Rice Deal ‘Exciting’ News for St. Landry Parish Growers

Brandy Ledet Development

“Our farms and the businesses that support them represent a significant part of the parish economy. Anything that boosts agriculture and agribusiness is a boost for everyone.”Bill Rodier, St. Landry Economic Development Executive Director
A newly announced deal to sell rice to China could provide a huge boost to farmers in St. Landry Parish, one of Louisiana’s leading producers. It “opens up a massive market” for the Louisiana crop, according to state agriculture commissioner Mike Strain.

St. Landry Parish farmers plant more than 25,000 acres of rice each year, with an annual harvest worth more than $25 million at the farm gate. The grain has been a pillar of the agricultural economy in St. Landry and across the prairielands of southwest Louisiana for decades.

The accord is “historic and promising,” in the view of LSU AgCenter economist Mike Deliberto, and is much needed, according to Vincent Deshotel, county agent for St. Landry Parish.

“This could be a major deal for all rice production areas including St. Landry Parish,” Deshotel said. “In recent years rice producers have been operating at virtually break-even prices or for the cost of production, sometimes at a loss. The crop has not offered a tremendous return on their investment.

“Any new markets that will potentially stimulate a price increase for our rice farmers is positive for the local economy and for the viability of today’s agriculture community.”

Deliberto thinks it can do just what Deshotel hopes: Open new avenues to sell our crop, and help farmers get a better price for their harvest.

“It gives us the opportunity to gain access to the world’s largest rice market, which has been increasing its imports every year,” Deliberto said. “When you create more export demand it injects vigor into the rice market. There’s definitely a lot of excitement surrounding the deal.”

China is the world’s largest rice producer, but it is also the world’s biggest consumer and needs to import millions of tons each year to meet its demand. This agreement allows U.S. farmers to sell milled rice to China for the first time ever.

“The best rice in the world is grown in Acadiana,” according to U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins, whose home is in Port Barre. “Expanding rice exports, while ensuring that Louisiana farmers are competing on a level playing field, supports thousands of jobs and generates much needed economic activity in rice country.”

China consumes the equivalent of the entire U.S. rice crop every two weeks, according to the industry organization Rice USA. The agency has promotion programs for U.S. rice “up and running in China,” according to a spokesman.  Analysts expect demand in China for U.S.-milled rice to be strongest among higher income consumers than in the hotel and restaurant trade.

Louisiana already exports more than sixty percent of its crop, according to Glenden Marceaux, president of the Louisiana Independent Rice Farmers Association. Most of that exported rice now goes to South and Central America.

In addition to opening new markets, the accord could help to strengthen rice prices, according to Deliberto. He notes that the state will also benefit from shipments of rice grown in Arkansas that pass through the Port of New Orleans.

The agreement is currently limited to milled rice, but growers are hopeful that it will be extended to rough rice taken straight from the field.

But even without including rough rice, the accord promises “a big economic upturn,” Marceaux said.

“That is truly good news,” according to Bill Rodier, St. Landry economic development director. “Our farms and the businesses that support them represent a significant part of the parish economy. Anything that boosts agriculture and agribusiness is a boost for everyone.”

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As a Quasi-governmental entity to promote economic development, the St. Landry Parish Economic Development’s (SLED) primary mission is to provide leadership in economic and community development that facilitates growth opportunities leading to enhanced prosperity for St. Landry Parish businesses, communities, its clients and youth.