Sunday, March 3, 2024

USA Rice Turns the Page

By Michael Klein
USA Rice Vice President of Communications & Domestic Promotion

As you’ve likely already heard, after 16 years, USA Rice has a new president & CEO. Betsy Ward has retired, and Peter Bachmann was named her successor effective Nov. 15. This is obviously a major change—for almost two decades, Betsy has been a constant in the rice world and in agriculture in Washington, DC. Her figure looms large over so many aspects of the industry.

You can read elsewhere in this issue about some of the major accomplishments Betsy led the rice industry through, but as you can imagine, there is more work to do. Just like in farming, in advocacy, there’s always more.

So Peter, who bookended a two-year stint as Senior Advisor to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue with USA Rice, has a long list of projects he wants to tackle and successes he will build on.

Peter Bachmann (left) has been named the successor of Betsy Ward (right) as president and CEO of USA Rice, effective Nov. 15.

As we write these words, there is no new Farm Bill, and a government shutdown looms. By the time you read this, the shutdown should be behind us, but the Farm Bill will certainly require more time. The single greatest legislative priority for the rice industry is an adjustment to the Price Loss Coverage program, specifically a realistic increase in the rice reference prices to ensure the farm safety net does what it is supposed to do.

As Betsy has said, “a safety net laying on the ground is no safety net at all.” The new Farm Bill coming to pass in Peter’s time will address this.

We head towards the new year with India, the top exporter of rice in the world and global bad actor, living up to their reputation. Capricious export ban policies, gross over-subsidization, and more bad faith behavior will lead to global price manipulation and worsening food security for millions of people.

USA Rice has long advocated for the U.S. government to take a trade case against India to the World Trade Organization. Betsy has made this her mission for years, and now, as Peter takes the reins, there is renewed interest from the Biden Administration and Congress to crack down on India.

We are also dedicated to driving consumption and use of U.S.-grown rice, both here and abroad. Before Betsy was CEO, she ran both the International and Domestic Promotion programs for USA Rice. She helped set the stage for the robust promotion programs Peter inherits.

Those programs will have their work cut out for them. As tariffs on rice disappear in many of our key export markets, we face renewed threats, exacerbated by the market manipulations mentioned above. Here at home, we see a growing consumer and professional interest in new high-value rice varieties—the challenge will be guiding them away from imports and towards our domestic supply.

Peter will also preside over great changes in technology as artificial intelligence and machine learning make their way to our farms and into our mills. Exciting agronomic advances are also on the horizon.

The bottom line is, Betsy Ward has shepherded our organization and industry to great heights, and we are known in Washington, DC for “fighting above our weight class.” Now Peter Bachmann will pick up the fight and take us higher.

We thank you for your support, and we’ll use this column in the coming year to update you on what we’re doing. Keep reading, keep farming, and have a wonderful holiday season and happy new year.

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