Louisiana rice may rival Thai jasmine grain in US
New Orleans - The U.S. rice industry is making way for
It’s a new variety of aromatic rice developed at Louisiana State University
and being sold under several folksy-sounding labels - and it could become a
viable competitor to the Thai jasmine rice that accounts for $350 million in
U.S. business each year.
Production at Jazzmen Rice LLC is expected to increase from 500 tons this
year to 63,000 tons by 2011, said Andrew Wong, one of the New Orleans
That would equal 18 percent of U.S. imports from Thailand last year.
The number of farmers under contract is expected to grow tenfold, to 100, by
next year, Wong said.
An obvious motivating factor is price. Louisiana’s rice industry has
struggled to regain a footing after devastating hurricane seasons in 2005
and 2008. Traditional rice is more expensive to produce and while the price
farmers are paid for it has strengthened - particularly over the last year -
the more exotic jasmine strain can fetch a premium.
The new variety yields up to three times as much grain per acre as the
fragrant, nutty Thai strain, which grows too tall and flowers too late for
There’s good news for consumers, too: Because it is grown domestically,
Jazzman rice is expected to cost less than imported varieties at the
Chef Susan Spicer said she has tried the rice produced by Jazzmen and that
it compares “really favorably with the Asian varieties ... in terms of
freshness, cooking, fragrance.” She said she plans to buy more to use in her
New Orleans restaurant, Bayona.
Concerned about the growing competition, the Thai government has claimed the
rice developed by Louisiana State University was genetically engineered - a
charge that Steven Linscombe, director of the LSU AgCenter’s rice research
station, refutes. Jazzman was developed after 12 years of crossbreeding
strains from China and Arkansas, Linscombe said.
The Thai government also trumpeted that tests this fall found the LSU rice
less fragrant than its Thai counterpart - fragrance being one of three
important qualities in jasmine rice. The USA Rice Federation made the same
observation in an informal taste test at a Hong Kong trade show in May, and
Louisiana State University is working toward a more fragrant second
William Farmer, the federation’s director for promotions in Canada and Asia,
said testers nevertheless gave the rice positive reviews for taste and the
way it feels in the mouth.
Louisiana grows about 14 percent of the nation’s rice - the third-biggest
crop behind Arkansas, where about half the nation’s rice is grown, and
California, which grows 20 percent.
During the last decade, rice imports have increased while U.S.-grown rice
sales have remained essentially flat, said Tim Johnson, president of the
California Rice Commission. He said “every U.S. rice farmer” is interested
in varieties that would replace such imported aromatic rices as jasmine and
basmati, from India.
USDA figures show that last year’s U.S. production of 10.1 million tons was
less than 8 percent above the figure a decade earlier. But imports more than
doubled in the nine years ending 2007-08, to more than 724,000 tons, and
imports from Thailand nearly doubled, to more than 500,000 tons.
A second new strain, JES, for Jasmine Early Short, was made available
earlier this year for seed growers after 10 years of development by
Christopher Deren of the University of Arkansas.
“Clearly those rices are having an impact on our sales,” Johnson said of the
imports. “And they just taste great.”
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