Rice farmers face turbulence in 2022
U.S. agricultural commodity prices have rebounded, but at least one — rice — is still in turbulent times, USA Rice President and CEO Betsy Ward said at the meeting. Arkansas Rice Farmers and Arkansas Rice Council Annual Meeting held on Tuesday, February 8. in Jonesboro. Rice prices have improved, but skyrocketing input costs, unfair global trading practices and a lack of policymaking in Washington DC threaten rice farmers, she said.
“The crops are bouncing back… the rice is not recovering as quickly,” she said. “Rice is different from other foods. It has different challenges.
Governor Asa Hutchinson was the keynote speaker at the event. Arkansas remains the top rice-producing state in the country. About 48% of the rice grown on American soil comes from the natural state. It’s a $1.3 billion industry every year. Rice is the state’s second largest export crop with a value of $742 million. There are about 1,800 rice paddies in Arkansas and the crop is grown in 40 counties, he added.
“I want to thank you for maintaining our food supply during the pandemic,” he said. “Farmers have stepped up every step of the way.”
A grim reality is setting in for many in the agriculture industry that input costs are going to be significantly higher in 2022, Ward said. With an equally divided Congress, the federal government is unlikely to come anytime soon, she said.
“Getting anything through Washington DC right now is going to be tough,” she said.
She noted that the Joe Biden administration has tried to focus on climate change policies that will impact how farmers are able to farm. Ward said there has been no consistent attempt to open up trading markets around the world, particularly in China.
Hutchinson said he spoke to US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack last week and he did not provide any details on how the Biden administration plans to open global markets to US agricultural exports such as rice. . China agreed almost two years ago to buy billions of dollars worth of American agricultural products and that promise has not been kept, he said.
The Chinese’s failure to live up to their previous commitments is one problem, but another problem has emerged on the world stage, Ward said. India is now the largest rice exporter in the world. It ships 20 million metric tons of rice each year, or 40% of the international rice market, she said.
Indian farmers can produce rice more cheaply due to a number of factors, Ward said. The first is that the Indian government guarantees high prices and then covers all input costs for farmers. They basically only operate within their own profit margins, she said.
US officials are trying to work with the World Trade Organization to tackle the Indian rice problem, she said.
In addition to high input costs, a number of factors will impact rice farmers in the years to come, Hutchinson noted. Across the state, there is a shortage of groundwater and a number of irrigation expansion projects are underway to alleviate the lack of water, he said.
Scientific research will be essential in the years to come as water supplies dwindle and agricultural land will need to produce more food to support a growing world population. The governor praised the rice research underway at Arkansas State University. He authorized $5 million to be drawn from the state’s restricted reserve fund for use at the Northeast Rice Research and Extension Center.
Agriculture remains the state’s main economic driver, but in northeast Arkansas, steel production is beginning to have a significant impact, he said. US Steel recently announced that it would build a new $3 billion plant in Mississippi County. Hutchinson’s term will end in a year, but he said he’s not done fighting for more projects like this and helping the farming community across the state.
“Pittsburgh moved to Arkansas. It will be transformative… I want you to know that I am not going out quietly,” he said.