US Rice, China
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Sarah Moran, Vice President, International of USA Rice, walks us through what we need to know about rice, the little world traveler

As the United States just finished harvesting the rice crop in August 2021, millers and exporters are looking to other countries to buy about half of the production. While much of the rice grown in the US is consumed in local favorite dishes such as jambalaya (1) in Louisiana, roasted catfish (2) in Arkansas, Tex-Mex (3) dishes in Texas or sushi (4) in California, more than 130 countries buy 3.5 million tons of US rice every year.

“In 2020, China imported twice as much rice as the second largest rice importer, the Philippines. Given the enormous opportunities there, the US has made significant efforts to enter the market and introduce US rice to importers and consumers.”

Rice in the United States

The US is geographically suitable for growing all types of rice, including long grain (indica) rice, short or medium grain (japonica), fragrant varieties such as jasmine or basmati, white, brown, precooked and organic varieties. Wild rice is also grown in the US and is one of the few grains native to North America. Wild rice isn’t really a rice plant, though — it’s a semi-aquatic grass, but because it looks and cooks the same as rice, it’s often mixed with rice and served in similar sizes. (5) All these rice varieties and more are grown and exported every year. Rice production is the third largest of all grains in the US

Since half of the harvest is destined for overseas markets, the rice industry is well adapted to the needs and requirements of these customers. Many shipments are even grown specifically for the needs of consumers abroad. Japan, a country where they eat rice on a daily basis and typically the third largest export market for U.S. rice, largely imports medium-sized rice from the United States, which can be found in Costco supermarkets across the country. Some Japanese customers prefer short grain varieties called Koshihikari (which has a rich flavor and is very sticky) and Akitakomachi (chewy texture, less sticky than Koshihikari and often used for rice balls). Farmers in California will devote an agreed number of acres to grow those specific varieties and meet those needs. Likewise, there are customers in Nicaragua who prefer certain types of long-grain rice and will sign contracts with farmers in Arkansas or Louisiana to grow quality-specific varieties.

The search for new markets

While many loyal customers buy US rice every year, USA Rice continues to look for new markets or market segments to increase sales opportunities. One country that offers enormous potential because it is the largest rice producer, the largest rice consuming country and the largest rice importing country in the world… is China. It consumes the equivalent of the entire US rice crop every 13 days. (6) China imported twice as much rice in 2020 as the second largest rice importer, the Philippines. Given the enormous opportunities there, the US has made significant efforts to enter the market and then introduce US rice to importers and consumers. Based on several consumer surveys that USA Rice has conducted in the country, many Chinese consumers value American rice for its strict food safety standards and high-quality properties. There have been some shipments of US rice to China and more shipments are expected as awareness of US rice grows and broader US-China relations improve.

US shipments to Taiwan and Hong Kong, both close to China but with less restrictive import regulations, have been going strong for many years. Taiwan is typically a top 15 export market for U.S. rice, bringing in 64,000 tons of medium-grain rice from Arkansas and California each year. Hong Kong is a much smaller market but serves a vibrant expat community and food service sector with nearly 8,000 tons of American rice a year. Using dedicated, targeted activities to increase rice consumption, USA Rice has partnered with food processors in Taiwan to develop traditional Chinese pies made from American rice, and has targeted hotel chefs in Hong Kong to incorporate American rice into their hotel menu.

As U.S. farmers begin preparing their land for the upcoming planting season starting in March, U.S. rice will be exported around the world, to a plate near you.

References

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