The significant economic contributions of agriculture to the local economy were recognized Tuesday during the annual Rotary Farmer's Appreciation Day.

The significant economic contributions of agriculture to the local economy were recognized Tuesday during the annual Rotary Farmer’s Appreciation Day.

Also Tuesday, the Harvey W. McGeorge Award for Distinguished Service to Agriculture in Arkansas was presented to Keith Glover, president and CEO of Producers Rice Mill Inc.

Glover told the joint meeting of the Pine Bluff Rotary Club and the West Pine Bluff Rotary Club that the economic impact of the Stuttgart-based agricultural cooperative on the state of Arkansas is a major one with $500 million in annual sales in 2011.

“Producers began in 1943 when rice growers came together to pool their resources,” Glover said. “There are now over 2,500 farmers who are part of the cooperative. The vast majority are in Arkansas but we also have members from Mississippi, northeast Louisiana and a few from the bootheel of Missouri. Our board voted to freeze membership in 1995 but despite that we have enjoyed continued growth.”

Glover said that Producers processes more rice than the states of Texas, Mississippi and Missouri do individually.

“We probably process 40 to 50 percent of all Jefferson County rice,” Glover said. “Our facilities include two mills; one in Stuttgart and one in Greenville, Miss. We have 10 satellite drying and receiving facilities in Arkansas and the Mississippi Delta with 40 million bushels of storage space and a Pine Bluff facility with three million bushels of storage space. We also have one rice flour mill in Stuttgart as well as a parboil mill. Parboil rice is a steam pressure process in which rough rice is soaked, steamed and dried before milling. Pretty much all of Uncle Ben’s rice is parboil rice. Rice flour is produced when the broken rice kernels are ground into a powder. A number of consumer products including cereal, snack foods, Pringle’s potato chips and snack bars use rice flour.”

In 2009 in partnership with another company Producers opened an instant rice plant, Glover said.

“Arkansas is the largest rice producing state in the union with 47 percent of all U.S. rice acreage planted in Arkansas. The second closest is California with 18 percent of all U.S. rice acreage.”

Glover said that one third of milled rice is exported around the world.

“The 2010 U.S. rice crop resulted in $1.9 billion in proceeds as a whole in the U.S.,” Glover said. “In 2011 the historic flooding in May really devastated some areas resulting in 300,000 acres of rice prevented from being planted. We also endured two years of historic heat in the summers of 2010 and 2011 which resulted in field yield for rice dropping. In 2011 the rice crop came in at 116.4 million hundredweight [measurement for rice] This was the smallest long grain rice harvest on record.”

Global concerns

Glover said that there were two significant developments on the international front in the past year that negatively affected exports of U.S. rice.

“India is the second largest rice producer in the world behind China and on Sept. 4 of last year the Indian government decided that it would allow its farmers to export rice for the first time in four years,” Glover said. “The government provides subsidies to its farmers which allows them to have the cheapest rice in the world. Africa and many countries in Asia have been flooded with cheap Indian rice as a result and U.S. rice is having a hard time competing. In addition, the countries of Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay had record rice crops last year and are exporting the excess.”

2012 outlook

“For 2012 there will be an acreage battle between rice, corn, cotton and soybeans as farmers decide what to plant,” Glover said. “Rice has a disadvantage in established growth costs. It is estimated that this year we could lose 17 million hundredweight of rice and could be down by 100,000 acres. There is some good news in that in South America rice farmers are expected to cut back on their acreage by 10 percent. So there are improved prospects for the price of rice in 2012 and 2013.”

Glover said that there has been a slight decline in Arkansas rice acreage over the past 10 years while corn has tripled in acreage over the same time period.

“The ethanol industry is doing well because the government requires a percentage of ethanol in gasoline,” Glover said.

Glover said that soybean acreage has increased over the past 10 years.

“China has come in and bought a bunch of soybeans to try to increase protein in its people’s diets,” Glover said. “China is the number one export destination for U.S. soybeans.”

McGeorge Award recipient

The 2011 McGeorge Award winner R.T. “Bob” Atkinson presented the annual award to a surprised Glover.

“Thank you so much,” Glover said. “I see the other names of people that have won this award and they are legends in our industry. I thought I was just here to deliver a presentation so this is a pleasant surprise.”