That leads to questions that come up in the Mid-South every farm bill – cotton and rice and the specific issues they bring to the table. Can a crop insurance product for rice be developed that is satisfactory to the producers?

“I was in Jonesboro, Ark., within the last month and said that crop insurance seems to be the wave of the future. I heard strongly from them that crop insurance is difficult to make work for the rice industry.

“There isn’t the same production peril because you have more control (over production like irrigation). Other factors provide the risk for rice production.

“There will always be unique circumstances. My experience with farm bills is that Congress is always willing to address those truly unique circumstances…

“Crop insurance is not just about indemnifying production today. Most of the plans being marketed are revenue-based. Can these be tailored to better fit the rice industry? Particularly the rice industry in the Mid-South? I think those are open questions, at this point.”

If you’ve talked to rice farmers, I’m sure you heard about their desires to see the markets in Cuba opened. With your history, what you saw at USDA, what was going on behind the scenes regarding that issue? Where are the major pressures being exerted from that are preventing the Cuban markets from being opened?

“Within each and every administration, there are people whose responsibility is national security interests. They don’t see right or left. They see straight-ahead security interests. Those people say that the current regime in Cuba is not a friend of the United States and, therefore, we shouldn’t do anything to encourage them in any way. (They) interpret that in the broadest possible sense.

“I understand where they’re coming from because they’re very singularly focused – and on a good cause.

“At the same time, I remember when I was working in the Senate when Reagan was president. He took (the stand) that ‘we’re willing to sell the Soviet Union anything they can’t shoot back at us.’

“From a trade policy-standpoint that really should be an important factor in trade with Cuba. It’s a humanitarian issue. It’s not a threat to national security. And certainly for industries like rice it could be hugely important markets that could boost our economy at a time when everyone agrees we need that boost.”

For more on NCFC’s view on Cuba policy, see here.

On farm labor and immigration issues following laws passed in the Southeast…

“We favor comprehensive immigration reform that will ensure there are legal workers available to, as we say traditionally, ‘harvest the crops.’ However, now in agriculture it isn’t just harvesting specialty crops any more. We have (migrant labor) needs on many, many farms, dairy operations. Many crop and livestock farms are in need of this labor force.

“It impacts all of agriculture and we favor an immigration policy in the country that would legally provide access to those workers.

“We’ve been debating this issue for so long. And we’ve often talked about the fact that if this isn’t straightened out then food will be left (in the field) and not be utilized. That happened in 2011 in (the Southeast) when, literally, there were precious food commodities that could have fed someone that were left out because there was no one to harvest them. That screams for a need for a change.”

Conservation programs versus farmer programs in an environment of shrinking funds? How do you divide the baby?

“That’s a great question. I think if there is a Title I significant cut in price support of commodities, others will have to bear a similar burden. You can’t just single out the Title I farm support commodities for cuts and leave everything else unchecked. That would include the Conservation Title, include a lot of our Trade Title, even the Nutrition Title to some extent.

“There must be some sharing of the burden. It can’t all occur in one title.

“Those who follow the Conservation Title should prepare for that. I sense they are. I do believe there will be a smaller CRP after the next farm bill passes. That would provide sizable savings.”

Anything else?

“One of the issues we continue to talk about independently – but particularly in the context of the farm bill – is if there will be cuts to the farm safety net, direct payments or something else … don’t, in addition, come back and through the regulatory process do things that will add to the farmers’ costs of doing business. That would be a double-whammy they simply couldn’t withstand.

“You can’t just cut their safety net and then come back saying ‘oh, by the way, here’s all the things we expect you to do. Things we consider to be good practices. They’ll increase your costs but you’ll just have to absorb those increases.’

“We’ve been pushing very hard that there should be some kind of a time-out on the regulatory process so we aren’t increasing producers’ cost of production, cost of doing business, at the same time we’re potentially removing a large chunk of their safety net.”