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China receives first-ever U.S. rice shipment

The shipment of Calrose medium grain rice from California creates optimism with rice growers across the United States.

Todd Fitchette, Associate Editor

November 3, 2020

3 Min Read
California rice harvest
The first commercial container of U.S. rice was delivered to China recently. The delivery of Calrose, a medium grain rice produced in California, became the first-ever commercial shipment of U.S. rice to the Asian nation. The U.S. rice industry is optimistic about U.S. rice export opportunities to China because of recent trade agreements.Todd Fitchette

China imported its first-ever commercial container of rice from the United States, marking a positive move in agricultural trade negotiations between the two nations after more than a decade of political and regulatory efforts by the U.S. rice industry.

The shipment of Calrose medium grain rice from California creates optimism with rice growers across the United States as it signals China's apparent willingness to buy different rice varieties from across the U.S. growing region that includes California, Arkansas, and Louisiana.

The medium grain Calrose rice from California was sold by ADM Rice to a private importer under the Sungiven brand for retail distribution in China. Most of California's rice production is medium grain. Growers there also produce a limited amount of short-grain and specialty rice.

China remains the world's largest producer and consumer of rice, according to the USA Rice Federation, a global advocate for all segments of the U.S. rice industry. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that China consumes more than 146 million metric tons of rice, eclipsing the estimated 4.6 million metric tons consumed by American consumers.

The importance of such a move was not lost on ADM Rice officials, who said the effort to export a container-size shipment of rice to China was one that included "many logistical challenges," according to Buzz Burich, vice president, ADM Rice in Arbuckle, Calif.

"We were very pleased to see the first-ever shipment of U.S. rice to China coming out of California," said Tim Johnson, president, California Rice Commission. "It speaks to our quality and environmental stewardship. This is exciting for us."

Cautious optimism

Bobby Hanks, chairman of the USA Rice Federation board, and a rice milling representative from Louisiana, says that while this is good news, the optimism is cautious because of previous trade issues between the two large trading partners. The shipment follows the U.S.-China Phase One Agreement from last January. This agreement included a promise by China to buy U.S. rice.

Hanks says it was expected that California's medium grain Calrose rice would be the first traded between the two countries.

"We always anticipated that California would be the first to ship rice to China," he said. "China grows a lot of long grain rice, and California's Calrose is a high-quality product."

Hanks says the U.S. rice industry remains optimistic about its long grain rice opportunities with China, even as there is much competition from neighboring countries to China to ship long grain rice there cheaper than it can be delivered from the United States.

"We hope to see more buyers, both private and government, step forward to purchase U.S. rice," said Hanks in a prepared statement.

15 years of work

USA Rice representatives have worked government officials in both countries and invested significant promotional dollars over the past 15 years to develop Chinese demand and put the U.S. industry in such a position as this, according to Hanks.

A trade mission hosted by USA Rice in late 2019 brought Chinese importers to Arkansas, Louisiana, and California to view industry operations that led to the recent sale and shipment of rice from California to China. There appears to be demand for all types of U.S. rice by Chinese consumers, making the latest move a win for U.S. growers from all rice growing regions.

The phytosanitary agreement between the U.S. and China stipulates that rice exports must be milled and packaged according to specifications and originate from a pre-approved export facility. There are 32 such facilities in six states.

About the Author(s)

Todd Fitchette

Associate Editor, Western Farm Press

Todd Fitchette, associate editor with Western Farm Press, spent much of his journalism career covering agriculture in California and the western United States. Aside from reporting about issues related to farm production, environmental regulations and legislative matters, he has extensive experience covering the dairy industry, western water issues and politics. His journalistic experience includes local daily and weekly newspapers, where he was recognized early in his career as an award-winning news photographer.

Fitchette is US Army veteran and a graduate of California State University, Chico. 

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