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US rice farmers experience ups and downs of international markets; Favorable weather conditions for growers in SE Asia can lower US farmers' income

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Rice -still considered aa third-world crop is turning into another example of US agricultures's ability to capture new markets. Yet US rice producers' increasing reliance on overseas markets is not always a case of extra earnings -which last year added up to $1.5 billions. The other side of the coin is that shifting trade patterns mean that American rice farmers' incomes depend not only on their own skills, but also on such variables as weather conditions affecting India, Indonesia, China, and South Korea.

Just two years ago, 63 percent of US rice flowed into overseas markets. This year, the US Department of Agriculture expects that other countries will cut their purchases back nearly to 1978-79 levels, which means only about 45 percent of rice production will go to overseas customers. Thus, in response to a dramatically increased crop, US farmers are seeing the price they receive for their rice dropping steadily, with no bottom in sight.

In world terms, US rice production remains small. On a rough (unmilled) basis , this year's record US crop of 8.1 million metric tons compares with an expected record world rice crop of 408.7 million metric tons.

Despite the fact that US farmers produce only 2 percent of world rice supplies, with steady gains in exports, American rice accounts for more than 20 percent of the world trade. But due to record crops in Asia, overall rice world trade is expected to drop to just 12 million tons for the 1982 calendar year. That is down from 1981's 13.2 million and down from the 12.7 million forecast for 1982 earlier this year. The revision affects US farmers, who are expected to provide 2.6 million tons (milled basis) rather than last year's 3 million tons, an export sales record which US producers had hoped to top in 1982.

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