Rice Sector at a Glance

Rice is the primary staple food for more than half the world's population—with Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, and South America the largest consuming regions. The bulk of global rice is classified as Oryza Sativa, a plant species which is believed to have originated in Asia from the Graminaceae (grass) family. Although rice is produced over vast areas of the world, the physical requirements for growing it are limited to certain areas. Economically sound production typically requires high average daytime temperatures but cooler nights during the growing season, a plentiful supply of water applied as needed, a smooth land surface to facilitate uniform flooding and drainage, and a subsoil hard-pan that inhibits percolation (downward movement of water through the rice bed). Four major types of rice are produced and traded worldwide (table 1).

Aromatic (jasmine and basmati)

Table 1: Types of rice produced worldwide
Type Where grown Percent of global rice trade
Indica Tropical and subtropical regions such as Southeast Asia and South Asia 70-72
Aromatic (jasmine and basmati) Primarily Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, India, and Pakistan 20-22
Japonica Regions with cooler climates such as Japan, Korea, parts of China, California, Europe,and Australia 6-7
Glutinous and other specialty rices Southeast Asia 2-3
Source: USDA, Economic Research Service calculations.

U.S. Rice Production

Four regions produce almost the entire U.S. rice crop:

  • Arkansas Grand Prairie;
  • Mississippi Delta, (parts of Arkansas, Mississippi, Missouri, and Louisiana);
  • Gulf Coast (Texas and Southwest Louisiana); and
  • Sacramento Valley of California.

Each of these regions normally specializes in a specific type of rice, referred to in the United States by length of grain—long, medium, and short. U.S. long-grain varieties typically cook dry and separate, while U.S. medium- and short-grain varieties are typically moist and clingy or sticky. In general, long-grain production accounts for around 75 percent of U.S. rice production, medium-grain production for about 24 percent, and short-grain for the remainder. In 2021, the United States produced 191.8 million hundredweight (cwt) of rough rice, down 16 percent from 2020 but still slightly above the 2019 crop.

U.S. long-grain rice production is concentrated in the South (Arkansas typically grows 56–58 percent of the U.S. long-grain crop.) California is the main producer of medium-grain rice, typically growing 70–76 percent of the crop—although Arkansas grows a substantial amount of medium-grain, especially in years when California is experiencing drought. Louisiana typically harvests a much smaller quantity of medium-grain rice. Short-grain rice is almost exclusively grown in California. All U.S. rice is produced in irrigated fields, achieving some of the highest yields in the world. Rice producers in the United States can seed aerially in flooded fields, or they can drill or broadcast (scatter) seed into dry fields. California producers seed primarily by air directly into flooded fields. Most producers in the Delta drill or broadcast seed into dry seedbeds, while growers in southwest Louisiana and on the Texas Gulf Coast seed both aerially into flooded fields and drill or broadcast seed into dry seedbeds.

Marketing years vary by State—in Texas and Louisiana beginning July 1, in Arkansas and Mississippi August 1, in Missouri September 1, and in California October 1. Some producers in Texas and southwest Louisiana are able to reflood their fields after harvest and achieve a partial second or "ratoon" crop from the stubble remaining in the field after the first-crop harvest.

Figure 1. U.S. rice from planting to harvest

In 1981, the United States planted the largest all-rice acreage to date, more than 3.8 million acres. During the remainder of the 1980s, participation in acreage-reduction programs, along with typically low prices, pushed the number of planted acres down in most years. Yields per acre for long-, medium-, and short-grain rice have steadily increased since the 1970s. Yields per acre are typically higher in California than in the South, largely due to the normally different yields achieved by the varieties grown in each region. As a result of a severe drought and low reservoir levels, California rice plantings dropped almost 22 percent in 2014 and declined almost 4 percent in 2015. The State’s rice area increased in 2016, but did not return to predrought levels (see the commodity focus in Rice Outlook, April 2018 for more discussion). California’s 2021 and 2022 rice plantings were sharply reduced by severe drought as well.

U.S. Rice Exports

The United States is a consistent, timely supplier of high-quality rice in both the long- and combined medium- and short-grain global markets. While the United States accounts for less than 2 percent of global rice production, it ships almost 5 percent of global exports and is currently the fifth-largest exporter. Exports are thus important to the U.S. rice industry, with around 45 percent of the crop currently exported each year.

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U.S. rice exports include:

  • Rough (unmilled rice)
  • Parboiled rice
  • Brown rice
  • Fully milled (white) rice.

Milled rice (including brown rice) accounts for 52-56 of U.S. rice exports, followed closely by rough rice. Rough rice exports began a long-term increase in the mid-1990s as several countries in Latin America—primarily Mexico and Central American countries—reduced support to producers and opened their markets to imported rice. The United States initially faced little competition in these predominately rough rice markets, typically accounting for 95-100 percent of their rice imports. However, since 2010, South American exporters have shipped substantial amounts of milled rice to the markets, and more recently rough rice as well, and now account for 25-30 percent of rice imports in several of these markets. In addition, since 2008, the United States has shipped rice to Colombia and Venezuela, where U.S. exports also face increasing competition from South American exporters. Asian exporters have shipped milled rice into Latin America as well. However, except for shipments to Cuba, the quantities are much smaller than supplied by the South America exporters. Historically, the United States has been the only major exporter that allows rough rice exports, although most South American exporters—all medium-sized exporters—ship some rough rice to other Latin American countries. Cambodia regularly ships rough rice to neighboring Vietnam.

Demand for U.S. parboiled rice began a long-term decline in the mid-1990s, with Europe and the Middle East accounting for most of the sales and the decline. The United States also exports processed rice products such as rice cakes, rice mixes, and cereal, although these products remain a very small share of U.S. rice exports. The United States annually exports small quantities of broken kernel rice as well, typically accounting for almost 2 percent of total export volume.

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U.S. Rice Imports

U.S. rice imports have trended nearly tripled since 2001/02. Most rice imports are specific aromatic varieties from Asia—jasmine from Thailand and basmati from India and Pakistan. Since 2011, South American exporters have shipped 20,000-30,000 tons of non-aromatic long-grain milled rice to the United States annually, mostly due to competitive prices. In addition, in 2018 China returned as a supplier of medium-grain rice to Puerto Rico, a U.S territory. Since 2019/20, the United States has imported (on average) more than 13 percent of its total supply of rice, up from 10 percent for 2014/15–2018/19.

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Marketing and Use of Rice

Five different products can be produced from rough rice: hulls, bran, brown rice, whole kernel milled rice, and brokens. Brokens are separated into three categories based on descending size: second heads, screenings, and brewers.

The first stage of milling removes the hull, producing brown rice that can be cooked and consumed. The next stage removes the bran layer, leaving whole-kernel milled white rice but creating some broken kernels as well. Most of the bran is used in animal feed.

Prior to milling, rough rice may be parboiled, a process of soaking the rice in water and steaming it under intense pressure. Parboiling makes the rice less likely to break during milling and pushes nutrients from the bran layer into the kernel. Parboiled rice typically sells at a premium compared to regular milled rice.

The United States has five or six different grades and grade requirements for rough rice, brown rice, milled rice, and all three classifications of broken kernel rice (second-heads, screenings, and brewers). In general, the grading requirements are based on maximum limits for seeds and heat-damaged kernels, paddy kernels, red rice and damaged kernels, and chalky kernels—as well as requirements for color, well-milled kernels, and minimum milling requirements. Red rice consists of whole or large broken kernels of rice, with a substantial amount of red bran.

Care is necessary throughout the production, drying, storage, milling, and marketing phases to minimize the number of broken kernels, which sell at a considerable discount to whole-kernel rice. Virtually all rice purchased by U.S. consumers or sold to U.S. restaurants is whole-kernel milled rice. However, 15–17 percent of the U.S. crop is currently exported annually as rough (unmilled) rice and is eventually milled in the importing country. See U.S. Standards for Rice.

Long-term growth in rice use in the United States is partly a result of the Nation’s changing ethnic composition, with high per capita rice-consuming groups increasing their shares of the U.S. population. Rising demand for gluten-free and continued introduction of new rice-based products have also contributed to growth in domestic use. Domestic uses of rice include food for human consumption (both direct food use and processed foods), beer, and pet food.

In most other countries, increases in rice consumption can largely be attributed to population growth, especially in countries where rice is a staple food item—primarily in Asia and much of Latin America. In Sub-Saharan Africa, both strong population growth and rising per capita use are boosting total rice consumption. Globally, however, per capita rice consumption has been decreasing as countries have become more developed and their populations have begun to eat more meat and fewer staple grains.

For additional discussion, see The Rice Market in South Korea and Haiti's U.S. Rice Imports.

U.S. Policies Affecting Rice Producers

Under Title I of the Agricultural Act of 2018, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) operates two new crop commodity programs—Price Loss Coverage (PLC) and Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC)—along with the already existing Marketing Assistance Loan Program, which was almost unchanged. Rice growers primarily use the PLC program.

Producers who hold base acres of rice and other covered commodities are eligible to enroll in the PLC program on a commodity-by-commodity basis. Payments are made when market prices fall below the reference price set in the 2018 Farm Act. Reference prices for rice are as follows:

Long-grain rice $14.00 per hundredweight
Southern Medium and short Grain $14.00 per hundredweight
Temperate Japonica (California) $17.30 per hundredweight

The loan rate for all rice crops is set by the farm bill at $7.00 per hundredweight.

See more information on U.S. Farm Policy

Global Rice Production and Consumption 

Globally, the top rice-producing country is China, followed by India.

Table 2. Top-10 rice producing countries, 2017/18-21/22
Country Annual average production, million tons, milled basis
China 148.277
India 120.544
Indonesia 34.960
Bangladesh 34.772
Vietnam 27.310
Thailand 19.417
Burma 12.800
Philippines 12.170
Pakistan 7.962
Brazil 7.658

Note: 1 ton = 2,204.62 pounds.

Source: USDA, Foreign Agricultural Service, Production, Supply and Distribution database.

Table 3. Top-10 rice consuming countries, 2019/20-21/22
Country Annual average consumption, million tons, milled basis 1/
China 150.621
India 104.170
Bangladesh 36.100
Indonesia 35.517
Vietnam 21.383
Philippines 14.717
Thailand 12.600
Burma 10.433
Japan 8.250
Brazil 7.333

Note: 1 tonne = 2,204.62 pounds. 1/ Includes a residual component that accounts for post-harvests losses in processing, marketing, and transporting.

Source: USDA, Foreign Agricultural Service, Production, Supply and Distribution database.

Global Rice Trade

Rice Exports

Since 2012, India has been the largest global rice exporter, currently shipping more rice annually than the combined shipments of the next three largest exporters. India’s rice exports increased almost 49 percent in 2020 and then rose 46 percent more in 2021 to more than 21 million tons. The next largest rice exporters are Thailand, Vietnam, Pakistan, the United States, China, Burma, and Cambodia—accounting for a combined 90 percent of the global rice trade. Cambodia started increasing exports in 2009, and China substantially increased its exports in 2017 and returned as a major exporter in 2018. In contrast, U.S. rice exports declined 17 percent in 2018 and remain below previous levels, due in part to greater competition in several Latin American markets from South American suppliers, and to generally tight U.S. supplies. Thailand’s exports dropped substantially in 2019 and 2020, and despite some expansion, have remained well below prior levels. Pakistan’s exports had hovered around 4 million tons since 2012, but are projected to increase sharply in 2022, mainly due to expanded production.


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Global Rice Imports

On the global rice import side, Sub-Saharan Africa is the largest rice importing region, slightly exceeding total imports by all of Asia and accounting for more than 31 percent of global imports. The Middle East remains a large global import market, accounting for more than 70 percent of the region’s rice consumption. Southeast Asia is also an important import market but exhibits no long-term expansion, counting on bumper crops in most years. The Philippines is the largest rice importer in Southeast Asia and the second largest global importer, currently importing more than 3 million tons annually. East Asia’s rice imports have been boosted over the past decade by record purchases—5.9 million tons in 2017 and still more than 5 million in 2022—by China, the world’s largest rice importing country. South Asia is the smallest rice importing region in Asia, although Bangladesh’s imports can rapidly increase after a crop shortfall—as happened in 2017 and 2018 after a weather-reduced harvest and in 2021, also after a weak harvest. South American rice imports have increased only slightly since 2012, mostly due to little consumption growth and near-steady production. Both North America and the European Union are currently importing record amounts of rice, although both regions have a low per capita rice consumption compared with Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. These two regions are large markets for Asian aromatic varieties, specialty rices that are high-priced and account for a growing share of global rice trade.