We’re ready to forget 2019, but there are some highlights

Betsy Ward

By Betsy Ward
President and CEO
USA Rice

Farmers know better than anyone that not every year is going to be easy, but 2019 has certainly tried our collective patience. With heavy rain and even flooding across the country this spring, planting was delayed and almost 750,000 acres never got planted.

With more than half of the U.S. rice crop exported annually, ongoing trade disputes, retaliatory tariffs and market disruptions have contributed to this trying time for the U.S. rice industry. But in the midst of all these international squabbles, U.S. rice exports are up 18% over last year and we’ve still managed to create successes we can look back on and celebrate.

China, other export markets look promising

After many ups and downs, this year we finally made headway in the decades-long effort to access the enormous potential of the Chinese market. Things started to look up right before the New Year when China opened its doors to the import of U.S. milled rice. Our success continued apace when China announced that all 32 rice facilities interested in exporting milled rice to China had been approved, following Chinese inspections of mills across the country in 2018.

Even with the back and forth of the trade disputes between the Trump administration and the Chinese government, USA Rice pressed on, conducting trade seminars in three cities in China with over 150 attendees and exhibiting at China’s World Rice Summit.

We know there is a demand for our high-quality rice in China, and if the turbulent U.S.-China relationship finds a smoother path in the near future, we would expect sales of U.S. rice to be the beneficiary.

U.S. rice exports were also bolstered by sales to Iraq. Iraq has renewed the Rice Memorandum of Understanding for three years and purchased 180,000 metric tons of U.S. rice this year. Meanwhile, we have started up new marketing programs in Singapore, Ghana and the West Bank. In several of these markets, we’re working with local importers who are contributing financially to our promotions of U.S. rice.

Domestic market looks up, too

We’ve also seen positive developments domestically. USA Rice’s chef outreach program is going strong, and a spot on the tour is coveted by foodservice professionals from all over the country.

think rice truck

This year, the Think Rice Road Trip version 2.0 targeted the Mid-Atlantic region. Just like last year, consumers received information about and a sample bag of U.S.-grown rice as well as an Aroma brand rice cooker — photo courtesy USA Rice

We’ve made an impact on social media by reaching food elites through well-known food influencers who we put through their own custom Rice 101 program this year. And as I write this, the second edition of the Think Rice Road Trip is underway with our team of rice cheerleaders out on the front lines interacting with thousands of consumers around the Mid-Atlantic region.

Consumers leave these events with lots of great information, a sample bag of U.S.-grown rice generously donated by our mills and, of course, an Aroma brand rice cooker. But most importantly, they leave with a greater appreciation and understanding of U.S. rice and solemnly promise to go out of their way to find our “Grown in the USA” label on rice they buy in the future.

Despite the many obstacles thrown our way, we’ve managed to create success in an inhospitable moment, and that’s exactly the kind of resilience that will carry us through next year, even as we put 2019 behind us and try not to look back.

Wishing you all a joyous holiday season and a happy and safe new year.