In spite of multiple and consecutive years of major setbacks for Texas rice producers, the century-old tradition of growing long grain rice in the state remains an important and viable industry to the individuals and communities it serves.
While a shortage of water for irrigation, persistent pest management challenges and competition from foreign rice producers, among other issues, continue to hamper Texas and Western rice belt producers, not all news is bad.
Dwight Roberts, CEO of the US Rice Producers Federation in Houston, said President Obama's planned initiative to ease embargo restrictions on Cuba is some of the best news rice producers have heard in 40 years.
"I had the excitement of a 5year old on Christmas," Roberts said to Federation members last month through the group's newsletter. "This is more than just about rice. A new relationship initiative sends such an important message throughout Latin America and will bring much needed respect for the USA from throughout the region."
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While the release of the five Cuban prisoners arrested in Miami in 1998 was the administration’s first step toward normalizing relations with the island nation, a great deal of opposition to lifting the embargo remains.
Conservative lawmakers have threatened to take legal action if President Obama goes forward with his plan without approval from Congress. But Roberts believes the usefulness of the embargo is long past and says lost business opportunities as a result of the embargo amount to about $1.2 billion per year.
Even many conservative-leaning business and industry leaders say the U.S. economy could profit from normalized relations, and most grain producers favor the Cuba initiative.
Roberts says the news about Cuba is not the only positive development for rice producers. In addition to the possibility of opening new rice markets in the Caribbean, recent news that Mexico is imposing a 20 percent import tax for rice of Asian origin strengthens the U.S. rice industry's ties with its largest customer and clears the way for additional exports.
Rice conference Jan. 21
Rice officials say these are but a few of possible hot topics when producers and industry experts gather for the upcoming 64th Annual Western Rice Belt Production Conference and the Texas Rice Council Annual Meeting at the El Campo Civic Center on Wednesday, Jan. 21.
The one-day event will feature several presenters who will discuss many issues and topics relative to producers. Joe Outlaw, Professor and Extension Economist and Co-Director of the Agricultural and Food Policy Center for the Department of Agricultural Economics at Texas A&M University, will lead off the day with a rice policy update. LSU AgCenter's Don Groth will discuss disease management in the rice field.
Texas A&M AgriLife Research Center's Mo Way, professor of entomology, is scheduled to talk about insect management, and Texas Department of Agriculture Pesticide Inspector Greg Baker will discuss the latest changes and updates to the State's pesticide laws and regulations.
Other speakers will include Neal Hudgins, Coastal Bend Groundwater Conservation District, who will discuss groundwater updates; Dennis Delaughter, President of Progressive Farm Management, Inc. who will talk about the latest grain market update, and Jay Davis, East Bernard Rice Marketing, will discuss the effect of carry-over rice.
Texas Rice Council Producer elections will follow presentations and new officers appointed for 2015.
Running concurrent with the conference and a major component of the event is the sponsor exhibit area featuring equipment and seed dealers, chemical suppliers, and other rice support operators and their products.
Registration for the conference begins at 7:30 a.m. at the El Campo Civic Center. For more information, producers should contact the U.S. Rice Producers Federation at 713-974-RICE.