Dry conditions are taking their toll on California, with rice acreage being significantly impacted by the lack of water. Last year, a total of 514,000 acres of rice were harvested at a value of nearly $847 million. With planting reason underway, many growers have decided that the state’s dismal water outlook will not support the amount of acreage of years past.
“This year, because of the second year of low rainfall and low snowpacks, we’re going to plant about 100,000 fewer acres of rice this year than normal. That’s our initial estimate, we won’t have a firm number until actually about the middle part of July,” said Tim Johnson, President and CEO of the California Rice Commission. “Our farmers are getting reduced water deliveries between 25 and 50 percent of average. Some are receiving no water, which is no surprise to my colleagues in the San Joaquin Valley.”
Johnson went over the decline in rice acreage this year at a recent media briefing in Sacramento Valley. The event featured representatives from multiple water agencies, farmers, and conservationists. The discussions focused on cooperation between farmers and urban water users in order to address the challenging water year. “The whole region has a water problem; the whole state has a challenge with water this year. We’re really trying to tackle it on a regional basis and use all the tools and relationships that we have to get through this year,” Johnson noted.
The decline in rice acreage not only affects production itself but impacts all of the conservation efforts undertaken by the industry. California rice fields play an important role in the Pacific Flyway, with seven to 10 million ducks and geese using the fields for habitat. “We’ll have 100,000 less acres of rice to be habitat for about 230 species of wildlife that we know rely on our rice fields now that all the wetlands are gone in the Sacramento Valley,” Johnson explained. “So, all of that conservation benefit that comes from rice lands in production was similarly impacted by this drought.”