This industry consists of establishments primarily engaged in the production of rice, or whose sales of rice account for 50 percent or more of the total value of sales for their agricultural production.
More than 50 percent of the world's population considers rice a food staple, and per capita consumption in the United States was estimated at 26 to 27 pounds in the mid-2000s, an amount that has had continuous growth since the 1970s. Still, the United States is a relatively small player in the world market for rice. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Asian nations represent some 90 percent of rice production and consumption, while the United States produces less than 2 percent of total output though it is fourth in rice exports.
Rice production is measured by the hundredweight (cwt). One cwt equals 100 pounds. Rice supplies for the 2006-2007 season were projected to decrease 9 percent from the previous year, reaching 254.3 million cwt. Also down from the prior season wass the production of rough rice, which was expected to dip by 13 percent for 2006-2007 to 193.3 million cwt with 143.7 million cwt in long-grain (24 percent drop), 46 million cwt in medium-grain (8 percent increase), and 3.65 million cwt in short-grain (10 percent increase). A substantial rise occurred for the projected season-average farm price (SAFP) in 2006-2007 to $9.00-$9.50 per cwt from the previous year's $7.62 per cwt, which marked the largest figure since 1997-98. In 2005 rice production was valued at nearly $1.8 billion in income on production of 223 million cwt.
The 2002 Census of Agriculture, updated every five years by the U.S. Census, reported an estimated 8,046 rice farms, down from the 1997 total of 9,627 rice farms. The number of acres harvested rose slightly from about 3.16 million to 3.20 million though the cwt differential was larger (184 cwt in 1997 to 210 cwt in 2002). Rice farms are generally larger in size as 81 percent are 100 acres or greater.
Dun & Bradstreet reported in 2006 that the industry's estimated 1,416 establishments posted annual sales of nearly $328 million with about 4,533 employees. California led with nearly $112 million in sales followed by Arkansas with $101.5 million in sales and Louisiana a distant third with about $39 million in sales.
Although rice is not considered a major American crop, the American rice industry is more than 300 years old. Rice was introduced in America around 1685, when British sea captain John Thurber brought a load of the grain to the colonies from Madagascar. Rice first appeared as a commercial crop in the Carolinas in the seventeenth century. After peaking in the mid-nineteenth century, rice production in South Carolina and Georgia began to decline as a result of the Civil War, bad weather, and increasing competition from Louisiana. The industry began to shift toward plantations along the Mississippi River where steam-powered river pumps provided a more efficient irrigation system than the Carolina tidal gates. Soon thereafter, the industry developed in the milling and shipping center of New Orleans and grew rapidly and independently amid the explosive transformations of the American industrial economy in the early twentieth century.
Depending largely on government acreage allotment, conservation, marketing, and loan and deficiency payment programs, which adjusted...