Food aid continues to be critical to the rice industry, in light of the continuing surplus situation and export market barriers that we are facing. With harvest already under way in some rice-growing areas, it is more important than ever that food aid shipments help to move product out of the way to ensure there will be adequate storage for the new crop.

The USA Rice Federation (USA Rice) worked to overcome months of government delays and as a result, crucial food aid tonnage is now on track, moving through all major government programs. A total of 153,000 metric tons of rice food aid has been shipped so far during this fiscal year to 26 countries.

Nearly 200,000 more metric tons of rice for food aid will be shipped in the next few months to the Philippines, Indonesia, and other countries. This movement helps stabilize farm gate prices.

With staff in Washington dedicated to working on food aid issues on a daily basis, USA Rice has not only helped move food aid in the short term, but is also implementing a long-term strategy for increasing rice food aid movement through U.S. government food aid programs for years to come.

USA Rice played a key role in expediting the movement of rice for food aid by working cooperatively with USDA to urge timely agreement signings and tenders. At the urging of USA Rice, USDA recently released a list of anticipated food aid shipments.

Being able to see the timing of anticipated tenders and shipments allows the industry to more easily plan for business and the positioning of supply. The release of anticipated food aid shipments is a good indication of USDA's commitment to work on spreading the business over a reasonable time period, instead of bunching the business at the end of year.

USA Rice recently met with the U.S. Agency for International Development to discuss the urgency of including rice in food aid programming in emergency relief operations. We are working to build a strong relationship with USAID's Food for Peace, as this agency assumes a greater role in U.S. food relief as a result of new legislation in the farm bill.

Showing how rice can be an important addition to famine relief planned for Southern Africa was the focus of another recent meeting. We also discussed the advantages that rice has in overall programming due to low prices, nutritional benefits, and easier monetization, now that rice may be sold at local foreign market prices under a new farm bill provision.

This column would not be complete without mentioning the efforts of rice-state legislators, all of whom have been willing to go to bat for us, time and time again. We're fortunate to have members of Congress who are so attentive to food aid issues.

The leadership of Sen. John Breaux, D-La., in particular has been a tremendous asset in maintaining visibility for rice in food aid at high levels of government.

The USA Rice Federation is working for you, the producer. Look for more updates on our activities in future issues of Farm Press.

John King III is an Arkansas rice producer and member of the USA Rice Federation's Food Aid Subcommittee.