The possibility of exporting rice to China could become reality this year, and work continues to open trade with Cuba, the USA Rice president reported to rice growers at their annual meeting Feb. 3.
“We understand the urgency of getting new rice markets open,” Betsy Ward said at the joint meeting of the Louisiana Rice Council and the Louisiana Rice Growers Association.
A phytosanitary agreement with China has been reached on standards for American rice, she said, and now the U.S. Department of Agriculture is certifying mills in the U.S. that could be used to ship rice to China.
Ward also said Iraq is expected to issue a tender for U.S. rice soon.
Colombia has become the No. 3 market for U.S. rice because of the Colombian Free Trade Agreement, she said. Colombia needs to buy additional rice because bad weather affected that country’s crop, but there are reports that Asian rice is being considered.
“We want to prevent that from happening,” Ward said.
The Colombian FTA has resulted in $2.6 million in research funds for Louisiana rice growers, she said.
Exports to Mexico have increased, and the potential exists for increased sales, Ward said.
USA Rice regularly sends trade missions to Cuba. “We have a good relationship with Cuban Embassy representatives in Washington,” she said
Ben Mosely, USA rice vice president of government affairs, said the pending Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement is not friendly to the U.S. rice industry. “We pushed for access to Japan, and didn’t get much,” he said.
The TPP is silent on subsidies for rice farmers provided in such countries as Thailand that artificially hold the price of rice down worldwide, he said. USA Rice is working on developing a case to be presented to the World Trade Organization against China, Brazil, Turkey, India, Vietnam and Thailand for subsidies paid in those countries.
Government officials are being urged to prioritize rice in a possible food aid program for the Middle East, particularly aimed at the Syrian refugee crisis, Mosely said.
USA Rice communications director Michael Klein gave an overview of promotional work being done by the organization.
Also Tuesday, rice growers heard from Rogers Leonard, LSU AgCenter associate vice president, who said the work of the AgCenter is threatened by the possibility of $11.5 million in state budget cuts before the fiscal year ends on June 30.
Indications have been made by Gov. John Bel Edwards that he is a friend of agriculture, Leonard said. “We believe he and his staff are going to help us if he can.”
But Leonard said the importance of agriculture and the LSU AgCenter to the state will have to be impressed upon new legislators.
If those cuts are made, he said, five research stations would have to be closed and some parishes would be left without some key AgCenter personnel for 4-H, nutrition programs and family and consumer sciences.
“It would decimate the LSU College of Agriculture because we would have to release faculty and staff,” Leonard said.
The H. Rouse Caffey Rice Research Station at Crowley will not be closed, he said. “I’m very proud of the group we have there and have had for a number of years.”
Much of the research at the station is funded by check-off funds paid by rice farmers, Leonard said.
The release of two new rice varieties late last year demonstrates the importance of the station. “It always amazes me how productive that station is,” he said.
Also at Wednesday’s event, the two rice organizations recognized the contributions of the late Wayne Zaunbrecher, of Gueydan, a rice farmer and former member of the Louisiana Rice Promotion Board and vice president of the Rice Council. His wife, Linda Zaunbrecher, a former member of the Louisiana Rice Research Board, received the Distinguished Service Award with daughters Alison Domingues, of Erath, and Andrea Herpin, of Kaplan.