In 2012, 15 percent of all rice exports
were destined to Central America.
Consisting mostly of rough rice for
processing in local mills, the region
has purchased an average of 570,000 metric
tons over the past five years – the harvest
from about 200,000 acres.
The five CAFTA countries of Costa Rica,
El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and
Nicaragua have relied on U.S. rice to fill
the demand for high-quality milled rice in
each of their markets. It has not been working.
One mill even purchased rough rice
from Brazil last year in an effort to produce
a product demanded by the market.
In fact, there were unhappy BIG buyers,
and preservation of the market for U.S. rice
farmers became a major focus of the US
Rice Producers Association. Since October
of 2010 in a meeting with the Central
American Rice Federation (FECARROZ)
board of directors that was held in Leon,
Guanajuato, Mexico, and again in
December of that year in San Antonio,
Texas, the USRPA began to address the
cause and solution with the buyers.
The USRPA organized a meeting in San
Jose, Costa Rica, in October of 2011, inviting
USDA, U.S. exporters, grading companies
and representatives of the USA Rice
Federation to address the issue and discuss
quality and grading procedures. An additional
meeting was held in October 2012 in
Kansas City with the FGIS.
In January, representatives from the
Central American mills traveled throughout
the Mississippi River Delta to gain a
better understanding of how U.S. rice
makes its way from the farm to their home
destination ports. They learned that by the
time orders arrive at the final destination,
there are as many as 20 varieties of rough
rice mixed together. This has made it difficult
for them to properly process the rough
rice into high-quality milled rice demanded
by their consumers. With different sizes,
tastes, cooking qualities and cooking times,
local consumers were refusing to buy U.S.
rice. This resulted in significant losses for
many of the mills. The 2010 rice crop raised
the problem to new and unwelcomed
levels as high nighttime temperatures and
heat stress resulted in high chalky grain
content and very low milling yields.
Shipping Identity Preserved Rice
After much discussion and research on
both sides, a lot has been learned about the
different rice varieties grown in the United
States and their characteristics. A solution
proposed by a farmer group in Arkansas is
to ship single varieties of rice as approved
by the buyer – so that they get what they
pay for. The USRPA is working with the
U.S. exporters of rice to find a logistical
solution to ship “identity preserved” rice to
our Central American customers.
Carlos Gonzalez Argüello, president of
FECARROZ and a rice miller from Costa
Rica, is encouraged with the developments,
stating, “We sincerely appreciate that the
USRPA understands our serious concerns
and that a seller must sell his customer
what they want to buy.”
In late February, a team of buyers
returned to the northern Delta to make further
progress on origination and logistical
issues, and, as we go to press, there is more
than one shipment underway based on
“variety specific” origination and identity
preservation while in transit.
From 2008 to 2012, mills in Central
America have purchased $1.1 billion of
U.S. rice. They need to receive rough rice
they can process into high-quality milled
rice for their local markets. Likewise, U.S.
rice farmers need to be rewarded for producing
quality rice, and keeping varieties
separate to service those buyers. It looks
like a “win-win” is possible now.
For more, visit www.usriceproducers.com.