By Kane Webb, USA Rice
RACELAND -- You may have heard the #2 Georgia Bulldogs made a visit to Louisiana this past weekend, and it was a memorable one for Louisiana State University football fans, but it was the other Georgia Bulldog visit that took place south of Tiger Stadium that was even sweeter.
Raceland Sugar Mill opened up its facility to host a tour and meeting for members of Louisiana commodities from across the state, including: forestry, poultry, dairy, cotton, soybeans, cattle, sugar, and rice.
Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, who played football as a walk on for the University of Georgia, was there, along with Congressmen Ralph Abraham and Garrett Graves, Louisiana Commissioner of Agriculture Dr. Mike Strain, and State Senator and sugar producer Brett Alain.
Louisiana rice growers Richard Fontenot, Jackie Loewer, and John Owen joined the group representing rice.
Loewer, a grower from Acadia Parish, said, "One of our goals was to thank Secretary Perdue for being involved in last year's signing of the China protocol, and along with Congressman Abraham, his support that resulted in the recent sale of 90,000 metric tons of U.S. rice to Iraq."
USA Rice members pointed out that the rice industry didn't receive assistance through the Administration's Market Facilitation Program that was recently rolled out to mitigate losses resulting from retaliatory tariffs and reminded the Secretary that the industry was still suffering.
Perdue was questioned on the status of USDA's plans to purchase an additional $48M of rice through the Domestic Food and Distribution Program as well as the timeline for allocation of funds for USA Rice through the Agricultural Trade Promotion Program to develop markets. While he didn't go into detail on the current state of play for rice in the context of these programs, Perdue did acknowledge the usefulness and value of rice in feeding programs here in the U.S. and around the world.
Also raised was the fact that China's medium grain rice exports to Puerto Rico are undercutting domestic rice sales to the U.S. territory. This is especially insulting since China has imposed a 25 percent tariff on imported U.S. rice, and continues to block the importation of U.S. rice after agreeing to allow access more than a decade ago and signing the rice protocol more than a year ago. Perdue was surprised that China could undercut U.S. sales to our island territory and pledged to look further into this issue.
USA Rice members also discussed the importance of free trade with Mexico and Canada, and lauded the Administration for their work on the recent modernization of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), now known as the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). The Secretary reiterated the importance of trade with our neighboring markets, as well as the need for Congress to act expeditiously to ratify the new trade pact.
Fontenot, a rice farmer from Evangeline Parish, brought up the importance of the H2A and H2B programs in terms of rice, but also the significant role those programs play in the Louisiana crawfish industry, including the need to keep crawfish imports limited.
As USA Rice members were concluding their remarks, Secretary Perdue said, "Man, let me tell you guys, rice has got it going on! You plant your crop and harvest it, have your crawfish growing in it that you will sell the next year. Then you hold the water and hunt in it over the winter months, and then you have birders from around the world come to check out all the waterfowl that's in your fields. I mean, man, you got it going!"
Thank you, Mr. Secretary, we couldn't agree more.