Mississippi Rice Council Gathers for Updates and Outlook

    USA Rice CEO Betsy Ward takes the stage in Mississippi

    CLEVELAND, MS – More than 50 Mississippi rice farmers and allies gathered here at the Bolivar County Ag Extension Office auditorium for a meeting of the Mississippi Rice Council last Friday.

    Mississippi Rice Council President and Chair of USA Rice Kirk Satterfield kicked off the meeting with a warm welcome and overview of the packed agenda, turning the meeting over to Mississippi Rice Promotion Board Chair Carter Murrell for his report on the good financial health of the board.

    Laura Jane Giaccaglia, Bolivar County Extension coordinator, recounted the busy year for Delta Rice Promotions including representing Mississippi rice at multiple trade shows around the region, in front of community and business groups, and with the media, including appearing on Episode 53 of The Rice Stuff podcast. She reminded attendees about the Delta Rice cookbook, Between the Levees, released in 2022, and the outdoor media campaign that highlighted local rice and promoted the very successful Delta Rice Festival in Merigold last fall.

    Giaccaglia also shared that Delta Rice Queen Anna Scott Gant and Rice Ambassador Brant Davis, crowned at that festival and both in attendance, had been exceedingly busy, traveling to events and speaking publicly on behalf of Mississippi rice. However, due to Anna Scott’s decision to attend college outside the state, she is stepping down as Delta Rice Queen. First Runner-Up, Kyla Rudd of Panola County, was crowned the new Delta Rice Queen during the meeting.

    The meeting then shifted to agronomy with presentations from Dr. Hunter Bowman, rice specialist, and Dr. Drew Gholson, assistant professor and coordinator of the National Center for Alluvial Aquifer Research, both with the Delta Research & Extension Center at Mississippi State University.

    Bowman shared insights from his studies of planting dates, seeding rates, nitrogen efficiency, pest management, and more, and explained steps he is taking to make research into variety development more realistic and applicable for growers. He also indicated he expected rice acreage in the state to increase in 2023 to possibly 115,000 acres, up from 84,500 in 2022.

    Gholson talked about his research into irrigation and water management, explaining the advantages to varied techniques available to rice farmers in the Delta. This led into a brief update from Ducks Unlimited about upcoming sign-up opportunities for Regional Conservation Partnerships Programs. Josh Hankins, USA Rice director of grower relations & the Rice Stewardship Partnership, outlined plans for the $80 million Climate-Smart grant which was awarded to USA Rice last year. Negotiations are still underway with the U.S. Department of Agriculture on a final contract for the award and Hankins predicted projects will be funded during the 2024 growing season.

    President & CEO Betsy Ward then highlighted the productive partnerships her organization has with state organizations and Mississippi lawmakers. She then gave an overview of notable successes her organization helped notch for the industry in 2022, including $50 million in additional government purchases of U.S. rice for domestic use, Climate-Smart grants topping $200 million for rice, and the recent ad hoc rice farmer assistance of $250 million that was included in Congress’ end of year spending bill.

    Michael Klein, vice president of communications & domestic promotion, touched on some of the almost 3,000 promotion programs USA Rice undertakes around the world that are funded in part by the support of the Mississippi Rice Promotion Board.

    Jamison Cruce, senior director of government affairs, then updated attendees on known details of how the ad hoc assistance will be administered, and the approaching Farm Bill, including USA Rice policy priorities that were developed with the leadership of several Mississippi farmers including Curtis Berry who chairs the USA Rice Farm Policy Task Force.

    “We are always appreciative of the support we enjoy from Mississippi and the time they afforded us at today’s meeting,” said Ward. “I was able to thank them in person for Kirk and Curtis’ strong leadership of both the USA Rice Board and the Farmers Board. The group was diverse and engaged, and we had an excellent time catching up with old colleagues and meeting new growers.”

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