For the new emerging generation of rice farmers, a look at what happened in the U.S. rice industry 20 years ago will help to answer their questions of why there are two rice groups. Time marches on and the establishment of the US Rice Producers Association 20 years ago came at a time when many of today’s young rice farmers were learning to walk or ride a bicycle. The purpose of this publication is to give those of you who are not aware or have heard an array of versions, the chance to know our early story and why rice farmers are best served by rice farmers. Like any organization created out of controversy and disagreements, the founders of the US Rice Producers Association were rice farmers willing to speak their minds and address the issues openly and honestly. They realized long ago that farmers must take care of their own interests or someone will take care of it for them. The efforts have not gone unnoticed as evidenced by the new structuring of committees, sub-committees, task forces, state groups, councils, boards, and so forth within the bureaucracy of today’s rice trade organizations. We hope you find this chapter of history interesting, to say the least.
President & CEO
As World War II was “forged in the fire of World War I,” our current two rice groups — the USA Rice Federation (“FED” or “New FED”) and the US Rice Producers Association (“USRPA”) — were forged in the battle over the Federal Agriculture Improvement and Reform Act of 1996 (“Freedom to Farm” “FAIR” or “1996 farm bill”). But before we look at what caused the split into these two groups, it is important to understand why the original group was formed, and what it looked like before its division. (In this article, we’ll call the first organization the “Original FED” because it was formed under different by-laws than exist in the FED today.) So we will begin at the beginning, a few years before the 1996 Freedom to Farm bill.
As of the early 1990s, three separate groups were representing the rice industry in Washington, DC: the US Rice Millers Association (“RMA”), the US Rice Council (“Council”) and the US Rice Producers Legislative Group (“PG”). Each group had their own focus in the industry. The RMA represented processors, the Council focused on promotion, and the PG concentrated on legislative issues. In 1994, these three groups decided to merge into one larger group in order to increase their collective voice for the coming 1996 Farm bill and the hard fought legislative battle that would precede it. Little did they know that there was also a battle looming in the rice industry itself.
By-laws revealed the lack of trust between millers and producers. When the Original FED was formed, mistrust between the millers and the producers became evident in its formational structure. The Original FED Board of Directors consisted of eighteen board members, six from each of the three sub-groups. The RMA Board Members would be elected by the RMA as a whole. The Council Board Members would be elected by the Council, which could include non-producers. The PG Board Members would be the individual chairmen of the six states’ producer groups, so their six board members came from each state as elected in that state.
Breaking with a market based farm program. As 1996 rolled on, everyone knew that Freedom to Farm was on its way. This meant that there would be no planting requirement, and a “direct payment” would replace the “deficiency payment,” thereby breaking with a market based program. The RMA and other non-producing members of the rice industry feared that farmers would idle massive amounts of rice ground, which would cut off supplies for the rice infrastructure.
The RMA’s refusal to support Freedom to Farm. As the debate moved into its final phases in the summer of 1996, the RMA presented a motion to the Original FED’s Board of Directors stating that the Original FED did not support Freedom to Farm, and that we, speaking as the entire rice industry, instead supported at least a 50% coupling of planted acres to the base in order to be eligible for any type of payment. In other words, the Original FED wanted ALL CROPS, not just rice, to have a 50% coupling requirement, thereby going against all other major crop lobbies who were by far in favor of decoupling. If the motion proposing the 50% coupling requirement passed, our Washington, DC staff would be instructed to lobby against the Freedom to Farm bill, and we would also be the only commodity to do so.