The future looks bright

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Last month’s USA Rice Outlook Conference in St. Louis was a great success. Attendance was up despite inclement weather across the region, the trade show was our largest to date, and the programming and speakers were among the highest rated since we began keeping statistics.

One popular session was the “Issue Update” that I led with other USA Rice staff. We covered successes from the past year as well as challenges that lie ahead in our major program areas. Those big program “buckets” are: trade and domestic farm policy, international and domestic promotion, regulation and food safety. Here’s a brief summary.

Trade Policy, International Promotion

With half of all U.S.-grown rice destined for foreign markets, our work here is vital. Four of our top five export markets are in the Western Hemisphere, yet we see our market share coming under attack from competitors such as Vietnam, Thailand and Uruguay, to name a few.

Quality of our crop has certainly been a factor recently, but we’re confident progress is being made – the challenge will be getting lost customers back. More pernicious than quality, however, are unfair trade practices we see in places such as Thailand, Vietnam and even Brazil.

We’ll win customers back with improved quality and our outstanding promotion efforts that have helped us create new markets in places like Colombia and have helped us carve out niches in difficult- to-access markets such as Japan, Korea and Taiwan. Unfair trade practices we tackle by working with the U.S. government through several agencies and with our strong supporters in Congress.

Our work is cut out for us, but we have a plan and are moving forward.

Domestic Farm And Food Policy

As this issue was going to press, it seemed as if a five-year Farm Bill was within our grasp. We worked hard for many years to ensure the final bill was something rice farmers would be able to continue farming under, and we think with the choice of a Price Loss or Agricultural Coverage policy and new crop insurance provisions, rice will be provided an effective safety net.

We’ve also successfully partnered with the USDA to promote rice as a healthy dietary option through their “make half your grains whole” promotion. This has opened the door for brown rice to make it onto school menus, and we’re working with chefs, dieticians, teachers and other school officials to make sure rice and rice messaging are all over our schools.

Additionally, we have fostered an excellent relationship with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to educate them on rice production, and we will continue to work with the agency as they consider new food safety guidelines.

Domestic Promotion/USA Rice Brand

It’s important to remember that the USA Rice Federation is the only national organization undertaking domestic promotion of U.S.-grown rice. Without these efforts, our entire industry would suffer. Half our rice is consumed here, and while per capita consumption has been on the rise for the past several decades, our consumption is modest compared to most countries.

Our promotion goes hand-in-hand with research – creating and growing markets for new and improved rice varieties developed by brilliant American researchers and grown by you.

This is just a snapshot of what the USA Rice Federation is doing for our industry every day. We’re proud to represent you in Washington, in classrooms, markets and around the world, and we appreciate your support. Together we will build on our successes, overcome our challenges and make our collective future even brighter.

By Betsy Ward
President and CEO
USA Rice Federation

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