RICE PRODUCTION IN MISSOURI
A Brief History and Outlook
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
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
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.
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
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
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