The U.S. rice farming industry experienced significant structural changes from 1992-2007, with the average farm size more than doubling, while the number of rice farms decreased by almost half, according to the latest Rice Outlook report  released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service (ERS). The report uses data from the most recent Census of Agriculture as well as detailed cost and returns information from the USDA's rice Agricultural Resource Management Surveys of 2000 and 2006. It also analyzes rice production costs in the major rice-growing regions (see table 5 in report), barriers for entry for new farmers and competitive average net returns.
Between 1992 and 2007, the number of rice farms fell from 11,212 to 6,084, and average rice acreage per farm grew from 278 to 453 acres. Further, in the past decade demand from domestic consumers and export markets has resulted in an increase in U.S. rice production, with the national average from 2000-2009 at 3.1 million acres, the report says. The ERS projects that overall rice area is expected to average about 3.3. million acres over the next decade.The report notes that rice farms are the most capital intensive row-crop farms in the United States and have the highest national average land rental rate of all major crops. Despite the high production costs and other challenges, the economic incentives for existing rice farmers remain comparatively strong among major U.S. field crops, the report says.