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Rice Grows More Important to American Diets

We are what we eat, and rice increasingly is a part of the American diet. About half of the U.S. rice crop goes into foods eaten by Americans. Domestic demand for homegrown rice has steadily risen by about 1 percent each year since the 1980s.

The Economic Research Service, the analytical division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, says the rising demand is fueled by immigration, which is changing the country’s composition and increasing the size and buying clout of ethnic groups that make rice a basic part of everyday meals. Sales of U.S. rice are also on the upswing because of other trends such as the emphasis on healthy diets, new rice-based products and the demand for alternatives to foods with gluten, the service says.

Worldwide, parts of Asia and Africa are the big global consumers of rice. But even in those regions, there are shifting patterns. Fewer people in Japan and Taiwan are eating rice, while consumption is increasing in the Philippines, Indonesia, India and Bangladesh.

Rice tends to be a grain that is eaten close to home, with crops in rice-producing countries mostly destined for domestic markets. However, Thailand and Vietnam are top rice exporters, with the United States generally ranking in third or fourth place, although only 2 percent of the grain is produced here, according to the Economic Research Service.

Rice is a water-intensive crop requiring wet or flooded fields in which to grow, although there have been improvements that allow the use of less water than in the past.

In California, wet rice seeds are air-dropped into wet fields with about 5 inches of water, according to the California Rice Commission. In the other U.S. rice regions, the seed is planted more traditionally.

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