THE TEXAS RICE INDUSTRY COALITION FOR THE ENVIRONMENT (R.I.C.E.): MAIN POINTS FROM SIX FOCUS GROUPS
Amy Purvis Thurow,
M. Edward Rister,
Shannon L. Sneary and
No 23971, Faculty Paper Series from Texas A&M University, Department of Agricultural Economics
The Texas Rice Industry Coalition for the Environment (R.I.C.E.) was formed in February, 1995. Their stated mission is to build a coalition of interests to foster and strengthen relationships between the rice industry and the natural resources of our rice-producing area in Texas. In June, 1995, a series of six focus groups was conducted. These round table discussions involved two groups of producers (from the East Side and West Side of Houston), two groups of environmentalists in the Houston area, and two groups of non-farming Houstonians (adults and children). These focus groups were structured to elicit opinions from various viewpoints concerning the opportunities, challenges, and priorities of Texas R.I.C.E. The goal of the two producers focus groups conducted on the East Side and the West Side of Houston was to determine whether Texas R.I.C.E.'s activities were widely known and to ascertain producers' viewpoints on the coalition's priorities. Producers were agreed on their key concerns regarding compliance with environmental policy - they face a cost-price squeeze and therefore one-size-fits-all regulations are particularly burdensome. Water quality and quantity were most often mentioned as key factors in the continued viability of the rice industry in Texas. Producers recognize the natural synergy between rice production and waterfowl habitat enhancement, yet they are concerned because waterfowl habitat places increased demands on scarce water. Rice producers are concerned about the public being largely ignorant and uninterested in the environmental benefits of rice production, and they endorsed two-way education between rice producers and environmentalists. No clear consensus emerged in the focus group discussions about the role for Texas R.I.C.E. in lobbying. Some rice producers see education and lobbying as conflicting activities and would prefer for Texas R.I.C.E. to focus on education. Others were positive about collaborative opportunities between rice producers' lobbyists and environmental interest groups' lobbyists. The two environmental focus groups were a mix of bird-watchers, hunters, hikers and conservationists. These environmentalists had a good idea of where rice is grown in Texas and knew that rice production is declining in the state. Their major concerns about the environmental effects from rice production were water usage and water quality, agri-chemical runoff, food and habitat for migratory birds, and trade-offs concerning wetlands. In sum, they appreciated that rice production makes a positive contribution to waterfowl habitat. They were concerned that lost Texas rice acreage will be replaced with urban land uses, thus reducing wildlife habitat benefits. They viewed rice production as being environmentally friendly compared with other types of agricultural production, such as cotton farming. They were favorably impressed that rice producers were taking the initiative to form a coalition. They were anxious to work collaboratively and offered several concrete suggestions about forums and issues for educational campaigns. They suggested that consumptive and non-consumptive users of wildlife habitat (such as hunters and bird-watchers, respectively) should compensate private landowners for allowing access. They acknowledged problems with adversarial attitudes going both ways between environmentalists and rice producers; they brainstormed about how Texas R.I.C.E. could help break down barriers. The general public adult focus group, comprised of non-farming Houstonians, established a general interest and awareness concerning rice production. However, the Houstonians participating in this focus group were uninformed about the waterfowl habitat benefits associated with rice production. They offered positive endorsement of the Texas R.I.C.E. effort and expressed sincere (and specific) interests in educational programming. The general public children focus group included several children from the Clear Lake area south of Houston. These children exhibited a natural inquisitiveness and concern regarding the environment and food safety. They were largely ignorant of commercial agriculture, excepting several recollections of "visits to relatives' farms." They expressed considerable interest in more agricultural-related curriculum being incorporated into their science and/or social studies curricula.
Keywords: Environmental; Economics; and; Policy (search for similar items in EconPapers)
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