U.S. rice producers say the farm bill, input costs, water availability, regulation and quality issues are top concerns for the rice industry, during interviews at the USA Rice Outlook Conference in Coronado, Calif.

Keith Davis produces wild rice for Uncle Ben’s, as well as commodity rice, on K&S Farming around Yuba City, Calif. Davis’ 2012 rice crop “did OK. It wasn’t the biggest crop I’ve had, but it averaged about 8,400 pounds to the acre.”

Weather conditions prevented an early planting, noted Davis, “but we might have been fortunate that it was later. My early fields were a lot more affected by the heat. Later rice, planted around May 15 to May 20, was very good.”Keith Davis

For Davis, the biggest issue facing the rice industry today is the lack of progress on a new farm bill. “It’s not just for me, but there is a lot of pressure on young farmers who have just gotten into this business. I don’t know how they’re going to cope with it. With the new banking regulations, there’s not nearly as much leeway as there was when farming got bad in the 1980s, which is when I got started.

“You used to be able to carry forward debt. You can’t do that anymore. If you can’t perform, they’re going to come after every asset you have, and most likely you are not going to get a loan unless you have some really good backup.

“The risks are so great, and the cost of production is so high. Our rice market fortunately has been high enough to sustain this over the last seven or eight years. But it’s different with all the trouble in the Middle East and a farm bill that’s changing the landscape. They’re shifting money out of the southern and the California rice industry to the Midwest.

“Fortunately, in a lot of the areas in the South, they can grow corn and soybeans. In California the humidity is so low, soybeans won’t set. In my area, the soils are too tight for corn.”

Davis says the farm bill should supply a safety net “which to my way of thinking is to make your financial institution and the people you do business with feel secure about lending you money to operate. Very few people have enough money where they can operate just out of their own pocket.”