Three things rice farmers are worried about in early August

By Tim Johnson

I spend a lot of time around rice farmers. It’s one of the best parts of my job. Thinking about a lunch I had today with one of my farmers, I was struck by the reality of what they think about compared to my everyday concerns.

Here are the top three things on a rice farmer’s mind. Read and you will learn a lot about the stuff they think about, as the summer temperatures soar.

1. Armyworm – if the drought were not bad enough, farmers in Butte County and Glenn Country woke in early July to find fields full of armyworms that were eating their crop. Likely due to the drought and an increase in fallowed fields last year and fewer host plants this year the pests moved into rice fields.

The good news is the rice plants will largely grow out of this first damage and still produce grain. The bad news is that there may be a second hatch of the pest coming soon. This hatch is more concerning because the plant is starting to form the panicle (grain). If the pest eats the plant now, the rice will be lost.

2. Harvest – rice farmers calculate the harvest date when they plant the field. Each rice variety has different days to maturity, but you can know with a high degree of accuracy when you will start harvest on each field. In the Sacramento Valley harvest will start the first week of September. For a farmer, it’s the best season of the year.

Every rice farmer is busy getting tractors, bankout wagons and harvesters in shape for the 45-day sprint that is harvest. No small feat when an oil change on a harvester takes about 10 gallons of oil. All told, the annual tune-up runs up to $40,000 for the newest harvesters.

3. Water for birds – it might sound strange but farmers are worried about water after the harvest and not just for themselves. Used to decompose the rice straw, a shallow depth of water is reapplied to the fields in the fall. Farmers know it is a bird magnet! Millions of ducks and geese from Canada and Alaska almost fall from sky to eat the left over grain, weed seeds and small insects. The evening flights of ducks and their first calls of Autumn are a much anticipated happening, in rice country.

The rice industry has been working with the state and federal refuges, Ducks Unlimited, Audubon and The Nature Conservancy since early summer to identify creative means to provide as much fall flooded rice as possible.

Tim Johnson, CRC President & CEO