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Area rice producers talk global market
BRINKLEY -- Possible cuts in agriculture subsidies were among the biggest topics addressed at the joint Arkansas Rice Council-Arkansas Rice Producers Group annual meeting in Brinkley on Tuesday.

Attendees discussed continuing the current farm bill until World Trade Organization talks have been completed and discussed finding and expanding markets for American rice.

In an election year it may be possible to cut farm spending, and there appears to be a lessening of opposition in Congress, said Reece Langley, senior director for governmental affairs for the USA Rice Federation.

Langley said the president's budget may be presented around Feb. 6 and "indications are the president wants further reductions in agriculture spending." He also pointed out that the nation's $8 trillion debt will make negotiations for a new farm bill difficult.

One theme throughout the Brinkley meeting -- as well as earlier agricultural meetings -- is that a strong farm bill with reasonable support for agriculture is very necessary to help American agriculture compete around the world.

Langley said it is likely another supplemental spending bill will be introduced in Congress to address the cost of the Iraq war and Federal Emergency Management Agency hurricane relief spending.

The USA Rice Federation official also noted that Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., still supports presenting another agricultural package to address supplemental payments because of hurricane damage.

"The question is, will others support it as well?" Langley asked. "Given the current budget situation and the opposition to supplemental payments last fall," there are still questions whether any kind of supplemental payments to farmers are possible.

Stuttgart's Gary Sebree, Arkansas Rice Producers Group chairman, emphasized the importance of disaster payments and other government payments to farmers.

"Take out government payments and you can't make a rice farm cash flow this year," said Sebree, a rice farmer and chairman of the board of Producers Rice Mill.

"Legislators don't seem willing to treat us [farmers] with the same feeling they have in the past," he said. He contended that there are only 38 representatives in both houses in Washington who have any direct connection to agriculture and who can be classified as "agricultural representatives."

"That's frightening when you consider that most people who are working on the farm bill don't know much about agriculture," Sebree stated. "We need to make some friends" among the representatives and senators who are not familiar with agriculture, he said.

Sebree added it is strange how "some people have a change of heart if you tell them you have a PAC (Political Action Committee) check for them. I'm not saying we have to buy votes," but that's how the game is played, he said.

"We're (agriculture) at a crisis right now and must stick together," Sebree said. "We need to come up with some new ideas. We can't play the game like we did for the past 40 years."

He also emphasized the need for another program similar to market loans to give farmers some relief. Sebree also urged the growers to stay current on budget reconciliation issues in Washington, with World Trade Organization talks and issues surrounding the proposed 2007 farm bill.

In his report to the council, Stuart E. Proctor Jr., president and CEO of USA Rice Federation, told producers the federation had 2004-05 revenues of $17.3 million -- 90 percent from in-kind contributions from rice millers. The federation ended the year with expenses of around $16.8 million, making a $500,000 surplus.

U.S. growers produced seven million metric tons of rice, of which about 3.8 million were exported, up from three million the year before. The top nine markets for U.S. rice are Mexico, Japan, Canada, Haiti, Cuba, Costa Rico, Saudi Arabia, Nicaragua and Ghana.

The U.S. has an oversupply of rice, Proctor said, and the agency is focusing its marketing efforts on areas where it can sell the most rice in the least amount of time. Those "priority markets" include Cuba, Iraq and Ghana.

In the 1960s, the U.S. exported 500,000 metric tons of rice to Cuba before the U.S. imposed trade sanctions. Last year, Cuba bought 180,000 metric tons of American rice.

"This (Cuba) should still be a 500,000-metric-tons market," Proctor said. He noted that Cuba buys 700,000 metric tons of rice each year, most of it from Asia. He said American rice officials continue to work with Cuban buyers to increase exports there but are largely blocked by barriers imposed by the U.S. government.

"Our biggest effort is to remove those barriers," he said.

Iraq was another big buyer of U.S. rice, Proctor said, purchasing as much as 1.2 million metric tons before 1990, when trade sanctions were imposed. Iraq now buys around 800,000 metric tons.

Anne Banville, vice president for domestic promotions of USA Rice, said work is ongoing to increase American consumption of rice. She said rice fits in with new health initiatives and school lunch standards.

Steve Orlicek, a Stuttgart rice grower and chairman of the Arkansas Rice Council promotion committee, talked about promotional efforts in Arkansas, including the Rice Education Project. That effort provides workbooks to Arkansas fourth graders to help them prepare for standardized testing.

He said the effort last year was limited to 30 counties and is being expanded to the rest of the state.
MGR Archive 26.1.2006
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Russia Rapan $ 700
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EU Prices Baldo €660
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