Sustainability Report: Supporting Economies, Creating Jobs, and Giving Back

Green combine and grain truck loading harvested rice in yellow field
Economic sustainability matters, too
Jun 13, 2019
Final installment in the series.

ARLINGTON, VA – The newly published U.S. Rice Sustainability Report highlights the myriad ways the U.S. rice industry’s commitment to sustainability has improved the land, the air, and the water of this country.  Much has already been said about the countless benefits to wildlife, soil quality, energy efficiency, and more.  But sustainability goes beyond environmental benefits:  one of the most significant contributions of the U.S. rice industry is economic, because if a sustainability practice doesn’t pay its way on the farm or mill, it’s not truly sustainable.

Nearly 85 percent of the rice consumed in the United States is U.S. grown on family farms across the six major rice-producing states.  The rice industry is a boon to the national economy, exporting roughly half of its yearly crop to 120 countries around the world.  Across the U.S., more than 5,000 rice farmers directly support nearly 15,000 jobs, generating $1.56 billion in direct labor income.  Rice mills provide an additional $245 million in wages and support an annual average employment of nearly 5,000 people.  The total economic effect of all this was a staggering $5.65 billion in 2015, the final year of the 36-year period studied by the report.

While the rice industry certainly bolsters the national economy, the effects of economic sustainability are perhaps most apparent on a local level.  Rice is the backbone of many rural areas, providing the bulk of jobs and income that flows back into the community.  In Stuttgart, Arkansas, for example, rice is truly the economic engine that drives the local economy.  With a population of about 9,000, most people in the “Rice and Duck Capital of the World” are employed either directly or indirectly by the rice industry.

“Three rice mills employ more than 2,000 people,” said Carl Brothers, former senior vice president and chief operating officer at Riceland Foods, based in Stuttgart.  “Nearly one person in every family in Stuttgart is involved with the rice mills in some way.”

On average, each rice farm contributes $1 million to the local economy.

When taking into account input suppliers and others whose businesses are dependent on rice farms and mills, the numbers rise to nearly 32,000 jobs supported by the rice industry in 2017, with $2.32 billion in labor income.  This is not even including the labor that is indirectly supported by U.S. rice, such as transportation, wholesale, and retail.

Rice farms and mills are staples of the local economy, and farmers and millers are leaders in the community.  In addition to all the ways they give back to the environment, rice farmers and millers also are generous contributors to at-risk populations both at home and overseas.  In 2017, the rice industry provided 40 million pounds of rice, including 5 million donated pounds, to the Feeding America food bank network to help the estimated 1 in 8 Americans struggling with food insecurity and hunger.  Rice farmers and millers also frequently partner with local food banks.  All across the U.S., millions of servings of rice make their way to the plates of neighbors in need.  They have been there for their communities when natural disasters hit, helping employees and neighbors get back on their feet and back into their homes.  And every year, anywhere from 3 to 5 percent of overall rice exports go toward international food aid, providing a safe and nutritious food staple for vulnerable people around the world.

Sustainability is an ultimate benefit for everyone that lives on the land, breathes the air, drinks water, and eats rice.  The U.S. Rice Industry Sustainability Report includes many comprehensive examples of how rice is a pillar of the national economy and local communities, and more examples present themselves every day.  Because in the end, the rice industry is about people.