The Royal Hawaiian Agricultural Society was formed in 1850 to develop Hawaiʻi’s agricultural resources. It was then that rice made its mark in the Hawaiʻi economy. The group purchased land in the Nuʻuanu Valley and rice seed from China and planted in a former taro patch.
At first the Society offered the rice seed to anyone in Hawaiʻi who wanted to plant it. King Kamehameha IV also offered land grants for cultivation of rice. Because there were no proper milling facilities in Hawaiʻi, it didn’t take off as a viable crop right away.
Then, in 1860, imported rice seed from South Carolina proved very successful and yielded a fair amount of crop. This, combined with the collapse of the taro industry in 1861-1862 (as the Hawaiian population declined, the demand for taro also declined,) added value to the numerous vacant taro patches and a boom in the rice industry.
From 1860 to the 1920s, rice was raised in the islands of Hawaiʻi, Kauai and Oʻahu. Hanalei Valley on Kauai led all other single geographic units in the amount of acreage planted in rice. The valley was one of the first areas converted to this use and continued to produce well into the 1960s.
The Commercial Pacific Advertiser noted on October 3, 1861, “Everybody and his wife (including defunct government employees) are into rice – sugar is nowhere and cotton is no longer king. Taro patches are held at fabulous valuations, and among the thoughtful the query is being propounded, where is our taro to come from?”
During the 1860s and 1870s, the production of rice increased substantially. It was consumed domestically by the burgeoning numbers of Chinese brought to the Islands as agricultural laborers.
In 1862, the first rice mill in the Hawaiian Islands was constructed in Honolulu (prior to that it was sent unhulled and uncleaned to be milled in San Francisco.) By 1887 over 13 million pounds of rice were exported.
A particularly important stimulus for the increased demand for rice was the Reciprocity Treaty of 1876. This treaty between the United States and the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi granted duty-free status to certain items of trade between the two countries, including rice.
Thomas Thrum wrote in 1877 that Kamehameha V and other landowners had “planted a large tract of land in rice (in Moanalua,) and even went so far as to pull up and destroy large patches of growing taro to plant rice.”
In 1899, Hawaiʻi’s rice production had expanded so that it placed third in production of rice behind Louisiana and South Carolina. Much of this rice acreage was worked initially by Chinese immigrants, who first arrived as contract laborers in 1852.
In 1882, with passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act, Chinese immigration was banned; Japanese workers were brought in to take their place. Ironically, this influx of Japanese immigrants accelerated Hawaiʻi’s decline in rice production.
Japanese preferred short grain rice rather than the long grain rice the Chinese were used to eating. So rice began to be imported from California for the Japanese.
California’s success would ultimately mean the end of the rice industry in Hawaiʻi. Commercial rice production in California was established 1912 along with the founding of the Rice Experiment Station (RES) near Biggs, California.
Short grain selections from temperate japonica plant introductions from China and Japan constituted essentially all of California’s rice production until the 1950s.
‘Calrose’ was the founding California medium-grain rice variety, the ancestor of California medium-grains, and is now recognized as a market class term for California medium-grain rice. (CRRF)
Calrose (C.I. 8988 FAO G.S. No. 1013) originated at the Biggs Rice Field Station, as a selection from the cross Caloro x Calady backcrossed to Caloro. Calady was selected from the cross Caloro x Lady Wright and is a medium-grain variety. (Johnson)
(The name “rose” indicates medium-grain shape and “Cal” to indicate California origin and production.)
Seed of Calrose was first distributed to California growers in 1948 (27). It is adapted to growing in the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys of California but is not grown in the Southern rice area. (Johnson)
Calrose acreage began increasing rapidly after a very cool year in 1954 that was a yield disaster for Caloro. Fortunately, Calrose had very acceptable cooking and taste properties. By 1960 Calrose was grown on 30% of California rice acreage and by 1975 70%. Today it constitutes more than 80% of the California rice crop. (McKenzie & Johnson)
Hawai‘i is a unique market for California Rice, consuming close to 70 million pounds a year. Their per capita rice consumption is about twice what it is in the contiguous 48 states. (Calrice)