New year, new government, new priorities

Betsy Ward

By Betsy Ward
President and CEO
USA Rice

Every spring brings transformation. It’s a new year, a new growing season, and this year there’s a new president in the White House. The Biden administration will be made up of both fresh and familiar faces, and one thing we can expect is a renewed focus on the environment.

While this may be a point of concern among other sectors, U.S. rice is in a prime position to lead the agriculture industry in sustainability and environmental conservation.

I’ve had the opportunity to meet with several of President Joe Biden’s cabinet picks and members of his transition team. And they have consistently stressed the four priorities of his administration as COVID 19, economic recovery, racial equity and climate change.

One of his first acts as president was an executive order to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement, and several new department secretaries are vocal supporters of aggressive climate policy.

Biden also created a new cabinet-level position, “special presidential envoy on climate change,” to be filled by former senator and Secretary of State John Kerry. In addition to administration priorities, we can expect a Democrat-controlled Congress to push climate legislation in the coming year.

In light of this intensified focus on environmental issues, we do have members of Congress as well as the proposed Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack who are familiar with rice’s sustainability story. And of course, our job at USA Rice is to educate new administration and congressional leaders about the commitment the rice industry has made to the environment and ensure that they see us as part of climate solutions, not part of the problem.

The industry’s conservation track record

We can tell that story with great confidence given the rice industry’s track record at conserving land and water, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions and fossil fuel use.

These ongoing accomplishments are sure to resonate with environmentally conscious members of the new administration.
U.S. rice farmers and millers are on the cutting edge of both technique and technology when it comes to sustainability. And we’re in a strong position to tackle whatever policy or regulatory changes might come our way in the next four years.

arkansas solar

As part of sustainability efforts, some rice farmers — like this one in Southeast Arkansas — have installed solar panels to generate electricity, cut their power bills and reduce greenhouse gas emissions — photo courtesy Delta SunEnergy

The data from the U.S. Rice Industry Sustainability Report showcased our amazing strides in sustainability over the past several decades — cutting our water use by more than half and reducing energy use and greenhouse gas emissions across the board. But we’re not done yet.

Every day, our farmers and millers are changing and improving their operations that make our crop more sustainable and more crucial to wildlife and the economy.

From solar panels that power dryers and mills to rice irrigation practices that reduce groundwater use and pumping costs, new innovations are saving natural resources, time and money for the entire industry.

As an industry, we’ve made our commitment to sustainability public by setting goals that these new innovations will help us reach by 2030.

As the Biden administration’s environmental priorities inevitably filter down to end users and consumers, our sustainability track record is going to become an even bigger asset.

Presidential terms come and go just like seasons change. But regardless of who is in office, USA Rice will keep telling our sustainability story — whether to top-level officials and lawmakers, corporate leaders or consumers — because it’s such a good story to tell. And I thank you for helping make that job easy through your commitment and good work.