With its humid sub-tropical climate, year-round rainfall, ample natural pastures and numerous water reservoirs, Uruguay has emerged as a medium-size rice producer and Latin America’s major rice exporter.
The country produced some 1.25 million tonnes of paddy rice in 2003, almost all of it under flooding using pumps or gravity irrigation. At present, about 90% of production is destined for international markets, with exports totalling 650,000 tonnes in 2002. Uruguay is now among the world’s top 10 rice exporters.
Rice overtook wheat as Uruguay’s most important cereal crop in the 1980s. Since then, the rice harvested area has increased from 55,000 ha to almost 200,000 ha. Production is very homogeneous, with more than 90% of plantings composed of two varieties of long grain rice.
The preferred rice farming system is closely linked to livestock raising - after two years of rice production, the land is sown as pasture for four to six years in order to renew the fields and provide grazing for cattle. This production system is highly sustainable, with only minimal requirements for herbicide, insecticide and fertilizer.
Another peculiar characteristic of rice-farming in Uruguay is the strong role of the national Rice Growers Association, which represents all rice farmers and negotiates prices directly with the country’s Union of Rice Mills.