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California Rice Grower’s Take on Trump and Perdue

Like other U.S. commodity producers, California rice growers are waiting and watching for how events in Washington are going to affect their businesses.

The annual meeting of the California rice growers in Yuba City, occurring on the day before Donald Trump’s inauguration, included ample time for discussion of the farm bill, ag trade, environmental regulations, and other federal issues that will come into play in the new administration.

California produces the second largest acreage of rice in the U.S. As California rice is highly valued in Asia and the Middle East, exports are key to rice prices.

Like corn, soybean, and wheat growers, rice producers have faced tough economic times in recent years. Season-average farm prices for small and medium grain rice have declined each of the past four years. Profitability remains front and center to grower concerns.

Also, last year, drought played a big role in California rice production, as water was restricted to growers in the Sacramento Valley.

California, often called the sixth largest economy in the world, produces 400-plus agricultural commodities. Agriculture is a big part of that economic engine. The state depends on exports, federal commodity programs, and increasing cooperation with environmental regulators.

Yet, California farmers face a full set of thorny issues in a state with heavy ag regulation, complex labor issues, and increasing competition for water to irrigate crops such as rice. California legislators have pledged to resist Trump’s policies on immigration, the environment, and other issues affecting agriculture.

Rice industry leaders, however, are hoping for support from Washington for farmers in a state that is not always seen as farmer-friendly.

Tyson Redpath, the California Rice Commission lobbyist in Washington, told growers in Yuba City Thursday that he was hopeful a Trump administration would act favorably on behalf of farmers. The Trump cabinet includes a number of business CEOs, including new Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. Redpath expects this mix of expertise to be positive for business interests.

But with Trump presiding as a kind of chairman of the board over what is likely to be a business-oriented cabinet, will the new secretary of agriculture be able to get Trump’s attention?

“Sonny Perdue is going to have to struggle and fight to make sure he has a voice for agriculture,” Redpath said. “I think he’s going to be a good secretary of agriculture, but will he be heard over the others?”

On trade policy, Redpath cautioned, “not to freak out that our international trade agreements will go away.” Congress, not the president, must pass legislation to change these policies, he reminded rice growers.

Growers themselves seem to be taking a wait-and-see attitude on the Trump administration’s approach to agriculture. 

The “change in the political landscape” was the biggest issue of interest today, Al Lassaga, a Wheatland, California, rice and cattle producer, told Successful Farming magazine after the meeting. “I’m somewhat positive that things will improve.”

He allowed that trade and other issues that are likely to be batted around in Washington will be of concern, but he was optimistic that U.S. producers eventually will be allowed to compete fairly in global markets.

“We’re farmers, so we have to be positive,” he said.

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