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Government relations: year-round work

While you're busy at home during planting season, it's important to keep up with what's going on in Washington. Decisions are made daily that could negatively impact your bottom line.

As chairman of the USA Rice Federation, I can assure you that we work year-round on your behalf to defend the interests of the rice industry and protect it from further harm.

A good example is our annual Government Affairs Conference that we convened in February. During the conference we set priorities for the Federation's government affairs agenda.

The five key rice industry issues that we identified were:

  • Protecting the ag budget/farm bill.

  • Support for the Cochran ag disaster assistance package

  • Opposition to payment limitation legislation.

  • Additional government assistance for rice export.

  • Domestic food aid programs

  • The need for congressional action regarding key trade markets including Cuba and Mexico.

USA Rice members met with decision makers in Congress, USDA, and the White House to discuss these rice industry priorities. Our message is clear.

Don't modify the farm bill!

The support levels authorized in the farm bill need to be honored. I know many in my community — and I suspect yours — relied on the support levels promised in the new farm bill to obtain financing from their local lending institutions this spring. Yet, many are now nervous that Congress will reduce farm program benefits to pay for various spending priorities.

USA Rice will continue to oppose any funding cuts to agriculture and the rice industry in particular.

As if budget woes weren't enough to worry about, we continue to face attacks on farm program benefits in the form of “payment limit” legislation. This debate continues to perplex me because the main argument used is that “farmers are getting rich off government assistance.”

Maybe I am missing something, but I don't see a whole lot of people getting into farming. If it's such a sweet deal, why are small towns drying up all over the countryside?

Senator Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, is leading the charge to further restrict farm program benefits. His bill is pretty much a “wish list” of everything we in the rice industry do not want to see: reduced limits on counter-cyclical payments, reduced direct payments and reduced marketing loan benefits.

Grassley's payment limitation legislation would dramatically impact your bottom line. I urge you to let your congressional delegation know that agriculture can't take any more cuts. Payment limit legislation must be defeated.

Food aid

We provided congressional offices with background information on rice in food aid. Sen. Jim Talent, R-Mo., and Rep. John Boozman, R-Ark, used this information in drafting letters to the administration asking that U.S. rice be pre-positioned for inclusion in any forthcoming humanitarian food aid efforts that would aid the Iraqi people in the event of war.

As the administration prepares humanitarian aid for people of Iraq, we're pleased that rice has been allocated for initial distributions. Rice is a main component of the Iraqi diet and we have plenty available in the United States.

We are encouraging the administration to use U.S. commodities to address the ever-growing humanitarian needs resulting from the war effort.

Some are urging international involvement in addressing the humanitarian needs of Iraq. I, for one, am frustrated that this is being considered. Why should we turn to countries that declined to assist U.S.-led military efforts to remove Saddam Hussein from power for food aid once the battle has been won?

We should show the people of Iraq that the United States has liberated them and we're there for them in this time of need.

As we all get back into the fields, staff and leadership will continue our efforts on these priority issues. But let's not forget to take a few minutes to reflect on those in the armed forces who have made the ultimate sacrifice for this cause.

Gary Sebree is an Arkansas rice producer and chairman of the USA Rice Federation.

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