By Stewart Doan

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

WASHINGTON, March 19 – The 9.0-magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami that hit northeastern Japan impacted only 1.5 percent of the country’s rice area and is unlikely to trigger imports, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said Friday.

There was no immediate impact on production as rice was harvested last fall.

In Tokyo, the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) described the damage to agriculture in the six northernmost prefectures on the mainland as “significant.” The ministry implemented emergency measures to get feed to starving livestock and facilitate repairs to farmland and agricultural infrastructure, including warehouses and processing plants, and it urged banks to defer farmers’ loan repayments.

Grocery stores are running low on rice, a problem that MAFF explained was due to transportation difficulties and not a supply shortfall. It asked consumers to remain calm.

“The current rice shortage situation at the retail level will be mitigated as [the] distribution system is recovered,” the ministry said, emphasizing that “Japan has enough rice supply for rice demand.”

USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) echoed that view in its first commentary on the tsunami’s impact on the Japanese rice industry. Current stocks are the highest in a decade, FAS noted.

Rice is normally grown on about half of the cropland in the area where the huge wave of salt water came ashore.

FAS said it is “too early to tell” the extent to which salinization and infrastructure damage will affect this year’s planting, which begins in late April. The agency added, however, that increased planting elsewhere in Japan could offset any production loss in the impacted area.

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