California Rice Growers are Model of Environmental Stewardship
April 13, 2017
Understanding Water Usage For California Rice Growers
By Brian German, Associate Broadcaster
The amount of rain California received in March has put a hold on rice planting. In a normal year, California rice growers would be finishing up their fertilizer regimen, getting ready for their April planting. Luis Espino, a UC Cooperative Extension Farm advisor in Colusa County, explained that the wet weather has caused many farmers to push back their planting schedule. "We had a lot of rainfall, so the ground is pretty soaked. There are some areas that are still flooded; they still have water in the field. It'll be a while before tractors can get in there, but I'm guessing that as things dry out, things should start moving soon," Espino said.
After five years of drought conditions, California finally had a considerable amount of rainfall over the winter months. Available water supplies are at a much better level than they were in recent years, but there is another aspect that could hurt rice planting this season. "There's been a good winter, so they're going to have enough water to plant acreage as they would on a normal year. What's not helping is the price of rice. It's a little too low, and so that might hinder some of the plantings," Espino said.
The California rice industry is a model of environmental stewardship, working closely with regulatory agencies and conservation groups to ensure that rice production improves wildlife habitats while promoting sound management of water resources. The rice industry has faced quite a bit of scrutiny over the past few years because of misconceptions regarding flooded rice fields. It is important to understand that the water used to flood rice fields has more than one use and eventually goes back into the water cycle. "There is a constant flow of water coming into the field and then leaving so that water is going back to the canal, going back eventually to the river and so it does get recycled," Espino said.
Rice production in the state has changed remarkably over the past 50 years, with improved varieties, increased yields and improved marketability. With water on the minds of many Californians, Espino explained some of the reasons why rice fields are flooded for planting. "It can produce biomass and grain when the field is flooded. Maybe more important than that is the fact that water functions as a herbicide. By having water on the field, you have a way to suppress weeds from growing," Espino said.
Aside from a small percentage of water being lost to evaporation, most of the standing water in rice fields stays in the overall water cycle. "The water used in rice fields - before it gets back to the river - is used four times, so in four different fields," Espino said.