U.S. farmers to boost short-grain rice production for Japan

Kyodo

U.S. farmers plan to increase the amount of land devoted to growing short-grain rice used in Japanese cuisine this year amid worries here about domestic supply following last year’s earthquake-tsunami and nuclear disasters, according to recent U.S. government data.

Farmers expected to plant a total of 20,638 hectares of rice as of March 31, up 16 percent from the year before for the second straight yearly rise, a prospective plantings report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows.

The increase suggests U.S. farmers intend to respond to growing moves by Japanese traders to secure rice on the back of recent price increases at home after the March 2011 disasters that devastated parts of the Tohoku region and contaminated large tracts of farmland with radiation.

The data also indicate U.S. farmers may continue to expand the production of short-grain rice as Japan is expected to join the U.S.-led multilateral negotiations on a Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade agreement.

U.S. exports of rice to Japan are likely to surge, if Japan joins the TPP and reduces or scraps its import tariff of 778 percent on rice. This is fueling domestic concerns about the future of local rice growers.

In the United States, short-grain rice is mainly grown in California and constitutes less than 10 percent of total planting area in the state.

Of the entire U.S. rice production in 2010, long-grain rice and medium-grain rice stood at 8.3 million tons and almost 2.6 million tons, respectively. Short-grain rice, which is considered harder to grow, only accounted for a total 120,000 tons.

If all the short-grain rice is planted as planned, production this year is expected to total around 140,000 tons.

Short-grain rice produced in the U.S. is mainly sold to Japanese restaurants and Japanese and other Asian people living in the U.S. Around 10,000 tons are exported to Japan annually.