The U.S. is a top five global exporter of high-value rice and more than 80 percent of the rice we eat is sustainably grown here on family farms. But a series of challenges – both manmade and environmental – are threatening the industry and dependent communities, which has led the industry’s advocate, USA Rice, to request $400 million in emergency assistance from the U.S. government.
“In the southern rice growing states, farmers are being pushed to the breaking point by runaway input costs and artificially low market prices being manipulated by global bad actors, primarily India,” explained Kirk Satterfield, a Mississippi rice farmer and chair of USA Rice. “At the same time, the California rice industry is grappling with a devastating drought leading to record low water allocations for farmers in the Sacramento Valley, cutting acreage in half and threatening entire communities.”
Satterfield said unlike other major crops, rice has not seen a recovery in prices this year thanks largely to global market manipulation by India, the world’s largest exporter of rice.
“Poor market prices, skyrocketing input costs and rice’s vastly higher cost of production, and the financial viability of many U.S. rice farmers is in question,” he said. “And the impact threatens those dependent on affordable, nutritious food here and around the world, rural economies, and the critical wildlife habitat provided by most U.S. rice farms.
The Agricultural and Food Policy Center (AFPC) at Texas A&M University released an economic study in May that shows a $442 per acre loss in net cash farm income from 2021 to 2022 for rice farms, with as many as two-thirds expected to post a loss this year, which in the credit-heavy farm economy, is not sustainable.
Rural communities that are often so dependent on agriculture are at risk across the country. A contracting or disappearing rice industry will mean job losses across the spectrum of the rice ecosystem including in rice mills, dryers, elevators, trucking companies, seed and equipment dealers, laborers, and thousands of other related businesses dependent on a healthy agriculture economy. Once lost, these businesses, employees, and skills will leave, not to return, further devastating economic stability and opportunity in these communities.
U.S. rice farms are biodiversity wonderlands, providing critical habitat to more than 240 species of migratory birds and hundreds of other species. Rice farmers manage their farms, especially in the off-season, specifically for wildlife. Fewer farmers and fewer farms means reduced habitat and conservation contributions that have been so important will disappear.
Satterfield said USA Rice has made an urgent appeal to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack requesting a minimum of $400 million in assistance for acres planted to rice in 2022. But he says time is of the essence.
“Failure to extend a much-needed lifeline to U.S. rice farmers this year will no doubt result in less rice being planted in the future, which, will have far-reaching, disastrous impacts well beyond individual family farms,” he said.