This year I harvested my 25th rice crop. I don’t want it to be my last. I’m not being dramatic – we’re all in a lot of trouble.

In an average year, we grow 3 million rice acres across the United States. However last year, we saw that figure dip to 2.5 million acres, and this year, it dipped even further to 2.2 million acres. That’s more than a quarter of our production totally removed from our supply and demand equation and the lowest we’ve seen since the early 1990’s. 

Though rice is grown on a fraction of the acres other staple commodities are, the impact of U.S. rice farms to the economy, to the environment, and to global food security is outsized. On average, every U.S. rice farm contributes $1 million to the local economy; U.S. rice farmers lead the world in sustainability, producing more rice on fewer acres with less water and energy and without the use of GMOs; and U.S. rice farms provide critical wildlife habitat to thousands of species of birds, fish, snakes, invertebrates, and more.

Why am I worried?

Our rice industry is facing an existential crisis at the hands of soaring input costs, exacerbated by bad trade actors. We also face climate-related challenges. 

In California’s Sacramento Valley, just half of the typically 500,000-acre crop was planted this year because farmers just didn’t have any water. It’s not just farm families at risk. The rest of the rice-related infrastructure and the thousands of jobs that rely on rice milling, drying, trucking, fumigating, and more are threatened. 

A recent study from the Agricultural Food Policy Center at Texas A&M University showed that rice is already a costly crop to grow – typical input costs can be double those of crops like wheat, oats, and soybeans. In fact, in real dollar terms, rice is the costliest of all row crops and the gap continues to grow as supply chain disruptions continue.

Think the market will correct for these outrageous input costs? Think again. Where crops like corn, soybeans, wheat and more have all seen an increase in the market price that helps those producers weather the rising input costs, rice has been going backwards!  

Higher input costs and lower market prices.

Which brings me to the bad trade actors I mentioned.

India is a major producer of rice, and recently became the top exporter of rice in the world. Last year they exported more rice than the next four countries combined! If they had come by this success honestly, we’d applaud them and maybe even ask for tips. Sadly, they have not.

India has, by their own reporting, violated their WTO commitments for each of the last three years, over subsidizing their rice industry by more than $2 billion last year alone. And trade experts, including the U.S. government, are quite confident India is underreporting their activity anyway.

Add to all of this, in October the Indian government announced they were going to further subsidize fertilizer for their farmers to the tune of another $20 billion throughout 2022/23. 

India is taking all the risk out of farming, covering input costs, guaranteeing a good farm gate price, and then taking all this rice and dumping it all around the world. And that’s Depressing Global Prices 101. It’s why U.S. rice, a gold standard around the world, can’t command the price it deserves – at the very least the cost of actual production.

A 2022 Agricultural and Food Policy Center study concluded that U.S. rice farmers were set to lose more than $500 million this year alone.

We are calling on the Biden Administration and Congress to work together to specifically provide help this fall to U.S. rice farmers who are facing a perfect storm of rising costs, artificially depressed prices, trade cheats, and threats to their very viability. 

The impact to our industry is obvious, but there are very real consequences to our entire nation and the world if the U.S. rice industry is fallowed.

Kirk Satterfield is a rice and cotton farmer from Bolivar County, Mississippi. In July 2022 he was elected chair of USA Rice.

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