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Rice shortages an opportunity for Calif.

April 22, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
Colusa County is the rice capital of California. As planting season begins, farmers there are loading up thousands of pounds of seeds onto small planes daily and dropping them onto acres and acres of wet fields. Growers are seeing these little seeds as gold these days."There's a shortage of rice throughout the world -- much of it is the long grain rice, and that price has been high for quite a while," said Jim Morris from the California Rice Commission. "But price has increased very substantially for the medium-grain market as well, which is what California specializes in."

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Rice-producing countries have restricted exports to reduce prices for their own citizens, forcing prices up here. Thai jasmine rice jumped from $20 to $40 for a 50 pound sack, straining family and restaurant budgets.

California rice farmers like Ben Gordon see this worldwide demand spike as an opportunity.

"We should be able to make a fair profit this year, which is a nice change," said Gordon. "We haven't been able to do that for the last few years."

But there's also a chance to capture market share. Long-grain rice lovers may try medium-grain and never switch back.

It doesn't hurt to grow California's half-billion dollar rice industry.

"A lot of the rice we grow here is a fancy type of medium grain. It is really the premium rice around the world. It's some of the tastiest," said Gordon.

Worried that there won't be enough rice, sacks are flying off the shelves. So much so, Costco is asking customers to limit their purchases to a reasonable amount.

Still, for some cultures, rice - no matter the price - will remain a staple.

It's too bad California farmers didn't know about the worldwide rice shortage sooner. They had already planned this year's crop and can only grow acreage by three percent.

 

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