Most Arkansas rice farmers opposed to doubling tax assessment
Legislation pending in committee in the Arkansas Senate would not only double the rice assessment from 1.35 cents per bushel to 2.7 cents and eliminate the buyer assessment, but it would also shift authority for allocating rice promotion funds from the Arkansas Rice Research and Promotion Board and the Arkansas Rice Council to a Texas-based trade association.
"That's a triple whammy against Arkansas rice growers," said Ben Noble, director of the Arkansas Rice Federation. "Arkansas farmers know best how to manage their own check-off funds," said Noble, whose family has been growing rice in the state for generations, "and that is something we should not leave to outsiders."
"The proposed legislation, Senate Bill 349 (SB 349), was conceived in secrecy by a minority of Arkansas rice farmers without first vetting it through the state's principal rice organizations: the Arkansas Rice Council and the Arkansas Rice Producers' Group--both members of the Arkansas Rice Federation," Noble said.
Rice farmers are not the only ones to object to doubling the assessment.
"We don't believe rice producers should be saddled with the cost of market development and promotion," Arkansas Rice Merchants' Association Chairman Brian King said. "Farmers are an integral part of the Arkansas Rice Council's market development and promotion program, but marketers should pay their fair share for the growth and development of the rice industry."
SB 349's proponents are trying to couch the discussion as one for choice, but choice isn't the issue at all. An outside group supported by a thin minority of Arkansas farmers is attempting to hijack the state's rice checkoff, weakening Arkansas-supported rice promotions.
"There is a very long list of rice promotion accomplishments associated with Arkansas funding approved by the vast majority of Arkansas rice farmers," said Robert Petter, Arkansas rice farmer and president of the Arkansas Rice Council. "Our member-directed promotion programs continue to increase consumption of U.S.-grown rice at home and in all of our major export markets."
Elected Arkansas Rice Council representatives oversee promotion funds and programs. "If someone feels they can do a better job, they should seek a position on the Council instead of seeking a special earmark at the expense of successful rice promotion programs," Petter said.
"Most Arkansas rice farmers oppose any increase to the producers' checkoff assessment, and we certainly oppose efforts to undermine the Arkansas Rice Research and Promotion Board and the Arkansas Rice Council," said Arkansas Rice Producers' Group Chairman Gary Sebree.
Arkansas Rice is a federation representing the Arkansas rice industry, including farmers, millers, merchants and others. Arkansas Rice is comprised of the Arkansas Rice Council, Arkansas Rice Producers' Group, and state rice mills and merchants.