Area rice industry people are celebrating a new economic opportunity: a deal approved earlier this week allowing the United States to sell rice to China – the largest rice consumer in the world.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue signed the agreement with China, which details the requirements that must be met in order for rice producers to export their product to China.

“I’m just ecstatic; it’s been a long, long road,” said Sean Doherty, a Sutter County rice farmer. “When I got my email this morning I couldn’t believe it. It’s just a tremendous thing for the rice industry and a tremendous boon to the U.S. rice industry. It’ll mean a lot to California; I anticipate a huge economic benefit to the California market. I’m hoping for higher prices.”

The protocol has been in the works for 10 years, according to Tim Johnson, president and chief executive officer for the California Rice Commission, because Chinese officials have strict regulations on food safety and pest control.

“This is the first new significant market for rice in California in at least a decade; we’re very pleased,” Johnson said. “It’s the opening of a new commercial market for us.”

In China, there’s a demonstrated demand for America’s rice. China imports more rice than anywhere in the world, according to a press release issued by the WWUSA Rice Federation. But an insatiable demand for rice won’t push the Chinese government to accept low-quality products. The agreement with the U.S. stipulates that China will send food safety inspectors to individual rice mills before agreeing to buy from producers.

“I don’t want to sound over-excited, but I am,” said Pat Daddow, owner of the Rice Growers Association in Yuba City. “It’s a huge market; China consumes the entire U.S. rice crop within 13 days. In California, we can certify that our rice has no GMO contaminants and we’re known to have a great food safety record. That’s very important to the Chinese.”

While it will be up to individual producers to negotiate with China, California rice producers are especially excited for the opportunity because the state is already well positioned to do business with China.

“In California, we have an advantage because we’re close to China; we have ports nearby where products are constantly coming in from China, and shipment easy and relatively inexpensive,” said Charlie Matthews Jr., a Yuba County rice farmer, owner of CNH Farming and a board member of the California Rice Commission and USA Rice Federation. “Now it’s about building a reputation and consistent market.”

Chinese food safety inspectors are expected to visit California’s rice mills this fall, according to Johnson. But the United States won’t be able to start shipping rice to China until they give the green light. Johnson estimates the market will find its footing by 2019.

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