Photo by LSU AgCenter Rice Research Station
Rice industry to profit from China sales
Abbeville farmers and the Louisiana rice industry on the whole should reap the benefits of the recent trade agreement that will enable the United States to export commodities like rice to China.
China consumers and produces more rice than any other country. Last year, China imported about 5 million tons of rice, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported.
Abbeville farmer and President of the Vermilion Parish Rice Growers Association, Allen McLain said countries like China want to consume
U.S. rice because of its strict regulations.
“We’ll still keep our customers that we have now because the quality of U.S. rice is better,” McLain said.
“The way that we do our harvesting, our milling and our drying, it’s one of the safest commodities to eat because of the regulations. We know what we’re putting into the crop, and that’s what countries are wanting; they’re wanting good quality food.”
The two countries signed an agreement that would set sanitation guidelines for products imported to China.
Steve Linscombe, director of the LSU AgCenter Southwest Region and director of the H. Rouse Caffey Rice Research Station, said the deal requires that mills selling to China undergo inspections “to ensure that the rice going into China meets their guidelines.”
“We’ve got some of the best mills around; meeting the sanitary guidelines won’t be a problem for our mills,” Linscombe said.
He said the U.S.-China deal could lead to larger profits and greater incentive for more rice to be planted in Louisiana.
“I think the U.S.-China deal is going to be, down the road, very important and very beneficial to Louisiana industry. China could be a huge market for us; it’s been a long time coming,” he said.
Richard Fontenot of Ville Platte, secretary-treasurer of the Louisiana Rice Research Board and vice president of the Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation, said the deal could affect rice farmers and millers as early as this fall or early spring of next year.
“Our industry is in a position to capitalize on this,” Fontenot said.
“We could increase export sales.”
Fontenot said profits from the U.S.-China deal will not make up for losses due to low yields, but it will “keep us from losing more.”
“It’s been a real tough environment to produce rice in. Our markets have been fairly flat. There’s some optimism with the new China protocol that’s been signed. China is a big export market, and hopefully it generates some additional sales,” Fontenot said.
Eunice farmer Michael Fruge, who serves on the Louisiana Rice Research Board, said prices have been low because of low exports.
“The main thing that’s going to affect prices this year is the fact that we planted less rice acres in the southern rice-growing region,” Fruge said.
“Louisiana is down probably 30,000 to 38,000 acres. But, the big thing is, Arkansas is down probably 20 to 25 percent on acreage.”
Because some farms in Arkansas flooded, Fontenot said, prices for Louisiana rice “have firmed up some, but still have a long way to go.”
Louisiana produces the third-greatest amount of rice in the United States, behind California and Arkansas. Fruge said California does not compete with Louisiana because it produces short-grain rice. Louisiana and Arkansas, the number-one producer of rice in the U.S., produce long-grain rice. Arkansas and Louisiana market compete in the same market, he said.
Though Louisiana boasts about 400,000 acres of rice farms, its acreage has decreased by 30,000 acres since last year, Linscombe said. Some years, farmers in North Louisiana might choose to plant corn or cotton instead of rice depending on potential profits, he said.
Though corn and cotton thrive in North Louisiana, these crops do not grow in Evangeline and Acadia parishes. St. Landry Parish produces some corn.
Once it leaves the mill, Louisiana rice is shipped worldwide. At present, Mexico is the largest consumer of rice from the United States, Linscombe said. Louisiana exports 60 to 70 percent of its rice.