Arkansas rice exported to China for the first time

by George Jared ([email protected]) 1,987 views 

The top U.S. rice producing state has for the first time exported rice to China, the largest global rice importing country. Tim and Robin Ralston of Atkins-based Ralston Family Farms, announced the shipment Tuesday (Sept. 14). Gov. Asa Hutchinson is slated to visit the farm later this week.

Through a contract with a private importer in China, the first shipment of rice from Ralston Family Farms arrived in China in late July 2021. A second shipment is being scheduled with future shipments planned on regular intervals to meet demand. The rice will be sold on the retail market under the label of Ralston Family Farms.

“The Ralstons’ rice is more than a commodity, and growing rice is more than a job for the family. Rice has been part of their lives for 10 generations, and when they exported their first shipment to China in July, they were shipping a piece of their heart and their heritage. The rice raised in the Arkansas soil will enrich lives in China, and perhaps shrink the distance between our nations and our cultures. Everybody loves rice, and it’s a good development for Arkansas and the Ralstons that the people across the ocean will have our rice to enjoy,” said Gov. Hutchinson.

Although China is the world’s largest producer, consumer, and importer of rice, it remained closed to U.S. rice imports until recently. After more than a decade of efforts by the U.S. rice industry to establish a trading relationship with China, the U.S. and China signed a Phase 1 Economic and Trade Agreement in January 2020 that expanded the potential for access to China’s rice market.

Rice consumption in China is so rampant that it’s estimated the country’s population could consume the entire Arkansas rice crop in 13 days, which has made it an attractive ag market for the Natural State.

“Export markets are vital to Arkansas agriculture, our state’s largest industry, “said Wes Ward, Arkansas Secretary of Agriculture. “We are proud of the Ralston family on this significant accomplishment, and we are optimistic that we will see additional market access for Arkansas agricultural commodities to China in the future.”

(photo from Ralston Family Farms)

The Ralston family has been farming for over 10 generations. Ralston Family Farms, a family owned and operated business located near Atkins in the Arkansas River valley, is vertically integrated, meaning they control their product from the seed placed in the ground to the package that is placed on the shelf. Because Ralston Family Farms only mills and packages rice they grow, they provide customers 100% traceability. Ralston Family Farms launched its specialty rice varieties in January 2018. The brand has grown to include U.S. distribution in more than 5,000 retail supermarkets.

“We are humbled to be stewards of what we believe to be among the very best rice available while utilizing farming practices that protect our land, our water, and fossil fuels. We practice sustainability in every step of our process.” said Robin Ralston. “We are honored to know that the product we at Ralston Family Farms have devoted our lives to will be shared across the world.”

Arkansas rice exports accounted for $722 million of the state’s total of $3.1 billion in agricultural exports. Despite the state’s position as the top rice producing and exporting state, farmers in 2021 dropped the number of rice acres in Arkansas. Decade high prices for corn and soybeans prompted the shift. Arkansas rice growers planted about 18% fewer acres this year, falling from about 1.46 million acres in 2020 to about 1.24 million acres. Nationally, rice acreage fell by about 10%, from 3 million acres planted in 2020 to about 2.7 million acres in 2021. This includes long, short and medium grain rice.