So much of a good thing may not be great for California Rice this Spring
By Tim Johnson
By all accounts the rains this year have been epic – tracking to be one of the wettest years, not only in recent memory, but since they started watching the rain gauge! Major reservoirs are at historic averages or higher. To top it off, the recent February snow survey the snowpack at more than 170 percent of average.
Farmers are smiling – and also gritting their teeth.
Remember all of those pictures on the news of the Yolo Bypass flooding? They really were reminders that the system designed in the early 1900s can move flood waters around the cities in the Sacramento Valley on farmlands – rice mostly.
The catch is that they are farmlands and, with the days getting a bit longer and the temperatures warming, farmers are thinking about the upcoming crop.
In the bypass and in low lying areas around creeks and sloughs, we see a lot of standing water. We also see note storms in the forecast and all of that wonderful snow in the Sierra. For agriculture, it portends what we call a wet spring.
It may seem odd but to grow an aquatic crop, you first need to dry out the ground. The fields need to be plowed so oxygen can get in the top layer of soil and fertilizer must be applied. Then the fields are rolled with ridges to catch the seed. After flooding to a very shallow five inches, airplanes drop seed that lands on the surface and sinks into the bottom of the field and settles on the ridges.
All of this work is done between mid–March and the first of June. A wet spring compresses all of these field operations into a tight window – increasing costs and impacting grain yields as fields are planted late. Ultimately if some of the land does not dry out sufficiently, fields will go unplanted.
So, watch the weather for the next couple of months and watch a rice farmer’s face. He will still be smiling and grateful for the abundant rain. He will also be gritting his teeth a bit if it’s still raining in April and the rivers are running high.