Call it a case of selling iceboxes (er, refrigerators) to the Eskimos (er, Inuit), but American rice farmers are on the verge of accomplishing a feat once thought impossible: exporting rice to China.
Negotiators working on behalf of the US Rice Producers Association recently invited Chinese food inspectors on a tour of rice farms in Arkansas, California and Louisiana so they could see for themselves how rice is grown in the USA and what precautions farmers are taking to ensure the safety of their crops.
Yes, safety. Food scandals are an ongoing problem in China and the government has enough problems on its plate without being blamed for allowing substandard rice into the country – they take their rice very seriously in China.
On the other hand, the real reason China has so far resisted certifying that American rice is free from disease-causing pathogens, insects and other forms of contamination may just be an excuse to protect established markets and placate powerful domestic farm lobbies.
Even so, basic market forces are forcing the Chinese government's hand. While China may be the world's largest rice producer, its 1.3 billion population is also the world's largest rice consumer. The country has had to import rice from neighboring Thailand and Vietnam in order to meet growing domestic demand.
Surprisingly to some, the United States is already the world's 4th-ranked rice exporter and farmers are eager to ramp up production knowing a Chinese-based spike in demand would revive stagnant rice prices. As well, the US Rice Producers Association anticipates China's expanding middle class will chose to spend more on American rice if it's marketed on the basis of quality and flavor.
Rice connoisseurs don't have to be rich, however. “You think of rice as just rice,” stated Andy Hewes, partner in a Texas rice marketing firm and publisher of The Rice Market Letter, “but I'm always surprised by how sophisticated rice palates are.”
American rice farmers like Texas economist and farmer Thomas Wynn (top) relish the opportunity to appeal directly to sophisticated rice palates in China, and in doing so show the world they're capable of much more than Rice-A-Roni, the San Francisco Treat. (via Shanghai Daily, main image via Statesman.com and USA Rice Federation logo flag via Ondesign)