Rice fluff: economist says supplies aplenty for U.S. consumers

Reports about shortages of rice in the United States probably apply only to several imported varieties, and definitely not to the domestic supply of the popular grain.

“Are we running out of rice? The answer is no,” said Dr. Mark Welch, Texas AgriLife Extension Service agricultural economist.

This week’s news that two large box retailers in the United States were limiting customer purchases of rice was shocking in a nation where food shortages are rare.

Retailers Sam’s Club and Costco reportedly limited bulk sales of some varieties of rice – all of which are imported from other countries – in some stores across the nation, according to the Associated Press.

But the reason behind the limits and the facts about rice supply aren’t in sync, according to Dr. Mark Welch, Texas AgriLife Extension Service agricultural economist.

“Rice markets have been roiled by reports of trade restrictions by large rice exporting countries India, Vietnam, and Brazil and reports of rice rationing in the U.S. by major food retailers Sam’s Club and Costco,” Welch said.

Rice supplies are at relatively low levels, but the surge of panic buying and rapidly escalating prices is not supported by supply and demand fundamentals, he noted.

“Rice is an important staple in the diets of over half of the world’s population. Any price increase on persons with limited economic resources is a hardship,” Welch said. “The recent surge in prices has severe consequences for those who struggle daily for adequate nutrition.”

Welch said per capita consumption of rice has not increased in the last several years. Demand for corn and soybeans is increasing largely due to biofuels and feed use, but wheat and rice demand are basically unchanged.

Welch pointed out these facts about the rice supply:

– People in the U.S. eat about 4 pounds of rice a month. That’s a total of about 10 million hundredweights a month in the nation.

– The U.S. has about 104 million hundredweights in supply right now - a 10-month supply.

– And the new U.S. crop will be harvested beginning in September, only about five months from now, and should replenish supplies.

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