Late September was busy for a Chinese delegation touring the various segments of the U.S. rice industry. With the ripening potential of Chinese markets opening to U.S. rice, the three-man team visited California mills and farms before arriving in the Mid-South.

One of the Mid-South tour stops was at Smith Farms outside north-central Arkansas’ Alicia just south of Walnut Ridge. Under drizzling rain, they found an immaculate operation and an astute operator.  

“I’m involved with the Windmill Rice Company – the newest food-grade mill in America,” said David Smith just after the delegation’s departure. “I’m also a lifetime rice farmer. That puts me on both sides of the fence.

“When the U.S. Rice Producers Association facilitated the Chinese coming to the States, they came to the mill and asked if we’d be part of the tour. I said ‘Sure. Anyone can tour that might potentially be a customer.’ That turned into a farm visit, as well.”

The tour has allowed the delegation to see “the full gamut of what we can offer. We do custom growing to milling. If someone wants Smith Farms to grow 10,000 acres of X variety, I can go to my neighbors and get that done while keeping it segregated.”

For a video interview with Smith, see here.

Asked about questions from his Chinese visitors Smith said they centered on “a lack of bugs (in the rice). They’re looking for clean, high-quality food; food that’s been monitored from seed to the shelf and everywhere in between.

“China grows a lot of rice, 125 million acres. (The United States) grows less than three million. But from what I understand, a lot of (Chinese) rice isn’t very high-quality. It’s still threshed on concrete. They’re looking for a better grade.

The Chinese are rice-eaters … and they’re looking for a higher grade of rice. And it’s well known that the highest grade of rice in the world comes from America.”

If the Chinese import U.S. rice, said Smith, “the milling industry would have more customers. In turn, that would take more of the supply of rice away from the United states, which would run the price up for farmers. It would be good for the entire rice industry.”

Greg Yielding, who heads the Arkansas Rice Growers Association, acted as tour leader for the delegation. Asked about the team make-up, Yielding said the leader is a “deputy director for CIQ (China Inspection Quarantine). That’s the Chinese equivalent of APHIS. Another member is a researcher/pathologist with AQSIQ – again, sort of like APHIS. The third team member is a food safety expert and he has a lot of questions concerning that.”

For a video interview with Yielding, see here.