By Tim Johnson
After two years of some of the most significant lost plantings for any crop, 2016 holds the promise of a more normal rice harvest. The last two years have seen rice plantings reduced 20 percent and 25 percent from normal. On the ground, this looks like 138,000 acres of ricelands that were left unplanted in 2015.
Early predictions are rice plantings of near normal levels. This is good news for the small towns of the Sacramento Valley like East Biggs, Colusa and Knights Landing where rice in interwoven into the fabric of the community, its businesses and people. In total California, rice contributes $5 billion to the state’s economy when all the tractors are in the field.
It is also good news for the environment. Nearly 230 species of wildlife use California ricelands at some point in the year. Shorebirds and waterfowl are particularly tied to the shallow flooded rice fields that replicate the once abundant wetlands in the state. Last year, not only were rice acres reduced but all important winter–flooded rice fields, critical to the Pacific Flyway, were down by 42 percent. The 200,000 flooded acres realized only as a result of heroic effort by water managers, conservation groups, farmers and refuge managers.
We also fully recognize the continued struggles of farmers in other areas of the state that failed to get the abundant rains hope for in an El Nino year. In many San Joaquin Valley towns this growing season will offer far less improvement and optimism.
We continue to call on the state to invest in additional water storage. While continued conservation is needed, so are more reservoirs and more below ground storage. Sites Reservoir, if in place this year, would have stored and additional 1 million acre-feet of water – more than the total storage of Folsom Lake. Temperance Flat in the south would provide similar benefits in those areas with the greatest current need.