Rice Farming

 - From the Editor -

Medium grain mania –
will it last?

By Carroll Smith

According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), in 1982, 598,400 acres of medium grain rice were grown in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Texas. Interestingly, Mississippi dropped off the medium grain radar after that until 1989 when farmers there planted 10,000 acres. Then medium grain disappeared from the state again.

In 2002, 158,000 acres were planted to medium grains in Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri and Texas. Louisiana medium grain acres had dropped from 345,000 in 1982 to 8,000 in 2002. One explanation for the dramatic decline in medium grain acres in this state can be attributed to the introduction of Lemont, which set a new standard for long-grain yield potential.

Back then, the long-grains sold for a premium, but the best medium grain varieties had a yield advantage over the best long-grains. However, the yield advantage of the medium grains usually was enough to make up for that difference. As long-grain varieties came along that could yield as well, or better, than the medium grains, Mid-South farmers drifted away from planting medium grains because they could get a better price for long-grain rice. California farmers, on the other hand, continued to grow medium grain japonica-type Calrose varieties, which are preferred by Asian consumers over medium grain varieties grown in the Mid-South.

So what led to the medium grain mania that has swept the Mid-South rice-growing states this year? It’s simple – current demand and booking premiums. Plus, according to the USDA, extenuating circumstances in Egypt, Australia and California – typical sources of sought-after medium grains – have led to Mid-South farmers trying to step in and fill the gap while taking advantage of the premium medium grain prices. They were thwarted to some extent by the shortage of medium grain seed suitable for this region because of low production in the past few years and the quarantine on California Calrose varieties because of bakanae disease, which so far is not known to be present in southern rice states.

On the bright side, medium grain seed availability, particularly Jupiter and Neptune, should not be a big issue in 2010. The question is, “Will medium grain mania last, or is it a short-term fluke?”

Quite frankly, no one can provide a definitive answer. But as long as the premiums stay in place, and the demand for Southern-grown medium grain rice continues, farmers in the Mid-South probably will stay aboard the medium grain bandwagon.

See “The role of water” (page 18) for an important announcement about medium grain varieties.

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.