Rice Farming

 - From the Editor -

15 minutes of fame

By Carroll Smith

During the winter in the South, a peculiar phenomenon occurs when the weatherman or woman predicts that snow and ice are headed our way. Many people who perceive that they will be trapped in their homes if bad weather descends flock to the grocery stores to load up on milk, bread and eggs. They probably grab other food, too, but those three staples seem to be the most sought after.

I was reminded of this scenario the other day when I turned on the television early one morning and realized that rice was being featured in the news. The announcer was talking about the “U.S. rice shortage” and showing footage of folks lined up at Costco – a warehouse store – buying up 50-pound bags of rice.

Not only that, Costco was limiting the amount that shoppers could buy.

It seems that U.S. rice was having its “15 minutes of fame” – a cliche inspired by a comment made by American artist Andy Warhol in the 1960s. Wikipedia defines it as “the fleeting condition of celebrity that attaches to an object of media attention, then passes to some new object as soon as the public’s attention span is exhausted.”

During this time period, the media’s feeding frenzy kept the USA Rice Federation busy for three or four straight days talking to reporters from all over the world. They all wanted to know if there really was a rice shortage in the United States.

The message the Federation repeated over and over is that half of the U.S. rice industry’s crop supplies almost 90 percent of domestic demand, while the other half is exported. The industry has enough rice to supply domestic demand and traditional export customers. Read about the USA Rice Federation’s experience with the “U.S. rice shortage” on page 12.

Granted, global rice stocks are tight. When asked what worries him about tight rice supplies, Bobby Coats, Arkansas Extension ag policy analyst, says, “First, my immediate concern is if consumers in poor countries started hoarding rice because they fear a rice shortage or if individuals hoard for profit beyond the present experiences. Then, an engineered shortage might spiral out of control, causing major economic and political consequences. Second, I worry about a catastrophic weather event occurring before the rice supply/ demand balance improves. Third, all countries should be concerned about their food security, but increased food protectionism and reduced global food trade would be a real negative for the global consumer.”

For more details about the ongoing global food crisis, be sure to read “Rice: In the eye of the storm” (page 5). The threat of global “bad weather” and the panic that it produces is not close to being over yet.

Send your comments to: Editor, Rice Farming Magazine, 5118 Park Ave., Suite 111, Memphis, Tenn., 38117. Call (901) 767-4020 or e-mail csmith@onegrower.com.