Arkansas' first shipment of rice to China was made earlier this summer, with more scheduled in the coming months, the Ralston family of Atkins and Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced Tuesday.
The Ralstons made the sale through a contract with a private importer in China, Tim and Robin Ralston of Ralston Family Farms said during a news conference with Hutchinson at the state Capitol.
The first shipment was 50,000 pounds of long-grain rice, Tim Ralston said later by telephone. "It's now on the grocery shelves under our label," Ralston said. "We expect to make another one in the next couple of weeks. After that, the market will dictate. We're hoping at some point it will be on a regular basis. We're very encouraged about that."
Tim and Robin Ralston said the U.S. Department of Agriculture confirmed that their rice is the first Arkansas rice exported to China. "It has to go through a series of checks with the USDA and, on the other end, with the USDA's counterpart in China," Tim Ralston said.
Josh Hankins, director of governmental relations with the Arkansas Rice Federation, said the Ralstons' sale to China was the first from the mid-South. "This is a very big step for rice growers," Hankins said, noting that Arkansas is the nation's largest rice producer, supplying 50% of the total crop. "This is part of a negotiation that has taken place for the last decade and longer."
Growers in California made the first rice export to China, in 2020, of medium-grain rice. California primarily produces that variety. Most of Arkansas rice is long grain.
China is the leading consumer of rice -- at about 161 tons, according to the USDA.
China and the U.S. reached an early-stage trade agreement in 2020 that included China's purchase of U.S. rice.
The Ralstons said the Chinese importer involved in the sale was a grocery distributor, who made the first contact.
"The Ralstons' rice is more than a commodity, and growing rice is more than a job for the family," Hutchinson said. "The rice raised in the Arkansas soil will enrich lives in China, and perhaps shrink the distance between our nations and our cultures. Everybody loves rice, and it's a good development for Arkansas and the Ralstons that the people across the ocean will have our rice to enjoy."
The Ralstons established their farm in the Arkansas River Valley in 1999, eventually expanding into rice production. They built a rice mill and began marketing specialty varieties in 2018, Robin Ralston said. The Ralstons also have a packaging facility. Their product line includes jasmine and basmati white rice, aromatic purple, a red and brown mix called Nature's Blend, and a whole-grain red rice.
While Arkansas' rice production primarily is in its eastern third, "the Arkansas River Valley is an unusual place to grow rice but a good one," Robin Ralston said.
Other invited officials and the media will tour the Ralstons' operations today, the governor's office said.