Rice Farming

 - From the Editor -

California dreamin’
Southern style

By Carroll Smith

When the Mamas and the Papas penned the lyrics “California dreamin’ on such a winter’s day” in 1965, who would have thought that those words could apply to rice farmers in the Mid-South and Texas in 2009? At least to those who had their eyes on rising medium-grain rice prices.

The USDA reports, “U.S. medium-grain prices are being supported at record levels by Egypt’s export ban and a lack of any significant exportable supplies in Australia, (which has been suffering from a drought for the past three years).”

According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), medium grain accounts for 89 percent of the rice grown in California compared to five percent in the rest of the U.S. rice-growing region. California’s medium grain is a japonica-type rice known as Calrose, which was developed in the state many years ago and is preferred by Asian consumers over the medium-grain varieties grown in the Mid-South and Texas.

About 50 percent of the California crop is exported to Asia and the Middle East, with Japan being the biggest customer. Thus, California’s closer proximity to these markets plays a role, too.

A potential downside for California’s medium-grain market is the water allocation situation this year. If the allotment to California farmers is cut, rice acres could be reduced, thus reducing the supply of medium-grain rice coming from that state. However, this doesn’t mean that the Calrose varieties would be available for other rice-growing regions for a couple of reasons. For one, they are susceptible to bakanae disease, plus there are some restrictions to selling California public varieties outside of the state.

The upside for Mid-South and Texas farmers who are interested in growing medium-grain rice is that in addition to the export market, there has been increased demand for medium-grain rice in the domestic market from the food processing companies. These contracts, which offer a higher price than the long-grain contracts, have piqued the interest of rice farmers outside of the state of California.

Although medium-grain seed supply is limited or non-existent in some states, informal surveys indicate that medium-grain production will be up in Texas and parts of the Mid-South this year. For those farmers who do plant medium-grain varieties in 2009 to fulfill their “dream” of capturing the premium price, Louisiana rice specialist Johnny Saichuk urges them to consult their county agents for advice.

“There is nothing magic about growing medium-grain varieties, but like any new variety, each may have its own peculiarities,” he says.

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.