WASHINGTON, DC – More than 50 farmer members of USA Rice fanned out on Capitol Hill and around Washington this week for more than 60 meetings with lawmakers, key Congressional staff, and Administration officials to share industry priorities as the 2023 Farm Bill gets underway and make their case for why they should be considered.
“We were unified with our messaging that the Farm Bill is hugely important for us and we have significant concerns that are likely unique to rice,” said Curtis Berry, a Mississippi rice farmer and chair of the USA Rice Farm Policy Task Force. “The Price Loss Coverage program is our true safety net, but the reference price is based on cost of production data that is more than 10 years old. In today’s environment, cost of production data from 10 months ago is out of date.”
Berry said his group talked about runaway input costs and stagnant prices as a result of global market manipulation by India as adding to the rice industry’s woes.
“U.S. rice acres in 2022 were the lowest in 40 years,” Berry said. “The impact of the decline is significant: the average U.S. rice farm contributes $1 million to its local economy, and the industry provides more than 125,000 jobs and $3.5 billion in critical wildlife wetland habitat in the off-season.”
Berry added that rice farmers are 100 percent committed to conservation and sustainability, but that government conservation programs should focus on working lands, avoid inflexible climate-related sideboards, and be locally-led, voluntary, and incentive-based.
“We want to do the right thing, but if we can’t remain viable as a business, we won’t be able to pursue any of these conservation goals,” Arkansas rice farmer Mark Isbell said to the minority staff of the House Agriculture Committee during a meeting yesterday.
The message appears to be resonating.
“Let me put it this way,” said House Agriculture Committee Chairman GT Thompson (R-PA) in a meeting with rice representatives on Wednesday morning, “the Farm Bill is not going to be a Climate Bill.”
“I want to thank everyone who left their farms this week to join us in Washington to advocate on behalf of the entire industry,” said Mississippi rice farmer and USA Rice Chair Kirk Satterfield. “We really appreciate the many Members of Congress, the Senators, and their staffs who joined us, and it was wonderful to hear directly from Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack on Tuesday who shared some positive news about assistance heading to our beleaguered industry in the near future.”
The 2018 Farm Bill is set to expire on September 30, 2023.