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story.lead_photo.caption Arkansas rice farmer Jennifer James spoke Thursday Sept. 26 at a Congressional Rice Caucus event in DC. - Photo by Frank E. Lockwood

WASHINGTON -- In the midst of National Rice Month, Arkansas rice producers went to Capitol Hill on Thursday to highlight the importance of their industry.

During a congressional briefing, they emphasized their commitment to conservation, highlighting the duck habitats they sustain and the water conservation efforts they've embraced.

Jennifer James, a fourth-generation rice grower from Newport, flashed statistical data on an overhead screen, intermixed with photos of her farm and her family.

In recent decades, the industry has sharply increased its yields, while also becoming more efficient, she said.

Since 1980, water use per hundred pounds of rice is down 52%; greenhouse gas emissions have dropped 41%; energy use has fallen 34% and soil loss has declined by 28%, she said.

"Please go back and tell your bosses, go back and tell your constituents, tell all your friends, the great things, the exceptional extraordinary things that rice farmers are doing in the fields to remain sustainable," James said.

All of the data that James cited was included in a U.S. Rice Industry Sustainability Report that was offered to participants.

The 64-page document, funded by the Rice Foundation and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service, stressed the importance of rice growers in Arkansas, the top rice-growing state in the nation.

The nation's 5,563 rice farmers "directly support 14,642 jobs, generating $1.56 billion in direct labor income," it stated. Rice mills provide employment for another 4,819 people. Their annual income: more than $245 million, it added.

The benefits of rice farming ripple throughout rice-growing communities as well, it said.

"Every business in Stuttgart is connected to the rice industry in some way," one article in the report noted.

Thursday's event was organized by the Congressional Rice Caucus.

The audience included U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Ark., and U.S. Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-Calif., plus a large number of staff members.

LaMalfa, a rice farmer from Richvale, 70 miles north of Sacramento, gave the audience an update on the California rice harvest.

"We're getting a really nice crop right now and the weather's holding up through the weekend," he said. "I got to do about three hours [farm work] on Monday before I flew back here, so that's good for the soul."

Westerman, an engineer from Hot Springs, isn't a neophyte when it comes to rice, he noted.

"Actually, my first job out of college, I worked for Riceland Foods, so I probably have more technical knowledge about rice than most people who serve in Congress," he said.

During his comments, Westerman stressed the importance of expanding trade opportunities.

"The main thing is, we need more markets for rice," he said.

Some will be easier to open than others, he said.

"I was just in Japan back in August and that's a hard, hard market to crack," he said. "It's more than just rice to them. It's cultural and heritage and everything else."

Still, the U.S. should keep trying, he said.

"In all of our trade negotiations, rice needs to take a higher place," he added.

U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Ark., the caucus' co-chairman, had planned to attend Thursday's event, but is home in Jonesboro recovering from a broken leg.

His chief of staff, Jonah Shumate, spoke instead, sharing his own family's rice-growing history in northeast Arkansas and stressing the importance of expanding global trade.

As the program wrapped up, audience members were encouraged to pick up free samples of Riceland and Uncle Ben's rice products.

Afterward, James said the trip to Washington had been worthwhile.

"It's important for farmers to be here and for the congressional staffers and the congressmen to see us," she said. "If you meet the people that are actually [farming], I think you get a better flavor for their struggles and their triumphs as well."

Business on 09/27/2019

Print Headline: Rice growers tout industry at Capitol

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