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Arkansas’ Rice Economy

BY STATE REPRESENTATIVE NATE BELL –

Rice is the most popular grain worldwide, feeding over half of the population.  And over half of all the rice produced in the United States is harvested right here in Arkansas.

Out of Arkansas’s 75 counties, 50 of them contain rice fields.  Since September is National Rice Month, we would like to take this opportunity to tell you about how this tiny grain contributes a giant portion to our economy.  This is also a good time to remind Arkansans about the health benefits that nutritionists have continued to discover in recent years and the positive environmental impacts we see from rice production.

Arkansas rice farmers and millers contribute more than $6 billion to the state’s economy annually and account for over 25,000 jobs, which are crucial to rural communities.

Arkansas grows rice on approximately 1.3 million acres each year.  With 44% of the nation’s rice farmers living in Arkansas, rice is the state’s second highest value commodity and the top agricultural export.

One half cup of rice costs approximately 10 cents per serving, so it is no wonder we are seeing an increase in demand.  In fact, Americans have doubled their consumption over the last 30 years.

That increase in consumption has lead to several studies on the dietary patterns of rice eaters.  Research shows rice eaters tend to make healthier choices than non-rice eaters.

Those who consume at least a quarter-cup of rice per day tend to have a higher intakes of vegetables, fiber, iron and potassium, with lower intakes of total fat and saturated fat.

Our state benefits from rice production in a multitude of ways.  In Arkansas, managed rice fields and natural wetlands provide an important wintering area for North America’s waterbirds. The unique habitat is why Arkansas is known as the “duck-hunting” capitol of the world.  The cost of replacing existing rice habitat with managed natural wetlands would be more than $3.5 billion.

Rice farmers have also made significant efforts toward protecting our natural resources.  An industry study shows that over a 20 year period rice farmers have reduced water usage by 32% and they have cut their energy usage in half.

We encourage you to purchase locally grown rice.  Just look for the Grown-in-the-USA label when shopping at your local grocery store.

For more information visit the University of Arkansas Department of Agriculture website at http://aaes.uark.edu/rice.html .

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