Decline reflects strong U.S. dollar and larger Colombian domestic production.
WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S. — U.S. rice exports to Colombia declined 66% in 2016, reflecting a strong U.S. dollar, larger Colombian domestic production, and increased competition from Mercosur and other cheaper markets, according to a Dec. 21 report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service.

The decline in exports dropped Colombia to the ninth largest market for U.S. rice exports, down from the fourth largest market in 2015, the USDA said.

“Colombian rice imports vary in direct correlation to the quality and quantity of its domestic rice crop, which increased in 2016 thanks to high local prices and government incentives,” the USDA noted in the report. “In the first semester of 2016, Colombia imported rice for the first time from Uruguay and Paraguay after granting phyto-sanitary access to Mercosur countries at the end of 2015.”

Rice is one of the key basic staple foods in Colombia, with per capita consumption of about 40 kilograms (80 pounds). The country only is able to supply about 10 months of its consumption needs through locally grown rice, though, forcing the country to look to outside sources for the grain.

As domestic prices for rice have increased, so too has domestic production, according to the USDA. In 2015, average grower prices increased by more than 32% over 2014, which prompted rice growers to enlarge dry-land rice area planted for the 2015-16 growing seasons.

According to the Colombian Rice Growers Federation (Fedearroz), over the past two years the area planted expanded by 177,000 hectares, resulting in a forecast 2016 production of 2.5 million tons, 32.3% higher than last five year average production, the USDA noted.

“Although the rice area planted increased, the El Niño drought phenomena slightly affected production in 2015 and pushed the first planting season of 2016 to the end of February/early March resulting in a late main harvest for 2016,” the USDA said. “Difficult weather conditions affected not only rice but other agricultural products, resulting in problematic food supplies, increased consumer prices and a higher inflation rate.”