Will rice industry groups unite once again?

By Sara Wyant

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

WASHINGTON, May 9, 2012 -A charter member of the U.S. Rice Producers Association (USRPA) is on the verge of quitting the group. The Mississippi Rice Council (MRC) voted 9-to-5 last week in favor of a resolution calling on the state's rice farmers to end their financial relationship with USRPA on July 31. The recommendation was forwarded to the Mississippi Rice Promotion Board, which has the final say on how farmers' checkoff dollars are spent.

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Rice industry contacts predict that a move by Mississippi to bolt from USRPA would lead to what on-and-off negotiations over the decade have failed to do - reunite all industry segments under the USA Rice Federation. In recent years, according to one source, the Mississippi Rice Promotion Board has sent between $375,000 and $425,000 annually to USRPA, which bills itself as the only national organization that exclusively represents the interests of growers in all six rice-producing states - Arkansas, California, Louisiana, Missouri and Texas, in addition to Mississippi. Some of the other states contribute a lot less money, and that doesn't sit well with Mississippi's biggest rice interests.


Founded in 1997, USRPA owes its existence in large part to a dispute between rice farmers and mills over policy priorities for the 1996 Farm Bill. Asked by Agri-Pulse about the MRC vote and whether his group could remain viable without Mississippi, Dwight Roberts, USRPA president and CEO said: “Farmers should decide what is best for them if they are well informed. The USRPA will continue to support the interests of all US rice producers everywhere.”


Driven largely by a steady decline in rice acreage in Mississippi and elsewhere in the Rice Belt that shows no sign of abating, USRPA and the larger USA Rice Federation, whose membership spans all segments of industry, have been forced to tighten their financial belts. Reunification talks between the groups that started in early 2011 have accomplished little, with each side blaming the other for a lack of progress.


“It's obvious that all producers feel like they need to have one organization, that farmers need to unite nationally in the rice industry,” Roberts said in late January. A few days earlier, Tunica-area grower Curtis Berry, an MRC member who did not participate in last week's meeting but was elevated to chairman following the vote, explained that Mississippi growers “want effective representation in Washington, they want effective markets for our products and we want to see the industry grow, not contract.”


Several rice-state lawmakers have encouraged reunification, arguing that having two national policy organizations diminishes the industry's clout on Capitol Hill. Industry contacts suggest that MRC's resolution - and its pending approval by the promotion board ‑ could provide the spark that brings all rice-belt growers back under the USA Rice umbrella. Interestingly, three of the council's nine members who voted in favor of parting ways with USRPA strongly supported Mississippi's entry into the national organization 15 years ago.



Original story printed in May 9th, 2012 Agri-Pulse Newsletter.

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