USA Rice readies for full plate of issues in Washington, D.C.

Some trading ‘partners’ fail to live up to their agreements.

By Betsy Ward President and CEO USA Rice Federation

By Betsy Ward
President and CEO
USA Rice Federation

Just as you’re getting your farms ready for the next rice-growing season, we’re getting ready here in Washington, D.C., for the next legislative season, finalizing priorities and planning for the year ahead.  And what a year it is promising to be.

The second session of the 114th Congress has what looks like a jam-packed legislative agenda amidst the backdrop of an exciting presidential election. And with the Senate slated to work 149 days and the House 111 days in 2016, they’ll definitely have their work cut out for them.

At the top of our list is protecting the great work we accomplished in the 2014 Farm Bill. With such a weak farm economy, the Commodity Title safety net programs built into the Farm Bill are all that are keeping some farmers in business until the markets start to improve.

Capitol Hill PhotoThe Actively Engaged in Farming regulations developed as a result of the Farm Bill are also high on our radar. We’re going to do everything we can to reduce the burden on rice operations due to the newly released regulations. Educating producers and figuring out how to best restructure takes a lot of time and finesse to accomplish.

In addition, we’re continuously advocating for the Market Access Program and Foreign Market Development funding that are absolutely vital to our industry and have proven to be well worth the investment by Congress.

Reversing losses of market share

Outside of Farm Bill-related priorities, we want to ensure that global rice trade is being taken seriously and fully regulated by the World Trade Organization, and we need to press for policies that will reverse the trend of U.S. rice exports losing market share to the bad actors. Additionally, USA Rice will remain the leader in calling for lifting the trade embargo between the United States and Cuba to help reopen an important rice market. After the significant progress made in 2015, including reestablishing formal diplomatic relations, we’re excited to see what we can do to keep relations improving.

Educating Congress about the importance of maintaining in-kind food aid contributions at their current levels is another battle we’re constantly engaged in, especially considering fortified rice was developed for food aid programs and is currently underused. Congress provided a $250 million increase in Food for Peace funding for 2016, and we’re hoping to prioritize rice in those additional shipments aiding the refugee crisis.

Although it looks as if the Trans Pacific Partnership is moving forward to the administration, it’s being put on hold by Congress and is not likely to be considered until after the 2016 elections. USA Rice will continue to monitor the TPP deal and its implications for U.S. rice.

Full plate of issues
Not unusual for us, we’re planning to work on reducing the regulatory burden on U.S. agriculture by legislation, such as the Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) and other overly duplicative Environmental Protection Agency regulations. We will continue to support the sound tax provisions made permanent in 2015 for Section 179 and bonus depreciation that incentivize equipment and construction investments and generate a diverse pool of jobs.

As you can see, our legislative plate is full, and current events could shift or add priorities. Whatever the case, we’re looking forward to another successful year as your advocate in Washington.

Although our advocacy never really takes a break, we’ll ramp things up later this month at the annual USA Rice Government Affairs Conference where our members and staff will be conducting important visits with Obama Administration officials and members of Congress to ensure they have a strong understanding of the rice industry’s priorities. I’m looking forward to reporting back to you after those meetings that Washington is indeed ready for rice this season.

To learn more about the USA RiceFederation, visit www.usarice.com.