If everything goes according to plan, Arkansas will be selling rice to China. This is possible because Sonny Perdue, secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, recently signed an agreement that allows U.S. farmers to sell rice to China for the first time in history.

This is great news for our farmers in Arkansas. We grow as much rice as the other forty-nine states combined. This deal opens up very a profitable market for the state’s growers. In 2015, Arkansas farmers raised over 200 million bushels of rice on 1.3 million acres. That’s about 4.5 billion pounds. This is good news for China, too, because the Chinese will add quality Arkansas rice to their menu.

While that may sound like a lot, it’s a drop in the bucket for China’s population of 1.4 billion people. Dr. Jarrod Hardke, who still grows rice on the family farm in Carlisle, has worked out the math. Arkansas is responsible for fifty percent of U.S. rice production. China, which consumes eighty percent of the world’s rice, could consume Arkansas’s entire annual harvest in one week. Of course, China will not purchase that much rice but it shows the vastness of the new market.

While Americans eat an average of twenty-five pounds of rice per person per year, the Chinese eat approximately 225 pounds each. If Arkansas exported its entire crop of rice to China, it would make up three percent of the annual consumption of rice in that country. In other words, this agreement is going to give Arkansas farmers access to a massive market with outstanding potential for growth.

The last remaining hurdle to begin rice exports to China is for the country to send its inspectors to visit U.S. rice mills to certify that the mills meet China’s sanitation standards. Dr. Hardke, who works for the University of Arkansas Agriculture Division, has visited most of the state’s mills, and predicts they will more than satisfy China’s expectations. The level of food safety in Arkansas’ mills is extremely high.

Our hope is that Arkansas will be cleared to ship its first batch of rice to China soon after the first of the year. In the meantime, Arkansas rice farmers are tending to this year’s crop. Many of them are still recovering from the storms that raked through northeast Arkansas in April and May. Dr. Hardke and others estimate the state lost about one hundred-thousand acres of rice, or roughly ten percent of our total crop output. But if you know anything about Arkansas farmers – you know they are some of the most resilient people around – and in light of this new export agreement, I am confident they will bounce back stronger than ever.

Rice already has a billion-dollar impact on Arkansas’ economy, but opening exports to China will be a game-changer for the industry. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue called the agreement an “exceptional opportunity with enormous potential for growth”. He went on to say, “this agreement has been in the works for more than a decade and I’m pleased to see it finally come to fruition, especially knowing how it will benefit our growers and industry.”

Here in Arkansas, we too, are glad that we have finally reached an agreement to export U.S. rice to China. We are pleased to continue building a strong relationship with China that will boost our economy and create more jobs for Arkansans all across the state.