By Michael Klein, USA Rice
WASHINGTON, DC -- The USA Rice Government Affairs Conference opened here with a General Session this morning with encouraging remarks from House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R-TX) and Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS).
"I am driven to get the next Farm Bill done on time, which hasn't been done in 16 years," Conaway said. "If you want drama, go to a different theater, we are going to do everything we can to get this done before the current bill expires."
Roberts, who is now working on his seventh farm bill, offered insights into some of his priorities.
"It's no secret that there's been an assault on agriculture through regulatory overreach," the Roberts said. "Someone ought to think about farmers and ranchers as an endangered species rather than every critter on earth."
He also said he would like to see limited research funding being invested wisely to spur agricultural innovation.
Both Chairmen expressed their desire to work with the rice community, but also stressed they would need the industry to continue to advocate on their own behalf.
"Another goal of mine is to be your best friend," Conaway said. "But don't stop telling your story."
"We're going to stick with you and fight for you," Roberts echoed. "And we're going to fight for better trade policies."
"We were honored to have the Chairmen address us today," said USA Rice Chairman Brian King. "A lot of experience, a lot of influence, and a lot of our fate is riding on those two. We are fortunate both of them took questions and really listened to our concerns."
The session concluded with the graduation of the 2015/17 Rice Leadership Development class—including LSU Extension Service Rice Specialist Dr. Dustin Harrell-- and remarks from class spokesman, California rice farmer Greg Van Dyke.
"The perceptions we have change over time, and we're so lucky, as people, to have the opportunity to have experiences to change us," he said. "As a fifth-generation California rice farmer I definitely entered this program with certain perceptions of the industry, of myself, of our future. And participating in this program helped me realize some of those perceptions needed adjusting."
Van Dyke thanked the alumni in the room; program sponsors RiceTec, John Deere, and American Commodity Company; as well as Rice Foundation Executive Director Chuck Wilson, and his fellow classmates.
"We have the opportunity now to do something unique with these experiences we've been given, and I know even if it's just the seven of us, we'll all be okay."
Following the graduation ceremony, the 130 rice farmers and millers in attendance began fanning out across the city for meetings with Administration officials and Members of Congress that will run through today.