Rice Sector at a Glance

Rice is the primary staple for more than half the world's population, with Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, and South America the largest consuming regions. The main species is Oryza Sativa. It 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).

Table 1: Types of rice produced worldwide
Type Where grown Percent of global rice trade
Indica Tropical and subtropical regions 75
Aromatic (jasmine and basmati) Primarily Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, India, and Pakistan 16-18
Japonica Regions with cooler climates 5-6
Glutinous and other specialty rices Southeast Asia Approx. 2-3
Source: USDA, Economic Research Service calculations; 2018.

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 2020, the United States produced 227.6 million hundredweight (cwt) of rough rice, up 23 percent from 2019 but well below the record 243.1 million cwt harvested in 2010.

U.S. long-grain rice production is concentrated in the South (Arkansas grows approximately 57-58 percent of the U.S. long-grain crop.) California is the main producer of medium-grain rice, growing 70-75 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. Producers in the United States can seed aerially in flooded fields, or they can drill or broadcast 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 normally different yields of the varieties grown in each region. As a result of a severe drought and low reservoir levels in 2014, California rice plantings dropped sharply, and the State’s rice area has yet to return to predrought levels (see the commodity focus in Rice Outlook, April 2018 for more discussion)

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 more than 6 percent of global exports and is currently the fifth-largest exporter. Exports are thus important to the U.S. rice industry, with the global market accounting for more than 40 percent of annual U.S. sales volume.

Figure 2. U.S. rice export markets, 2012/13-2016/17, average annual tonnes*

*1 tonne = 2,204.6 lbs. (compared to 1 ton, which equals 2,000 lbs.).

Source: USDA, Economic Research Service Rice Yearbooks

U.S. rice exports include:

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

Milled rice (including brown rice) accounts for the majority of U.S. exports, followed 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. However, since 2010, South American exporters have shipped substantial amounts of milled rice to the markets, and more recently some rough rice as well. In addition, since 2008, the United States has shipped rice to northern South America, where it also faces competition from South American exporters. Asian exporters have shipped milled rice into Latin America as well, although the quantities are much smaller. 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.

Demand for U.S. parboiled rice began a long-term decline in the mid-1990s. The United States also exports processed rice products such as rice cakes, rice mixes, and cereal, although they remain a very small share of U.S. exports. The United States annually exports small quantities of broken kernel rice as well.

Figure 3. U.S. rice exports by type, 1977/78- 2016/17

U.S. Rice Imports

U.S. rice imports have trended up sharply over the past 20 years. Most are aromatic varieties from Asia—jasmine from Thailand and basmati from India and Pakistan. In addition, China has recently returned as a supplier of medium-grain rice to Puerto Rico, a U.S territory. Over the past 5 years, the United States has imported, on average, about 11 percent of its total supply of rice, with a record 14 percent in 2019/20.

Figure 4. U.S. rice imports by country of origin, 2006/07- 2016/17

Source: USDA, Economic Research Service Rice Yearbooks  

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 two categories: second heads, which are used for flour, and brewers, which have been historically used for beer and in pet food.

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 to regular milled rice.

The United States has six different grades and grade requirements for rough rice, brown rice, milled rice, second-head milled rice, screenings milled rice, and brewers milled rice. 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 U.S. rice purchased by consumers or sold to restaurants is whole-kernel milled rice. However, 15 to 18 percent of the U.S. crop is 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 foods, a growing population, 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 because as countries have become more developed 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, 2012-17
Country Annual average production (1,000 tonnes, milled basis)
China 144,760
India 107,246
Indonesia 36,383
Bangladesh 34,123
China 27,298
Thailand 18,196
Burma 12,153
Philippines 11,751
Brazil 8,086
Japan 7,763

*1 tonne = 2,204.62 lbs. (compared to 1 ton, which equals 2,000 lbs.).

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

Figure 5. Global rice consumption

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

Global Rice Trade

Rice Exports

Since 2012, India has been the largest global rice exporter, with increasing sales of aromatic varieties accounting for some of the growth. India’s rice exports more than doubled in 2012, after the Government eliminated its export ban on non-basmati rice. Thailand, Vietnam, Pakistan, the United States, China, Burma, and Cambodia are the next largest rice exporters, with these top eight exporting countries accounting for 88-89 percent of global rice trade. Burma, Cambodia, and China substantially increased exports in recent years, with China returning as a major exporter in 2017. In contrast, U.S. rice exports declined 17 percent in 2018 and have only partially recovered, due in part to greater competition in several Latin American markets from South American suppliers, and, in some years, to tight U.S. supplies. Thailand’s exports dropped substantially in 2019 and have remained well below prior levels.

Figure 6. Rice exports by country, 2003-17

Figure 7. Share of global rice exports, 2015-17

Source: USDA, Economic Research Service Rice Yearbooks  

Global Rice Imports

On the global rice import side, Sub-Saharan Africa is the largest rice importing region, exceeding total imports by all of Asia. China, EU, and the Philippines are currently the world’s largest rice importing countries, although China’s imports are well below its 2017 record of 5.9 million tons. Purchases by Nigeria—once the second-largest importer—have declined in recent years, making the country the fourth-largest importer. The Middle East remains a large global import market, with imports trending higher and accounting for more than 70 percent of the region’s rice consumption. South Asia and Southeast Asia are also important import markets but exhibit no long-term expansion, counting on bumper crops in most years. Bangladesh’s imports are typically small but can rapidly increase after a crop shortfall, as happened in 2017 and 2018 after a weather-reduced harvest. South American rice imports have shown only slight expansion since 2012, mostly due to little, if any, consumption growth and near-steady production. Both North America and EU are currently importing record amounts of rice, although neither region is a large consumer of rice. These two regions are large markets for Asian aromatic varieties.