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California rice growers hear from national leader

Rice organization leaders
Tim Johnson, left, president and CEO of the California Rice Commission and Betsy Ward, president and CEO of USA Rice, updated California rice growers at two northern California meetings on issues the two organizations are involved with.
California rice growers will have chance later this year to elect one of their own to lead USA Rice board

USA Rice Chief Executive Betsy Ward told a combined audience of about 200 California rice growers at meetings in Yuba City and Colusa that efforts to open Chinese markets to U.S. rice will take time.

Ward said the efforts of U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to open those markets was welcome, but now the devil is in the details as China wants U.S. rice mills to answer “intrusive” questions that have nothing to do with phytosanitary issues.

Matters like this could affect more than rice as Ward believes hostile trade discussions between the two nations could spill over into other commodities.

She also mentioned USA Rice hopes the United States remains a member of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) because of the importance of rice exports. Sound trade agreements are vital for U.S. rice growers because of the “unfair competition” within global rice markets, she said.

On a national level rice acreage has fallen, and with it the income USA Rice receives through assessments.

“The range of issues doesn’t change, but we have to tighten our belts as you do the same,” she said referring to soft grower prices for rice.

She referenced opportunities for medium and short-grain rice out of California, particularly in Japan as consumers there appear to favor California rice. USA Rice currently supports a Japanese Free Trade Agreement with the same meaningful market access objectives under the former Trans Pacific Partnership.

Ward briefly discussed the success of the rice PAC, currently chaired by California rice grower Sean Doherty, and reported that in the decade since she has been at the helm of USA Rice, PAC funds have increased four-fold – 31 percent since Doherty has chaired the committee.

Ward also informed the California audience that later this summer the U.S. rice industry will have an opportunity to choose a California rice producer to chair the national organization after the term of the current board chairman expires.

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