How much will it rain? Will we panic? No – we will plant a crop that benefits the Environment
By Tim Johnson
Now that the Christmas lights are at least off, if not down from the eves, it is time to turn and look 2019 straight in the eye. The question in most farmer’s minds is will it rain enough in January through March to stave off a drought.
Farmers and urban people alike always step up when its dry. Cropland goes fallow and yards turn brown. We have adapted to scarcity when the need arises.
Often the result of these actions are more water in the streams and rivers to lend a helping hand to our fellow creatures. That is good, too.
What is often overlooked is that, in some cases, growing a crop like rice can often provide just the kind of habitat wildlife needs most during a drought. Rice fields are flooded during the growing season. It’s very shallow – only 5 inches or so. The water stays on top of the ground in a rice field because the soils are heavy clay and water does not drain away.
Many species of wildlife, from deer to wading birds, ducks and amphibians all use these wetland-like areas while we grow the crop. In fact, rice farmers have implemented practices over the years to increase shorebirds and waterfowl nesting on the small levees that divide the fields.
The real magic happens, however, after the crop is harvested. Left over rice, weed seeds and later insects provide more than 60 percent of the food for the millions of ducks, geese and swans that annual come down from Canada and Alaska to over winter in the Central Valley. Zoo plankton are even available for juvenile salmon reared right in rice fields. Farmers just re-flood the fields with a few more inches of water and the food chain explodes!
While we idle some acres every drought to provide water for our urban neighbors and the environment, it’s actually the rice that gets planted that provides the greatest good. Water used on rice fields provides benefits twice. Food for people and 500,000 acres of habitat that would not otherwise exits.
So, in a drought we don’t panic. We plant just a little bit less rice.