Quality pest and disease control was the main topics of discussion as three Chinese officials toured Stuttgart on Thursday.

The visit is the last step of a pest risk assessment of milled rice and has the trio meeting with local, state and federal officials in Arkansas, California and Louisiana to observe the procedures and protocols at the farm and mill level to prevent pests in U.S. rice.

If successful, the assessment would lead to approval of a U.S.-China phytosanitary protocol on rice and the eventual opening of the China market for U.S.-grown rice.

"I think it is going real well," Greg Yielding of the U.S. Rice Producers Association said.

Yielding, who is traveling with the Chinese visitors, said they are getting their questions answered everywhere they go. The visit began in Washington, D.C., before the Chinese officials were flown to California to glimpse the state’s rice community. Thursday was the group’s first day in Arkansas, which they spent talking to officials with the state’s plant board, APHIS in Arkansas and the University of Arkansas Rice Research and Extension Center (RREC). They also toured the Dale Bumpers National Rice Research Center.

At RREC, the Chinese delegation questioned officials about funding, what pests were common in Arkansas rice and how the research and farmer education on best practices for pesticides were carried out.

The trio was able to meet with officials at Producers Rice Mill and tour the facility before heading to Lonoke County to tour farms. While behind schedule, the group stayed to view Producers’ critical control points and other parts of its mill. Yielding said he hadn’t seen any problems with anything so far.

Today, the group will be visiting both the Riceland Foods, Inc. and Windmill Rice Co. mills in Jonesboro before leaving for Louisiana. They will spend the next two days in Louisiana touring the Louisiana Rice Mill and visiting area rice farmers before heading back to Washington, D.C., to meet with APHIS officials. The trip ends Wednesday.

The U.S. Rice Producers Association is hosting the group with support from the USA Rice Federation and grant funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The effort to gain access into the Chinese market for U.S. rice is not new.

"Since 2006, the U.S. rice industry, working with the USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service, Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) and the U.S. Trade Representative, has been trying to gain approval by China for the import of U.S. rice," USA Rice Federation President and CEO Betsy Ward said Wednesday in a press release. "It has been a struggle due to a long list of phytosanitary issues impacting other U.S. agricultural commodities, but repeated leadership and staff engagement with Chinese and USDA officials in Beijing and Washington has finally brought rice to the head of the queue, as represented by this visit to the United States."

China is the third-largest export destination for U.S. agricultural goods and its per capita rice consumption is 233 pounds per year. According to the USA Rice Federation, the expectation is that China will purchase milled and brown rice from the United States based on the objectives of the Chinese delegation. If the market opens, the U.S. mills and trading companies would establish commercial relationships with the Chinese government and its trading companies since the rice trade is controlled by the Chinese government through a state trading enterprise.

 

The market would also help fill a void left behind when U.S. rice farmers lost the European market in 2006 following the discovery of genetically-modified rice.

 

"While rice is a politically sensitive issue and we can’t predict the size, value, nor potential opening date of the China rice market to the U.S. rice, we are hopeful that the outcome of the current visit will be positive," Ward said. "Our mills and marketers are very eager to pursue the commercial opportunities in China."