Last October, a Louisiana Supreme Court justice ruled that the rice checkoff Louisiana farmers had been supporting for 40 years was unconstitutional. The Louisiana Rice Research Board, which administers the checkoff, was forced to scramble for funding to meet its commitments to researchers.
Since then, the Louisiana General Assembly, led by Rep. Jack Montoucet, D-Crowley, has passed legislation aimed at addressing the issue and restoring the checkoff. But Rice Research Board leaders say the fight to keep the 5-cent per hundredweight checkoff in place is far from over.
"The truth is funding of rice research is in jeopardy," said Jackie Loewer, chairman of the Louisiana Rice Reseatrch Board, speaking at the LSU AgCenter Rice Research Station's annual Field Day, "We're involved in a protracted, legal engagement that is distasteful."
"The truth is what you see here today as you drive through the fields and look at the poster sessions and what you heard here this morning may go away. As most of you know from your family life, your church life, your academic life and your business life, nothing happenss in the absence of revenue. There's a possibility that may happen to your rice research funds."
Loewer said the main reason the Rice Research Board was able to honor most of its commitments was that over the years it had maintained a reserve fund against the possibility of a shortfall. Growers also came together and voluntarily contributed $564,000 to keep the research efforts going.
"The truth is the plaintiffs in the lawsuit are still trying to take even that away," Loewer said.
Loewer credited the work of Rep. Montoucet for passing legislation that provides a mandatory 5-cent checkoff per hundredweight on all rice sold in the state. Growers will no longer have a referendum to determine whether they favor the checkoff, but they can request a refund of the checkoff.
"Now it will be possible for some of you to ask for your money back but still benefit from the research provided to those who do not ask for their money back."
Montoucet, who spoke briefly during the field day, said the passage of the law took the combined efforts of a number of organizations and their members, including the legislature, the Rice Research Board, the LSU AgCenter and the LSU System President, Dr. F. King Alexander.
"Being chairman of the Louisiana Rural Caucus helped, but, really, once we sat everyone down and explained what was at stake, it wasn't difficult to secure the votes needed in both houses for passage," Montoucet said.