Jonathan Hobbs – Russell Marine Group, Metairie, La.
Russell Marine Group is uniquely positioned in the rice and grain industries to where we have forged relationships at nearly every level, from seed manufacturers to foreign, importing rice millers. We recognize that the position creates a duty to the industry to help support and promote U.S. agricultural products whenever possible. Oftentimes, this requires stepping into roles regarding hot-topic quality issues of the year, logistics and operations in the export sector of the industry and maintaining an expertise on ever-changing government and trade regulations. Despite having the resources and logistical advantages over many rice-producing countries, the United States is vulnerable to losing export market share by not addressing quality issues brought up by our foreign buyers. The issues permeate the rice industry on all levels, from seed manufacturers and rice producers to rice exporters and foreign buyers.
Many Central American rice millers have always advertised U.S. rice as their premium rice brand. Over the past two decades, they built a brand name and, therefore, justifiably charged a premium for a high-quality product. However, the prior three years’ quality issues have severely tarnished that reputation and branding; and our once loyal foreign importing rice miller base is now actively seeking alternative sources.
If we continue researching and developing new varieties that satisfy our buyers’ needs, incentivizing producers to plant those varieties and promoting U.S. rice abroad, the U.S. will rebuild her reputation for quality.
The 2013 crop has far fewer quality issues due to better growing conditions, but we must be careful not to ignore the quality issues that plague our reputation. They will resurface, and we must unite as an industry to find solutions that eliminate the risk of losing market share to other rice-producing countries. History tells us that once a market is lost, it is likely to be lost for good. But, if we continue researching and developing new varieties that satisfy our buyers’ needs, incentivizing producers to plant those varieties and promoting U.S. rice abroad, the U.S. will rebuild her reputation for quality.
We look forward to tackling the challenges that face our industry and promoting U.S. rice and grain worldwide.