A Global Staple
Rice is the primary staple for more than half the world's
population, with Asia and Africa the largest consuming regions.
Developing countries have long depended on rice's versatility and
high caloric value. Rice consumption is declining in Northeast Asia
(Japan, Taiwan), but continues to rise in Southeast Asia (the
Philippines, Indonesia), South Asia (India, Bangladesh), and
An ancient grain, rice is known to have been domesticated as
early as the fifth millennium, B.C.E. The species cultivated in
Asia, believed to be where rice originated, is Oryza
sativa from the Graminaceae (grass) family. It is
also the species cultivated in most of today's rice-producing
countries. Rice is produced worldwide and is the world's second- or
third-largest staple crop, behind corn (maize). Rice production,
prior to milling, is about the same as total wheat production.
Although rice is produced over vast areas of the world, the
physical requirements for growing rice (available water, soil
types) are limited to certain areas. Economically sound production
typically requires high average temperatures during the growing
season, a plentiful supply of water applied in a timely fashion, a
smooth land surface to facilitate uniform flooding and drainage,
and a subsoil hardpan that inhibits the percolation of water.
Four major types of rice are produced worldwide:
- Indica is grown mostly in tropical and subtropical regions and
accounts for more than 75 percent of global trade. Indica rice
cooks dry, with separate grains.
- Japonica rice, typically grown in regions with cooler climates,
accounts for more than 10 percent of global rice trade.
- Aromatic rice, primarily jasmine from Thailand and basmati from
India and Pakistan, accounts for 12-13 percent of global trade and
typically sells at a premium in world markets.
- Glutinous rice, grown mostly in Southeast Asia and used in
desserts and ceremonial dishes, accounts for most of the
Four regions produce almost the entire U.S. rice crop:
- Arkansas Grand Prairie,
- Mississippi Delta, (parts of Arkansas, Mississippi, Missouri,
- Gulf Coast (Texas and Southwest Louisiana); and
- Sacramento Valley of California.
Each of these regions generally specializes in a specific type
of rice, which, in the United States, is referred to by length of
grain--long, medium, and short. U.S. long-grain varieties typically
cook dry and separate, while U.S. medium/short-grain varieties are
typically moist and clingy.
- Long grain is grown almost exclusively in the South and
accounts for more than 70 percent of U.S. production.
- Medium grain, grown both in California and the South, accounts
for more than one-fourth of total U.S. production and forms most of
California's rice crop. Arkansas accounts for most of the southern
- Short grain accounts for 1-2 percent of total U.S. rice
production and is grown almost exclusively in California.
All U.S. rice is produced in irrigated fields, achieving some of
the highest yields in the world. Producers in the United States can
apply seed aerially in dry or flooded fields, or drill or broadcast
seed into dry fields. Fertilizers, insecticides, and pesticides can
also be applied by air. California producers seed primarily by air
directly into flooded fields. Except for parts of southwest
Louisiana and the Texas Gulf Coast, most producers in the South
Planting typically begins in early March in Texas and southwest
Louisiana. The Delta plants the bulk of its crop in April, and
California's crop is planted from late April through mid-May.
Harvest begins in early or mid-July in Texas and southwest
Louisiana. Peak harvest in the South is in September and early
October, when the Delta harvests the bulk of its crop. Some
producers in Texas and southwest Louisiana are able to reflood
their fields after harvest and achieve a partial second or "ratoon"
crop from the stubble of the first. California typically begins
harvest at the end of September and finishes by early November.
Marketing and Use
Except for rough (unmilled) rice exports and domestic seed
sales, virtually all U.S. rice is marketed as a whole-kernel milled
product. In contrast, the bulk of wheat is sold as flour. For rice,
care is necessary throughout the production, drying, storage,
milling, and marketing phases to minimize the number of broken
kernels, which sell at a considerable discount to whole-kernel
Five different products (or types of rice) can be produced from
rough rice: hulls, bran, brown rice, whole-kernel milled rice, and
brokens (broken-kernel milled rice). The first stage of milling
removes the hull, producing brown rice that can be cooked and
consumed. The next stage of milling removes the bran layer, leaving
milled white rice. Or, prior to milling, rough rice may be
parboiled, a process of soaking the rice in water and steaming it
under intense pressure. Parboiling makes the rice less likely to
break during milling and pushes nutrients from the bran layer into
the kernel. Parboiled rice typically sells at a premium. On
average, every 100 pounds of rough rice yield almost 60 pounds of
whole-kernel milled rice, 10-11 pounds of brokens, about 9 pounds
of bran, and 20 pounds of hull.
About half of the U.S. rice crop is sold into the domestic
market, which has more than doubled in size since the mid-1980s. In
recent years, U.S. rice use has been growing about 1 percent a
year, about even with U.S. population growth. Increasing domestic
use of rice is partly attributed to demographic factors, including
immigration and changing ethnic composition, with high per capita
rice-consuming groups increasing their shares of the U.S.
population. Healthy lifestyles, rising demand for gluten-free
foods, convenience, and continued introduction of new rice-based
products also contribute to growth in domestic use
Domestic uses of rice include food for human consumption (direct
food use and in processed foods), beer, and pet food. Direct food
use accounts for more than half of domestic disappearance of rice.
Use in processed foods--primarily flavored rice mixes, cereal, and
rice cakes--has expanded at the fastest rate over the past two
decades, accounting for almost 18 percent of domestic use. Use of
rice in beer production, at about 10 percent of domestic
disappearance, has been declining since 2002. Rice use for pet
food, which almost exclusively involves broken grains, accounts for
10-12 percent of total domestic disappearance.
See the Trade
chapter for information and U.S. rice imports and exports.
Challenges for the U.S.
The combination of high operating costs (fuel, fertilizer, and
irrigation expenses), steady growth in imports, and stiff
competition from Asian suppliers presents tough challenges for the
U.S. rice industry. Higher fuel and fertilizer costs are among the
most critical, since rice is a high-cost crop to grow in the United
States. For example, running pumps and conducting other operations
required for flood irrigation account for the much higher fuel and
energy costs for rice than for other field crops.
Most U.S. rice imports are aromatic varieties from Asia--jasmine
from Thailand and basmati from India and Pakistan. Varieties with
these specific characteristics are not currently grown in the
United States. U.S. plant breeders have research underway, but
until the United States develops varieties with
characteristics comparable to the Asian aromatic varieties,
imports and the import share of domestic disappearance will
continue to increase.
The global market for rice is largely dominated by Asian
suppliers, who present tough competition for U.S. rice growers in
several markets, although U.S. rice exports are consistently
high-quality. Thailand, for more than 25 years, and India, since
the mid-1990s, have greatly improved the quality of some grades of
exportable rice. Top-quality exports from these countries can now
compete with U.S. rice in some global markets--particularly in
Europe and the Middle East. Exports remain critical to the health
and viability of the U.S. rice industry, since U.S. rice producers
are more dependent on the global market than U.S. producers of corn