, happiness and in-person gatherings!