LITTLE ROCK -- The Arkansas Rice Growers Association had SB 349 filed last week in the Arkansas Legislature to give rice farmers the freedom to choose how the promotion half of the rice assessment is stewarded.

The bill, a modification of current rules, does not change the percentage of funds currently allocated to rice research, which is at the sole discretion of the Arkansas Rice Research and Promotion Board.

The proposed change allows producers to select either the USA Rice Federation or US Rice Producers Association as the steward of their promotion funds, which currently is given to the USA Rice Federation, a Texas corporation based in Arlington, Va.

"This is about the individual farmer's right to chose how his promotion money is stewarded," said Doin Bowers, a grower from Corning, Ark.

In order to give producers authority over their money, present legislation must change. Currently, the law states that the farmer and the first buyer each pay 1.35 cents to the rice assessment; however, buyers simply pay lower prices to rice farmers to prevent having to pay the buyer's portion from the buyer's pocket.

"The farmers pay it all now," says Keith Freeland, a rice producer from Lee County. "The first buyer lowers his price to the farmer enough to cover his part of the assessment. They call it a pass-through." There is some speculation this bill will double the producers' assessment. In fact, this proposed legislation simply provides producers an option to choose the best steward for their funds.

Not only will these changes give farmers the opportunity to choose where their hard-earned money goes, but it will also encourage transparency of how the funds are spent. On several occasions, the Arkansas Rice Growers Association has asked the USA Rice Federation to disclose how they spend current promotion funds. After several Freedom of Information Act requests from Arkansas rice farmers, USA Rice continues to refuse to tell farmers how their promotion funds are spent.

Arkansas rice farmers deserve to know how their money is used, and whether it best promotes the interests of rice growers. If the Virginia-based USA Rice Federation is faithfully stewarding farmers' check off money, then there should be no problem with complete transparency and accountability with regard to how the farmers' rice assessments are spent.

Arkansas rice farmers know best how to manage their money, and the proposed legislation simply gives farmers a choice as to who they entrust with their funds.

The Arkansas Rice Growers Association is the only organization solely representing the views of the Arkansas rice farmer.

SOURCE: Arkansas Rice Growers Association via PR Newswire.