Puerto Ricans who came to Florida after Hurricane Maria have had one effect on Palm Beach County’s economy most people don’t realize — a tripling of the acreage West Palm Beach-based Florida Crystals Corp. devotes to a medium-grain rice crop it just harvested.
That particular type of rice serves as a culinary staple for many on or from the island, and Florida Crystals packages it for Goya Foods, which sells it through that brand name.
“This season, we increased the acreage we normally grow of medium-grain rice in order to supply the rising demand from Florida’s Hispanic market,” said Luigi Trotta, Florida Crystals’ director of rice and organic farming. “As a farmer, it is fulfilling to know that we are able to help meet Florida’s unique food supply needs.”
Most of Florida’s rice crop remains of the long-grain variety, but rice of any length isn’t necessarily flooded with attention in a region where sugar, winter vegetables and other products tend to hog the spotlight. Yet 97 percent of the state’s rice crop is grown in Palm Beach County, according to company officials.
Including all area growers, nearly 25,000 acres were devoted to rice with a harvest of 111 million pounds before processing in the latest crop.
Florida Crystals bills itself as the largest rice farmer in Florida and owner of the state’s only rice mill in Belle Glade.
The Sem Chi Rice Mill is gearing up to yield nearly 49 million pounds of packaged rice and 14 million pounds of rice flour.
As for medium-grain rice, it now commands 1,550 acres at Florida Crystals, up from 469 last year and 278 in 2016.
Most of it goes to the Orlando market, and the most popular size is the 20-pound bag, officials say. It’s favored in a variety of meals, soups and puddings.
In Florida, rice is typically grown in rotation with sugarcane, with its flooded fields providing a habitat for more than 160 species of birds. Rice is generally planted from early March to late June in Palm Beach County, and harvested from July to early November.