Growers’ Insights: Rice is an affordable gluten-free grain

Published in FSD Update

Farmers from six states are supplying rice at home and abroad.

Government food policy and the popularity of healthful foods are helping America’s rice growers. “The USDA now requires more whole grains, like brown rice, for school meals and the WIC program,” says Katie Maher, a promotions manager for the USA Rice Federation.

“Over the last six years brown rice sales increased 60%, as part of the demand for whole grains,” Maher says. “We’ve also seen an increased interest in brown, red, black and wild rice in foodservice.” 

Rice is also a good value and a gluten-free option. “Nearly 21 million Americans must, or just want to, follow a gluten-free diet,” she says. “According to Mintel Menu Insights, gluten-free menu claims have increased 275% from 2009 to 2012.” 

These healthy attributes of rice have long been marketable for Lundberg Family Farms, one of the first to popularize brown rice 40 years ago. Now, Lundberg offers 19 varieties, the most popular being organic short-grain brown rice, organic brown basmati and whole-grain black japonica. 

“About 85% of our rice and rice products are sold in the U.S., with the remainder being sold in countries that have a demand for high-quality organic rice, including Canada, Mexico, Japan, other Asian countries and some Middle Eastern countries,” says Todd Kluger, Lundberg’s vice president of sales and marketing. 

Cost factors

There are a variety of elements that affect the price of rice. 

For Lundberg Family Farms, Kluger says growing organically can be a costly challenge, without chemicals to avert some of the crop damage caused by pests or disease. 

For fourth-generation farmer Robert Petter, it’s fuel. Petter plants more than 800 acres of long-grain white rice—what he describes as, “good cafeteria rice, that doesn’t get sticky,”—in DeValls Bluff, Ark. “Although water for irrigation is expensive, it’s largely fuel—in the form of diesel for tractors, gasoline for trucks and the energy used for irrigation—that greatly affects our bottom line,” Petter says. 

For one Texas farmer—Texas is one of six states (Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and California) that grows rice—the global marketplace greatly affects price. Linda Raun, an owner operator of LR Farms, in Texas, says, “Many countries grow rice for their survival, like Thailand, Vietnam, India and China. They export any excess to other countries that rely on rice. These countries are able to grow rice much cheaper than we can in the U.S. Their governments highly subsidize their rice production and they have less regulation and cost of production than we do here.” 

Growth opportunity

Despite the competition from abroad, Raun says growing rice in the United States is vital, and the outlook is good at the USA Rice Federation.

Rice prices have been steady in recent years. Statistics from USA Rice indicate that this year farmers received about $14.56 per centum weight (cwt), or a hundredweight, which is about 2.2 bushels. 

Petter explains that rice farmers deduct 3 cents from every hundredweight to donate half to farming research and the other half to promoting their crop.