A Brief History and Outlook

Green Line

History of Missouri Rice Production

The first rice produced in Missouri, according to record, was by George Begley, Jr., just north of Dudley in western Stoddard County in 1910 or 1911. Most of the earliest Missouri rice was grown by Arkansas rice farmers who moved to newly drained and cleared lands in Butler and Ripley counties. Lacking herbicides for control of grass weeds and red rice - the most serious pests of rice -- they sought and cleared new land continuously. Missouri's first rice growers were timber cutters through the late winter months. Lacking large machinery to work in wet fields, farmers used much hand labor, especially in harvest. From the 1950's through 1973, Missouri's total allotted rice acreage varied from 3,000 to 6,000 acres.

As an interesting footnote, rice was once grown north of the Missouri River in the Palmyra Bottoms just north of Hannibal, Marion County. Rice was grown on 230 acres as late as 1972. A small mill processed rice for local consumption. A named variety, Palmyra, resulted from that time and location. In St. Charles County, northwest of St. Louis, forty acres of rice was grown in the Missouri River bottoms during the same period. No rice has been grown north of the Missouri Bootheel since the allotments were lifted in 1974.

Missouri rice acreage grew dramatically after 1974, when rice acreage allotments were eliminated -- due largely to the lobbying of Missouri farmers -- Missouri rice acreage increased immediately from 5,000 to 14,000 acres in southeast Missouri. Relatively high prices for rice relative to other crops, together with significant government loan support and guarantees made rice production especially attractive through the mid 1990's.

Improvements in land and equipment made for rice production -- land grading, high capacity wells and pumps, larger combines and more and better grain drying and storage facilities -- also improve the yields and economics of crops grown in rotation. In addition, a wide range of related businesses grow along with rice production, such as precision land surveying and grading, water and erosion control structures, fertilizers and pest controls plus the airplanes and ground equipment to apply them, the local grain elevators, farm equipment sales and maintenance businesses, agricultural accounting and finance, and commercial marketing services have all grown as rice acreage has grown.

Drying, Marketing and Milling

As much as forty percent of Missouri rice is dried and stored on the farm. This saves Missouri growers time at harvest and gives them options for marketing. Riceland Foods, a grower-owned cooperative, dries, stores and mills almost all of Missouri rice. The Riceland grain drying and storage facility in Poplar Bluff doubled its capacity in 1999 to almost 1,500,000 bushels storage. The facility dries, stores and markets close to 2 million bushels of rice. Riceland also has an expanded drying and storage facility in Dudley and a smaller facility in Caruthersville. Many Missouri farmers take their rice directly to Riceland's rice drying and storage facility in Corning.

Most of Missouri's rice is milled at the Riceland rice mill in Jonesboro, Arkansas, 80 miles south of Poplar Bluff. It claims to be perhaps the largest rice mill in the world.

In 1988, the Louis Dreyfus Corporation opened Missouri's only rice mill at the Port of New Madrid. At the time, Dreyfus calculated on the basis of soil types in Southeast Missouri that Missouri rice acreage could eventually grow to 300,000 acres. Riceland bought the Dreyfus rice mill in the fall of 2002.

Martin Rice, a family-owned business in Bernie, has grown and milled aromatic and other specialty rices such as jasmine, basmati, Baldo and Arborio, since 2001.

County Distribution of Rice Production

Butler County has produced half or more of the rice grown in Missouri the past two decades. The county ranks consistently among the top twenty-two of the 110 rice-producing counties and parishes in the U.S. As Missouri acreage increases, the distribution is shifting to counties east of Crowley's Ridge. Stoddard County grows almost a third of Missouri's rice. New Madrid, Pemiscot and Dunklin counties have been expanding their rice acreage the most rapidly. Ripley County has planted up to 4,000 acres for many years, but has no room for expansion. Minor acreages of rice have been planted in Mississippi, Scott, Bollinger and Cape Girardeau counties.

Missouri Rice Research and Merchandising Council

The Missouri Rice Research and Merchandising Council was chartered in 1983 to represent Missouri rice farmers and to distribute voluntary check-off funds for rice research and sales promotion. This eleven-member board of rice farmers represents growers by county. Two cents per bushel of rice sold in Missouri is collected by the Missouri Department of Agriculture for the Missouri Rice Council. Two-thirds of those funds is given to the U.S. Rice Producers Association for national and international rice sales promotion. The remaining one-third of the check-off funding stays in the state for research and promotion.

Missouri Rice Research

The Missouri Rice Research and Merchandising Council bought thirty acres in 1990 and an additional 40 acres in 2002 for the Missouri Rice Research and Demonstration Farm two miles east of Glennonville on J Highway. The Rice Council manages the Rice Research and Demonstration Farm and funds most of the research projects, which are conducted by researchers at the University of Missouri Columbia Delta Research Station and Southeast Missouri State University. Additional research is conducted at the Delta Research Center Lee Farm in Portageville.

In 2001 the Missouri legislature provided funding for a rice breeder working for Southeast Missouri State University and the Missouri Rice Research and Merchandising Council to test and develop improved rice varieties for Missouri. The Missouri rice breeder's office is in Malden.

The University of Missouri Columbia is presently in the process of hiring a state rice research agronomist to be headquartered at the Delta Research Station in Portageville.

Rice Yields Improving

New and improved rice varieties have been the single greatest influence on improved yields and economics. Improved rice varieties provide both higher potential yields and resistance to diseases.

Production Challenges

Missouri rice growers plant publicly developed long-grain rice varieties developed in Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi. The availability and planting of commercially-developed hybrid rice varieties is presently expanding rapidly.

The most troublesome diseases in Missouri, in order, are sheath blight, straighthead disorder and blast. Disease resistance in new varieties is especially important, since fungicides and crop rotation are both expensive and limited in effectiveness. There has not been a serious outbreak of blast in Missouri for over a decade, but vigilance needs to be maintained, especially as Missouri growers continually try new varieties.

Nitrogen fertilization rates and timing are of major concern for efficient and dependable rice production, since both factors affect yields, grain quality and the incidence of weeds and diseases. Rice farmers who have learned to adapt their production practices to the requirements of the new varieties have been most successful.

An increase in the number of effective and economical herbicides for use in rice has been notable in the last ten years or so. This has helped farmers improve grain yields and quality, often at reduced cost.

Professional crop scouts and consultants are being used more frequently to help farmers manage more acres more effectively.

Water-seeded rice culture is expanding in Missouri

Water-seeded culture is expanding in Missouri. Water-seeded culture suppresses red rice infestations and permits continuous rice production without rotation. Water culture is done primarily on fields graded flat, called "zero grade". Rice is pre-sprouted and seeded by airplane onto pre-flooded fields. A continuous flood is maintained until just before harvest. Herbicides, insecticides and nitrogen fertilizer are applied by plane. Time and labor is greatly reduced to manage large acreages. "Zero-grade" rice acreage in Missouri is over 10,000 acres.

Fewer Farmers, More Acres

The number of farms in southeast Missouri counties has declined drastically in the last five-year agricultural census period. Butler County farms decreased by 13 percent from 1987 to 1992. Pemiscot County farm numbers decreased an incredible 23 percent in the same period.

The number of rice producers in Missouri is estimated at 250 to 350, with over half of them in Butler County. Rice farm operations continue to decrease in number and increase in size. The increase in number of acres farmed by each farmer means more and bigger equipment, more farm employees, more technical crop management, larger and more sophisticated marketing and finances. More consulting services are being used by farmers for crop, financial and marketing planning and management. This trend of enlargement and consolidation can be expected to continue, driven by the pressures of economics of size, technological advances and competition among the more capable farm managers.

Trends in Production

Over the long term, Missouri rice acreage has been growing, while rice acreage in the other rice-producing states has been declining. Readily available high quality irrigation water, suitable topography and soils, favorable climate, capable farmers and support infrastructure, proximity to the Mississippi River and milling facilities all favor the production of rice. Over the short term, weather, prices and relative demand for distinct rice types overseas have influenced the changes in rice acreages state by state, but in the long term several of the other rice-producing states face the challenges of water shortages and the competition of population for water and land.

In Missouri, judging by soil types and water availability, there is a potential for perhaps 400,000 acres of rice. The price of rice relative to competing crops such as soybeans and corn, and the costs of inputs to produce the crops will affect rice acreage seasonally. Producers and landlords continue to grade land, drill wells and install pumps, making the production of rice feasible and the production of other crops more economical and more dependable. The infrastructure for production and marketing is well-developed and improving continually. Production research continues for Missouri growing conditions, and newer improved varieties are more readily available.

April 2004

Missouri Rice Page