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Enriching Lives with Arkansas Rice

September is National Rice Month, Arkansas produces more rice than any other state, and an Arkansas family farm recently sold their rice to China, the first shipment from an Arkansas grower ever.  Today, I’d like to talk about ... rice.

We’ll start with rice by the numbers. Arkansas produces more than 48 percent of the rice grown in the United States. Arkansas’s No. 1 agricultural export is rice, which is valued at $722 million. Rice grows in more than 40 counties in Arkansas, with Arkansas County growing the most rice in the state. Arkansas has 1,877 rice farms, and 97 percent of those farms are family owned and operated. In 2021, Arkansas farmers grew approximately 1.2 million acres of rice with an estimated yield of 167 bushels per acre. That is a lot of rice.

Arkansas produces predominately a long-grain rice on 1.1 million acres, but we also produce a small amount of medium grain and short grain rice. And the state’s rice industry donates nearly 170,000 pounds of rice a year to the less fortunate in Arkansas, which is more than a million servings of rice. 

The family from Atkins that just announced its sale of rice to China has been farming for 10 generations – from Scotland in the 1700s, to Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Kansas. In 1957, Charles and Grace Ralston moved their farming to Arkansas, six years before Tim Ralston was born. Tim and his wife, Robin, now own and operate Ralston Family Farms.

For the first fifty years in Arkansas, the Ralstons raised soybeans, corn, cattle, and a few acres of rice. When the local water district made water from the Arkansas River available, the Ralstons turned to rice. Eight members of the family – from 25 years old to 58 – work the farm, where they do everything from planting to milling to packaging and distributing their rice. Last year, they raised 4,000 acres or rice, and their ability to track their rice from planting to the shipping appeals to the Chinese grocery distributor who bought the Ralston rice in July. Their first commercial shipment to China was 20 metric tons of long grain rice, which arrived in July, and a second shipment is  en route.

As of today, about 20 percent of the Ralstons’ crop is in, and they expect to complete the harvest in early October. The Ralstons’ rice is sold in every state and in about 6,000 stores. They eat rice at least once a day, and at church potlucks, everyone knows there will be at least one rice dish on the table.

The Ralstons embody the innovative and entrepreneurial spirit that has fueled so many companies in Arkansas. They saw a need and an opportunity, and this year they made history by selling their product to China.

The Ralstons’ rice is more than a commodity, and growing rice is more than a job. When they exported that 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 the state’s rice growers and the Ralstons to imagine that at a potluck supper, someone will bring a casserole made with Ralston Rice from the Natural State.

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