Following several difficult, extremely hot growing seasons, the quality of Louisiana’s rice has become a persistent worry. During winter meetings, rice producers have heard about quality concerns from prominent researchers and breeders, millers and specialists.

“This is a trend that’s developed in the quest to drive field yields,” says Johnny Morgan, president of Louisiana Rice Mill in Mermentau, La. “Somewhere along the way, the quality of newer varieties hasn’t measured up to the older varieties.”

For a rice breeder perspective on quality, see here.

Curious about the quality trajectory, Morgan pulled numbers together. “In 1999, I believe 71 percent of the rice grown in Louisiana was Cypress. In 2000, it was 50 percent and tailed off from there. That was a shame because Cypress was a very good, high-quality variety we had here.

“The newer varieties tend to be a bit more inconsistent. By that, I mean they’re chalkier, the grain size isn’t always uniform and milling yield quality tends to be lower than the old varieties.

“I’m just telling you what we’re seeing. And for whatever reason – I’m not a breeder or scientist – the quality has degraded. Chalk is the main complaint we get from those buying rice.”

Both foreign and domestic customers have not been shy about the issue. Complaints about quality “have become more frequent,” says Morgan. “When you talk about chalk, it’s a matter of definition. If you go by the USDA, the rice would make a U.S. No. 2.  However, the buyer may say ‘I don’t care if it’s a U.S. No. 2. I think it’s too chalky, there’s a lot of chalk inherent in the grain. The USDA may not grade it as too chalky but it is.’”

Many dislike chalk because the cooking quality isn’t as good as with clear grains.

Complaints have accelerated on the export front, says Morgan. While the situation has been on a low boil in the United States “it’s really picked up with foreign buyers. The Mexican and Central American buyers have been especially unhappy – and they’re buying milled and rough rice.

“We had a customer who owns mills and mostly buy rough rice. They changed up and bought milled rice, hoping the quality would be better. They said it didn’t make a difference and complained that ‘hey, this is simply too chalky for our customers. Our end-users say when the rice cooks up it’s too mushy, it doesn’t keep well, and it doesn’t cook consistently.’”

Morgan hears the same from cereal manufacturers and industrial customers. “They’re always concerned with cooking quality and consistently when cooking. That’s why they’ve tended to focus on specific varieties. They know if they can find a consistent variety, it means less trouble and work.”

More and more customers are honing in on that, he says. “They’ll say ‘look, I prefer one good variety.’ That way the rice they buy looks the same and cooks the same. The end-users want better quality in the product they’re getting.”