Mr. Speaker, I rise today to praise September as National Rice Month and honor those who grow it, process it, transport it, and all those who bring it to the dinner tables of America and the rest of the world.

National Rice Month was established in 1991 when both Houses of Congress agreed and the President of the United States sought to increase awareness of rice and recognize the contribution made by the U.S. rice industry to America's economy. National Rice Month celebrations will take place all across America this month in grocery stores, restaurants, schools, in festivals in many rice-growing communities, including the 36th Annual Texas Rice Festival just outside my district in Winnie, Texas.

Rice is an important part of American history and heritage. It has been grown in North America since 1696, when an improved variety of rice, reportedly from Madagascar, was grown on the Carolina coast. Early Americans recognized the promise of this crop throughout the world; and by 1726 the port of Charleston, South Carolina, was a major rice port in the United States.

As America earned independence, rice was growing as one of our largest exports. Over the years, rice became less and less important to the Carolinas as crops such as cotton and tobacco were better suited for that climate. But it was not until the war between the States, as advancing Union armies in the 1860s put the great rice plantations to the torch, that farmers picked up and moved west to the rich, fertile land of the Mississippi Delta and the lowlands off the gulf coast of Texas and Louisiana.

Today, there are only six States that have land and climate suitable to produce rice. As a $2 billion cash crop, rice is the fifth most valuable food crop grown in the United States. Ninety percent of the rice consumed in the United States is grown here.

The people of the United States consume approximately 18 pounds of rice per person per year. That amount continues to increase.

Until recently, the combined acreage of rice farms in the State of Texas was over the size of the State of Rhode Island.

Rice is vital to agriculture producers through exports, too, as the United States is one of only two or three major players in the world rice market. We export rice to more than 120 countries and supply 14 percent of all the rice in the world trade. It is one of the world's most important foods. It is a primary staple for more than half the world's population.

The U.S. rice industry has a long, successful past. However, Mr. Speaker, its future is much in jeopardy. These are tense and troubling times. The American rice farmer is becoming an endangered species.

Ray Stoesser, a constituent and friend of mine down in Liberty County, Texas, is struggling like many other rice farmers. Ray, like most farmers, simply wants a market to sell their product. They want a sanction-free world.

American political policies keep prices of rice depressed while increasing costs to American farmers. World markets are being lost to others. While farmers like Ray are doing the most to improve their yields, they have nowhere to sell their rice. Rice farmers do not want more government subsidies. They want markets for the rice that they sell.

The three largest foreign markets of United States rice producers has historically been Iran, Iraq and Cuba, countries in which the United States has heavily sanctioned against. Those sanctions do not hurt those countries. They hurt American rice farmers. We need to have free rice trade with these countries. The people of these nations are going to eat and buy rice. They should buy rice from America, because that is where they want to buy their rice. But in the name of politically correct sanctions, American rice farmers are hurt because the government does not allow complete free trade with these nations.

The Cuban market and its $64 million in sales last year has been lost to more government sanction, red tape, regulation and lack of common sense. Mr. Speaker, however, this resolution, H.R. 3058, the Transportation, Treasury appropriations bill, contains a very important provision to keep rice sales thriving. So as we recover from the stress of the hurricane and fuel price increases, it makes sense that we would want to ship rice to generally a close country such as Cuba who wants to buy it. If we get rice moving to Cuba, it would solve many problems.

We need to make it easier to sell rice to Iraq. We need to drop the agricultural sanctions to that nation.

As we celebrate National Rice Month and look back on its historical importance to America, we must ensure our government gives our rice producers the opportunity to keep the tradition long and strong and end those stupid sanctions. We need to keep the great American rice farmer like Mr. Ray Stoesser on his combine harvesting rice in Southeast Texas.