Rice Profile

By Hayley Boriss, Agricultural Issues Center, University of California.

Revised July 2013 by Diane Huntrods, AgMRC, Iowa State University.


Rice cultivation originated in China over 4,000 years ago and remains an important agricultural commodity in many Asian diets. In addition, its low cost and the high caloric value make rice (Oryza sativa) a staple commodity for many poor and developing countries.

Rice was first cultivated commercially in the United States in South Carolina during the 17th century. Today, U.S. production accounts for less than 2 percent of the world total; however, the country is an important exporter due to the relatively small percentage of rice traded globally. In recent years, about half of U.S. production has been exported.


In 2012 U.S. rice production was an estimated 199.5 million cwt, up 8 percent from 2011, and was valued at nearly $3.0 billion. Arkansas was the leading producer of rice, primarily raising long-grain rice. The state's total rice crop was valued at $1.4 billion and accounted for 46 percent of U.S. production. California, the second largest producer of rice, mainly raises medium-grain rice. The state's total rice crop was valued at $770.7 million in 2012 and accounted for 26 percent of U.S. production.  (NASS 2013)

U.S. rice acreage rose 2 percent in 2012 to a harvested area of 2.7 million acres (NASS 2013). Average U.S. yields have continued to increase since 1997. The average yield for all U.S. rice was estimated at a record high 7,449 pounds per acre, up 3,382 pounds from 2011 (NASS 2013). Notably, the increase in precision leveling and the introduction of new, semi-dwarf varieties has greatly contributed to increased yields. 

In the United States, rice production is predominant in three areas of the country—the Mississippi Delta region, the Gulf Coast and the Sacramento Valley region of California. Of these regions, the Mississippi Delta is the largest in terms of total acreage; however, the Sacramento Valley historically has produced the highest yields. In terms of states, six produce nearly all rice grown in the United States: Arkansas, California, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Texas.

Multiple varieties of rice exist including short-grain, medium-grain and long-grain varieties. The majority, or 72 percent, of U.S. production is long grain. Medium-grain varieties account for 26 percent of U.S. production, while short-grain varieties account for nearly 2 percent of U.S. production.  (NASS 2013)

Production occurs in over 50 countries throughout the world, although Asian countries produce well over two-thirds of the world crop, which totaled 470.2 million metric tons (MT) in 2012. China’s production totaled 143 million MT that year, followed by India’s 109 million MT and Bangladesh's 34 million MT. Combined, they account for 60 percent of world rice production.  (FAS)

Value-Added Products

In the United States, long-grain rice accounts for the bulk of U.S. consumption. Long-grain varieties are predominantly used in processed foods such as packaged mixes and as a side or main dish. Medium-grain varieties have found an outlet in breakfast cereals and other processed foods and are also used for desserts, casseroles and stir-fry recipes, while short-grain rice is ideal for pudding and other desserts. Short- and medium-grain japonica rice is used for Japanese and Korea foods, including sushi. Rice used for manufacturing beer is not limited to one set of varieties (ERS, Riceland). In addition, rice is often processed into products including rice flour and vegetable oil and many rice products are branded.


Annual global rice consumption has averaged approximately 437 million MT over the last five years. In less-developed countries, increasing per person income typically results in decreased per person rice consumption, because increased income leads to diversification in diet and an ability to buy more expensive foods. China and India far outpace consumption patterns compared to any other country. Chinese consumption totaled 135 million MT in 2011 while India consumed slightly more than 90 million MT. Together, these two counties accounted for 51 percent of total world consumption in 2011 (FAS).

In comparison, the United States consumed only 4.4 million MT of rice during 2011, which equates to roughly 31 pounds per person. Rice consumption in the United States has continued to increase due to growth in Asian and Hispanic populations, growth in the overall national population, the introduction of new rice-based food products and industry advertising efforts.


In 2012 U.S. rice prices increased to an average of $14.90 per cwt, a rise of nearly $0.40 per cwt over 2011 marketing year prices (NASS 2013).

Several factors contribute to producer responses. First, in years when world prices are low, U.S. marketing loan benefits and counter-cyclical payments compensate farmers for lower prices, so anticipated losses from a decrease in world prices are minimized. Second, the large capital investments, high operating costs of rice production and specialized machinery specific to rice production make exit or decreased production costly for many producers. Third, because much of the acreage dedicated to rice production in the United States is unsuitable for other viable planting options, it is less common that rice cropland is converted to alternative crops. Lastly, increased yields lead to increased production, regardless of market prices (ERS).


According to FAS statistics, the value of U.S. rice exports in 2012 totaled $2.1 billion, a slight decrease from 2011. The top destination for U.S. rice in 2012 remained Mexico, followed by Japan, Haiti and Canada. Mexico purchased $366.9 million worth of U.S. rice, a 3 percent rise from 2011. Japan remained the second largest buyer of U.S. rice, but the total value of its purchases declined to $243.2 million, a 20 percent drop from 2011. Haiti purchased U.S. rice valued at $197.7 million, a 23 percent increase from 2012, and Canada purchased rice valued at $170.4 million.


U.S. rice imports in 2012 totaled $679.5 million, a 4 percent increase from the previous year,. As it has been for years, Thailand was the leading source of imported rice, which was valued at $436.4 million, a 4 percent increase from 2011. India ranked second, providing rice valued at $140.1 million, a 12 percent increase from 2011, and Vietnam was the third largest source of rice, providing rice valued at $27.2 million, a triple digit increase from the previous year.  (FAS)

U.S. Rice Policy and Government Programs

Beginning with the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 and continued with the 2008 Food, Conservation and Energy Act, rice producers have access to federal government programs designed to increase producer revenue beyond that from market sales. The three major programs providing payments to rice farmers are direct payments, counter-cyclical payments and marketing loan payments. direct payments are paid to producers based on historical production and are linked to current prices or output only indirectly. Counter-cyclical payments use a basis of previous production depend on national prices and marketing loan benefits rely on federal compensation in response to low market prices. Marketing loan benefits are available when the price of rice in specified international markets is below the legislated U.S. loan rates. In years where rice prices are low, counter cyclical payments and marketing loan payments can be substantial (ERS). Eligibility for both the direct payments and the counter-cyclical payments restrict crops eligible for rice base acres and the 2002 Act allowed farmers to update the base to reflect more recent planting and yields.

In addition, U.S. rice producers are able to take advantage of government revenue insurance, trade assistance and conservation programs. Because rice land provides a wetland-friendly habitat for wildlife, several conservation programs have been made available to producers in order to enhance, protect and preserve the habitat they use. Some of these programs include the Conservation Security Program, Conservation Planning Assistance Pilot Program, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Conservation Easement Program, Wetland Reserve Program, Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program and the Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program (California Rice Commission). These programs typically offer monetary compensation for restoration projects by producers or compensation for land retirement. Rice producers can also benefit from wildlife resources by flooding their rice fields in late fall and leasing the ground to waterfowl hunters.

Related Issues

As the United States continues to use its market power in terms of price support to rice producers and as the price difference between global and U.S. prices widens, U.S. competitiveness in world markets is expected to decrease. U.S. competitiveness in the global market will continue to be an issue of importance to producers.

Recently the popularity of organic rice has increased in many regions around the world. The organic rice market remains relatively immature, though decreased cost of production per acre (but not per unit of production) and environmentally friendly production methods have become appealing to some producers. Organic price premiums are not well established. Decreased yields compared to conventional production also partially offset, or more than offset potential premiums for most producers.


California Rice Commission

Crop Production Annual Summary, National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), USDA.

Crop Values Annual Summary, NASS, USDA.

Global Agricultural Trade System (GATS), Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS), USDA.

Production, Supply and Distribution, FAS, USDA.

Rice, Economic Research Service (ERS), USDA.

Riceland Foods, Inc.

U.S. per capita food availability, ERS, USDA.

Created January 2006 and updated July 2013. Links checked November 2013.