STUTTGART — Rice farmers from around Arkansas and the Mid-South gathered Jan. 8 for the Arkansas Rice Annual Meeting at the Grand Prairie Center at Stuttgart.

Some 330 were registered to attend and included farmers from Arkansas along with other rice-growing states in the Delta region.

About 400 people were in attendance, along with vendors and business interests that support rice farming. Also on hand were the state’s Secretary of Agriculture Wes Ward, several elected officials including Secretary of State John Thurston and state Commissioner of Lands Tommy Land along with various state senators and representatives.

The day started with a legislative overview with state Rep. Dan Douglas and state Sen. John Cooper of Bentonville and Jonesboro, respectively. Douglas, a farmer, is chair of the House’s Agriculture, Forestry and Economic Development committee, while Cooper serves on the same committee on the Senate side.

Both were quizzed about issues they expect to see in the upcoming legislative session that starts Monday, Jan. 14. One of the major issues that was addressed was the proposed restructuring of the state government.

“I think it will be smooth,” Douglas said of what he expects from Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s proposed reorganization of state government while Cooper added, “the efficiencies gained from that will be very important.”

Both noted that consolidating agencies would end duplicated offices like those that serve computer networks and human resources.

“I think it will pass,” Douglas said of the proposed reorganization. “Ultimately it will be a good thing for our state.”

Both also noted that other key topics in the upcoming legislative session would be a proposed tax cut, along with securing more funding for the state’s highways. The legislators also noted the success of last year’s voluntary smoke management guidelines implemented by the agriculture industry for row crop burning.

Representatives Andy Davis and David Hillman were also in attendance. USA Rice CEO, Betsy Ward, also provided an overview of national efforts including opening the Chinese market for U.S. rice and highlights of the new farm bill.

“I appreciate the opportunity to share with folks in Arkansas what we are doing on their behalf and to hear firsthand their concerns and priorities,” said Betsy Ward, President and chief executive officer of USA Rice. “It was also nice to be able to share some good news — bipartisan passage of the Farm Bill and positive developments in Iraq and China.”

In addition to the legislative overview, attorneys Trav Baxter and Ryan O’Quinn of Little Rock law firms respectively, Mitchell Williams and Quattlebaum, Grooms and Tull talked estate planning, while other sessions included farming issues on water conservation and progress from promotional and research projects funded through the rice checkoff program.

The meeting concluded with lunch, and, naturally, rice was on the menu.

— Jeremy Peppas is with Arkansas Money and Politics.