California rice was poised for a good year in 2017 because of the record rainfall the state experienced over winter. However, weather extremes, weed, and pest pressures all contributed to a decrease in yields and overall acreage.
The spring rains caused about a 10-day delay in seedbed preparation and rice planting in many areas. Many growers were rushed to get their fields planted in time, with many skipping some of the steps they typically take when getting their fields ready for planting. The late spring rains also prevented some growers from planting at all. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated 458,000 acres of rice were put into production this year, significantly lower than the average of approximately 535,000 acres.
After the late rain came a hot summer that had long periods of temperatures well above 100 degrees. The summer heatwave caused the plants to grow too tall, too quickly. When the seed heads formed, their weight caused a substantial number of the plants to pull to the ground. Many reports indicate that rice yields are down approximately 10 percent.
As with last year, armyworms were once again a significant problem during late June and early July. Infestations occurred in several parts of the rice growing area, but the worst was seen in Glenn and Butte counties. Several growers and PCAs indicated that this year even worse than 2015.
There was also a lot of concern among California rice growers, surrounding the presence of weedy rice at the beginning of the season. Thanks to the heightened awareness, University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) Rice Advisors fielded numerous calls relating to weedy rice when growers were finishing their herbicide applications towards the end of June. As the rice headed, the California Crop Improvement Association began inspecting fields, with suspected plants being pulled and sent to the UCCE Weedy Rice Team for testing.
There were 52 samples submitted for testing, so far only 15 were confirmed as being weedy rice. Seven samples are still waiting to be tested. There were also eight seed fields that were found to be heavily infested with weedy rice and rejected as a result.