Initiated by an act of Congress in 1991, this September marks the 13th annual National Rice Month celebration. The concept apparently is working.

This past year's National Rice Month campaign resulted in a 6 percent increase in U.S. rice sales. “Nearly 7,500 displays of rice and rice products in more than 600 participating stores increased consumer awareness and consumption of rice,” say officials with the USA Rice Federation.

Much of the success attributed to National Rice Month events can be translated into increased dollars for the industry, and the overall economy. Educating consumers about the benefits of rice in their diets increases rice consumption and sales, which in turn increases demand for the high-quality U.S.-grown commodity.

“Those of us in the rice industry have done a wonderful job of growing the safest, most-abundant food supply possible. However, we need to do a better job of telling our story,” says Mindy Hetzel, a Louisiana rice grower, and honorary chairperson of the National Rice Month Grassroots Program.

Hetzel says, “National Rice Month provides producers with the key to the door of opportunity to tell others how important the agricultural industry is to their local communities. This September, let's all get out there and promote rice!”

It's not too late to get involved in this year's campaign, with month-long National Rice Month celebrations taking place throughout the United States.

For example, in Louisiana, nearly 9 tons of rice was donated by rice mills to an area food bank, which will distribute the rice to nearly 100 charitable agencies that provide food assistance to 3,500 people each day.

In addition, the state governments of Louisiana and Arkansas are both officially recognizing the contributions the rice industry makes to their respective states. Several festivals are being held across the Sunbelt to celebrate the 2003 rice harvest, and Mississippi growers will mark the occasion with the 13th annual National Rice Month luncheon in Cleveland, Miss.

The National Rice Month celebration also aims to increase consumer awareness of rice year-round. The average American consumed nearly 27 pound of rice last year, with per capita consumption of the grain increasing by more than 150 percent over the past 15 years. About 90 percent of that rice was grown by U.S. rice producers.

According to USDA statistics, more than 3 million acres of rice are grown annual in the United States, yielding an average of 6,429 pounds of the grain per acre.

With U.S. rice in high demand around the world, the United States is one of the largest exporters of rice, supplying about 14 percent of the rice that enters world trade.


e-mail: dmuzzi@primediabusiness.com