U.S. Long-Grain Rice Faces Growing Challenges Overseas

The U.S. has consistently ranked among the top-5 rice exporters in the world. However, since hitting a record 3.98 million metric tons (mmt) in 2002, U.S. rice exports have shown a downward trend, reaching 2.98 mmt in the marketing year 2020/21. The decrease in US exports contrasts with a growing global rice market and results in a significant drop in the US share in global rice exports in the last two decades. The decrease in U.S. exports is exclusively a result of a drop in long-grain rice exports since exports of medium- and short-grain rice have shown a positive trend. Long-grain rice is the main type of rice produced in the Mid-South, accounting for over 91% of the volume of production. 

In the last 20 years, exports of long-grain rice to North America and the Caribbean, the two largest market destinations, have grown marginally (less than 1% a year), while those to Central America and the Middle East have decreased moderately (between 1 and 2% a year on average). Exports to Europe have not recovered since the GM-contamination case in the mid-2000s. Exports to Mexico, the largest market for US long-grain rice accounting for a quarter of total exports in the period 2018-2020, show almost no growth since the early 2000s, and more recently are in a downward trend as competition from other suppliers, primarily Mercosur, grow. Haiti remains a core and growing market for US rice, but one plagued with risks and uncertainty. Competition in Central America, primarily from Mercosur, is eroding the market share of US rice despite its preferential access under DR-CAFTA. 

Efforts are being made to improve the competitiveness of US rice, particularly when it comes to rice quality. The US was once regarded as the golden standard for long-grain rice quality, but many will argue that is a thing of the past. The blame goes far and wide as to why the quality of US long-grain rice has diminished, but what matters is that the industry is taking steps to address the issue. The US exports around half of its rice crop every year, so working on regaining competitiveness in the global market is of utmost importance.   

Durand-Morat, Alvaro. “U.S. Long-Grain Rice Faces Growing Challenges Overseas“. Southern Ag Today 2(21.4). May 19, 2022. Permalink

Assistant Professor

The University of Arkansas