Weedy Rice Challenges Some Rice Growers

Weedy Rice Crops Ups Again in Northern Calif. Rice Fields

 

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director

 

In Northern California, rice growers typically prepare to start harvesting in mid-September, but some growers have endured a lot of weed pressure from weedy rice (Oryza), also known as red rice, according to Whitney Brim-DeForest, a UC Cooperative Extension Rice Farm Advisor in Sutter, Yuba, Placer, and Sacramento Counties who focuses particularly on weeds. Red rice is actually the same species as cultivated rice, but it produces far fewer grains per plant and is therefore considered a pest.

 

Brim-DeForest said weedy rice is common in the Southeast, but not in California. “We’ve been pretty lucky in California in that we actually don’t have a big problem with it,” she said. “It’s a big problem down in the southern U.S. and they have been dealing with it in for a long time; but we have had it crop up. I think the last time was in 2006, and we managed to deal with it. It somehow popped up again in the last couple of years, so we’re dealing with it again.”

 

How weedy rice reached California is apparently a mystery. “We don’t really know the source of it, to be honest,” said Brim-DeForest. “We’re investigating that through research, hopefully starting this fall,” she said.

 

Brim-DeForest said growers have few choices to control weedy rice. “Growers that have it will either have to rogue¹ it out, pull it out by hand or sacrifice that field and spray it with Roundup,” she said, “which would kill the rice as well. And, if the rice grower doesn’t know he has weedy rice in the field, it could hurt him later at the rice mill,” explained Brim-DeForest.

 

“Once harvested, the rice goes to the mill. If a certain amount of red rice bran (the outer layer surrounding the rice grain) is discovered, the mill will not accept it and could reject the entire load,” she said.


¹rogue (verb) to remove inferior or unwanted plants

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CULTIVATING COMMON GROUND: Economic Analysis of Drought on California Agriculture

Editor’s note: We thank Aubrey Bettencourt for her contribution to California Ag Today’s CULTIVATING COMMON GROUND commenting on the report, “Economic Analysis of the 2016 Drought for California Agriculture,” released this week. Lead UC Davis author Josué Medellín-Azuara’s response can be read below. 

 

By Aubrey Bettencourt, executive director, California Water Alliance (CalWA)

 

Josué Medellín-Azuara, Duncan MacEwan, Richard E. Howitt, Daniel A. Sumner and Jay R. Lund of the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences, ERA Economics and the UC Agricultural Issues Center reported their views on the economic impact of California’s continuing drought on agriculture this week. The study, “Economic Analysis of the 2016 Drought For California Agriculture,” proved to be uncommonly riddled with errors, questionable metrics and inaccuracies; it’s a continuation of a disturbing recent trend.

CA Water Alliance logo

 

The authors claim that about 78,800 acres of land might be idled due to the drought, but a quick Google search shows a single water district that had more than 200,000 acres of fallowed land in 2016. There are more than a hundred other water districts throughout the state, and most are reporting idled acreage.

 

In another irrigation district in Yuba County, more than 100 agricultural users have been cut off entirely, leaving their nearly-mature crops and fruit and nut trees without water.   [North Yuba Water District (NYWD)]

 

This year the federal and state water projects announced they would provide agriculture with 55% of their water. Two months ago, they reduced the estimate to 5% south of the Delta, and they are struggling to even deliver that amount.

 

Across the state, water prices have increased dramatically, whether pumped from the ground or bought on the faltering water-exchange market. Water that costs less than $250 per acre foot in 2012 now costs up to $750 or more.

 

It doesn’t take a doctoral or economic degree to understand that when the price of water goes up, the cost to produce food also goes up. Farmers may be getting more money for the produce they grow, but they are watching their bottom line shrink because it costs more to grow it. Even water from their wells isn’t free; pumping takes energy, and energy costs money too.

 

Adding to rapidly increasing costs are the new minimum wage, capped work hours, and hundreds of regulatory mandates from the 80+ local, state, and federal agencies that oversee every aspect of California farming and bury farmers in paperwork and red tape. Compliance takes time away from growing food, and it costs money.

 

Take a look at rice farmers. Growing rice today is a losing proposition. After the labor, cost of rice plants, fuel, fertilizing, care, harvesting, drying and milling, growers pay substantially more to grow rice than they can charge for their crop. Many have converted rice paddies to other uses, and some sell their water or take money from federal agencies and conservation groups to create wildlife habitat in order to simply stay afloat. Some are selling off their land to developers, a lose-lose decision affecting everyone.

 

On main street, consumers are another group taking a second, alarmed look at their grocery, water and sewage bills. All are rising far faster than inflation. Whether you are talking about the price of fruit, bread and eggs or the cost of taking a shower, all have been increasing over the past five years because of the drought.

 

To really understand what’s happening, take a drive out of the city and into the countryside where your food is grown. Stop at a roadside produce stand or park your car and strike up a conversation with some ranchers and farmers in a small town cafe.

 

After you hear their stories, you may realize that almonds and pistachios are not as labor intensive as strawberries, tomatoes, cucumbers, grapes, beef, lamb or many others out of the nearly 450 crops grown in California. Some crops are thirstier than others, too. This doesn’t diminish the value of these fruits, nuts, vegetables, and proteins. The value of water is what it provides us: in this case, safe, local, and hopefully affordable food.

 

But commonsense interviews and case studies of actual operations — once the heart of any competent agricultural economic study — are virtually missing from the report’s statistical models built on university computers, research hypotheses and tables of statistics.

 

The drought has hurt California farmers, and it is hurting Californians wherever they live. Gross income may be up, but net profits are down, and the rate of decline hasn’t hit bottom yet. 


Aubrey Bettencourt is the executive director of the California Water Alliance (CalWA), a leading educational voice and authority on California water. CalWA advocates for the water needs of California families, cities, businesses, farmers and the environment.



Editor’s note: California Ag today thanks Josué Medellín-Azuara, senior researcher, UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences, and lead author of “Economic Analysis of the 2016 Drought For California Agriculture,” published this week, for his response to several claims made by Aubrey Bettencourt (above).

UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences
Josué Medellín-Azuara told California Ag Today, “I will not go over debating the comments which I very much welcome and respect, but I would like to provide some thoughts instead.”

 

1)  “Through remote sensing,” Medellín-Azuara said, “we estimated summer idle land in Westlands by the end of the irrigation season to have been 170K acres in 2011 and just above 270K acres in 2014,” based on NASA data. The difference can be explained by some drought effects and other conditions, according to Medellín-Azuara, “so idled land differences should be taken with a grain of salt. As a point of interest, most of the fallow land we estimated was on the Westside of the south San Joaquin Valley.”

 

2) In addition, Medellín-Azuara clarified, “My understanding is that there is a cost issue and a cutoff issue. We estimated about 150 TAF (Thousand Acre-Feet) of [water] shortage in the Sacramento Valley in our study. At current conditions for North Yuba Water District (NYWD) agriculture is no more than 3 TAF from my reading of the attached document. I am not saying the cutoffs are not hard for the more than a hundred users, but [I] also want to put numbers into perspective.”

 

3) “From what I’ve heard and read,” Medellín-Azuara stated, “the timing [of] more than quantity of the projected releases is unfortunate. One of the things we highly encourage in this and past reports is easing of low environmental impact water transfers among users.”

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Record Walnut Crop Harvest

By Colby Tibbet, California Ag Today Reporter

With a predicted record 545,000 tons to be harvested, the walnut industry is getting very busy this time of year.

Janine Hasey is a UC Cooperative Extension Tree Crops Farm Advisor and County Director for Sutter-Yuba Counties. She also assists growers in Colusa County.

“We started early up here, but the hot weather we’ve had has slowed things down again. So we’re working on early varieties, a lot of Serrs are in; Vinas are in, and Tulares are being harvested, and we are trying to get the Howards harvested.”

“Right now it sounds like we’re on track for that record production prediction to come true,” said Hasey. “Growers are now harvesting early varieties; I have just talked to a grower who doubled Serr production from last year, and her Ashley production has tripled or more,” Hasey commented.

Growers have used a lot of Ethrel, a common late-season spray, to help speed up harvest and trigger a more even harvest period. “Some growers are saying it has worked, while others say maybe not so well,” said Hasey.

In addition to the hot temperatures and dryness, Hasey said, “we’ve had a little bit of dew last week. We are expecting some possible rain showers on Thursday…which would be really good to get the walnut hulls splitting, and get things moving again.”

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