Rice Farmers Thinking Globally

In the 1980's the Natural State had a global reach. Arkansas rice was selling everywhere, including Iraq.

The country that was under a dictatorship at the time was the number one consumer of Arkansas rice. In one decade sales to Iraq averaged 345 thousand metric tons, but sales eventually shifted to other countries.

"In the last 40-50 years we lost Cuba as the number one consumer of Arkansas rice, then we lose Iraq," said JohnAndrews with the Arkansas Farm Bureau.

The rice industry lost the Iraqi market because of U.S. economic sanctions that came with the Gulf War. Now rice officials want Congress to step in and forgive Iraq's billion dollar debt so that trade can resume.

"We feel like they will have the money eventually from all of the oil incomes they have that they will be able to buy our rice once the economy is stabilized," said Andrews.

Congressman Marion Berry is in favor of resuming trade.

"What offends me is that we're buying rice from Vietnam and Thailand when we knew we were going there," said Berry.

Rice officials and Congressman Berry acknowledge there will be some dissent over this issue, but eventually they believe trade will resume.

"This is going to be a very confrontational issue on trade bills in the future, and it's obviously something we're going to have to deal with because we're losing jobs by the millions," said Berry.