A new element of the leadership program is an international session, added in 2009 after RiceTec, Inc., became a sponsor. The session enables participants to study a specific country’s rice market and observe its rice import and distribution systems as well as review industry marketing activities in the region.

Participants also meet with key U.S. agriculture and government officials responsible for importing food and providing food security. The international session is available to graduates of the program who have, since graduation, applied their leadership skills to industry service.

International session participants recently traveled to Istanbul, Turkey. During the weeklong visit, the group met with executives from Akel Company, a major U.S. rice importer and Turkey’s rice market leader, and Pakder, the Turkish Rice and Pulses Packers Association that has more than 70 members. Participants also met with executives of Tugider, the Turkish Food Foreign Trade Association, which works closely with USA Rice to ease import restrictions and address import bans; and Samet Serttas, a U.S. Department of Agriculture Foreign Agricultural Service representative.

Turkey was chosen as the destination for the session because of its growing importance to the U.S. rice industry. Turkey purchased $151.9 million (342,097 metric tons) in U.S.-grown rice from January through November 2010 and is the third-largest export market by volume for U.S. rice exports over the same time span.

The program’s success is based on the principle of giving back — from the corporate sponsors who make the program possible to the producer and industry members who give generously of their time and expertise to make each session productive and rewarding. It’s an opportunity for the industry to impart in-depth knowledge, training and experience that reaps rewards when class members use their leadership skills to benefit the U.S. rice industry.

“When there are issues in the industry, I try to think about how it affects all segments — producers, merchants, millers, and end users of rice,” James said. “The program showed me that each segment relies on the other and that we must work together to keep U.S. rice industry a thriving part of our economy.”