Weedy Rice—Not as Simple as it Sounds

Weedy Rice is A Pesky Rice Type in Production Rice Fields

By Mikenzi Meyers, Associate Editor

Contrary to its name, weedy rice is not in fact weeds in rice—but it is presenting several challenges to California rice growers. To help farmers combat the pesky variety, UC Davis Ph.D. student Liberty Galvin and the horticulture and agronomy graduate group have conducted extensive research.

According to Galvin, the genetic and physiological properties of weedy rice are the same as the cultivated varieties consumers typically eat. So what’s the issue? Galvin said that besides the fact that weedy rice is off in its coloring, it’s nearly impossible to harvest.

“The issue is that the seed shatters, or basically falls to the ground. So when you go through and try to harvest it, the grain does not get collected in the harvester,” Galvin explained.

Although right now it seems that commercially growing weedy rice is not an option, there are ways to prevent it. Galvin’s research found that drilling the seeds at least two inches into the soil will eliminate seed germination or emergence in the field. This is especially useful in California, where tillage is done only to prepare the field, not plant the rice itself.

Galvin said that while growers can produce their own rice seed, it has to be certified by the California Crop Improvement Association or a Rice Seed Quality Assurance Program.  In all cases, growers are required to plant only certified rice seed so there is no opportunity for traces of weedy rice to enter the soil.

“That is why tillage depth is so important, because that’s how you reduce your seed bank,” she said.

Rice Fields Provide Habitat for Wildlife

Fields Alive with Life in the Summer

By Melissa Moe, Associate Editor

Rice fields provide a great source of food for consumers, but they also provide a great habitat for all kinds of wildlife, especially birds. Matthew Sligar is a third generation rice grower in Butte County. His rice fields are exploding with life this time of year.

“Right now, in the middle of summer, we have ducks that are nesting, so it’s really beautiful to see the baby ducks swimming around in the rice fields. But we have everything from frogs, snakes, raccoons, rabbits, tons of insects that don’t damage the rice. So it’s a beautiful summertime,” he said.

The wildlife that can be seen in the area is very diverse. In the wintertime, different birds come to visit his rice fields. Sligar provides a habitat for migratory birds flying south for the winter.

“After we harvest the rice, we disc and mow the rice straw that’s left in the fields, and we incorporate that into the ground. Then we flood the rice fields, and keep it that way the entire winter. That’s to help decompose the rice straw, and what that does is provide a perfect, natural habitat for those migratory birds, so you’ll see thousands of birds in the rice fields, just ducks, geese, shore birds, gulls, all kinds,” he said.

Watching these birds can be very rewarding. With declining natural habitats for these birds and other wildlife to live in, rice fields are a great place for these animals to thrive.

“It’s just amazing to see the feathers floating on the water, because there’s just so many, and they’re landing. It’s just a beautiful sight, and really rewarding actually,” he said.

WADE: LET THE WATER FLOW!

Let The Water Flow:

Mike Wade Urges Water Board To Let Reclamation Pay Back Borrowed Water

By Laurie Greene, California Ag Today Editor

Mike Wade, executive director of the California Farm Water Coalition, discussed with California Ag Today, his article for the Coalition’s Blog, entitled, “State Water Resources Control Board Could Cost California’s Agricultural Economy $4.5 Billion.”

“A number of San Joaquin Valley farmers have been working the last couple of years to set aside emergency water supplies through conservation and water purchases on the open market,” began Wade. “That water is set aside in the San Luis Reservoir and currently being borrowed, if you will, by the Bureau of Reclamation to help meet their obligations and ultimately the temperature management plan for winter run Chinook salmon.”

Wade said the Bureau’s water obligations also include provisions for summer agriculture south of the Delta, as well as refuge management for numerous listed terrestrial species like the Giant Garter Snake.

Wade estimates the loaned water is worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Lending farmers include those who own land on the Westside of the San Joaquin Valley, Sacramento Valley rice farmers who fallowed land this year to make supplies available for transfers and Friant-area farmers seeking to augment a zero water allocation for the second year in a row.

“We believe the Bureau has an obligation to pay that water back this fall, and we’re urging the State Water Resources Control Board to let that payback happen.” In his article, Wade reported that Reclamation would pay back the water from supplies stored in Lake Shasta as soon as temperature goals for winter run Chinook salmon were met.

Regarding accountability, Wade said, “I believe the Bureau intends to pay it back, but we want the public to understand what’s happening. We want transparency so we can follow this obligation and make sure this fall, when water becomes available, the Bureau follows through to pay it back. People don’t forget.”

Built and operated jointly by the Bureau of Reclamation and the State of California, the San Luis Reservoir is at 44% capacity today, according to the California Department of Water Resources’ California Data Exchange Center, but the supply is already divided and allocated. Wade explained, “The water that is currently in San Luis Reservoir under the Bureau of Reclamation’s control is almost exclusively owned by growers who have conserved it or purchased it on the open market. The remainder belongs to the State Water Project and its users. So, there is little or no federally-owned water in San Luis at this time.”

Wade said, “There are a number of factors that contribute to the 4.5 – 4.9 billion dollar projected cost for San Joaquin Valley farmers. First is the actual value of the water that farmers have already set aside. Second is the monetary obligations farmers have contracted to pay Sacramento Valley rice growers for transferred water. The third component is the actual value of potential crop and orchard losses if that water isn’t paid back and farmers lose out on their ability to keep their farms going.”

Wade urged the State Water Resources Control Board, “to facilitate this complex and unprecedented collaboration” and allow Reclamation to release compensatory water as soon as possible.

Let the water flow!

 

Sources: Interview with Mike Wade, California Farm Water Coalition; “State Water Resources Control Board Could Cost California’s Agricultural Economy $4.5 Billion,” by Mike Wade, California Farm Water Coalition; Bureau of Reclamation; California Department of Water Resources

Featured Image: San Luis Reservoir-Empty, California Farm Water Coalition