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Hinode rice field.

Farming Hinode Rice In California's Drought

California is in a drought for the fourth consecutive year and the signs are everywhere.

Cracked dry farmland in California, USA.
Cracked dry farmland in California, USA.

Spring in the Central Valley of California usually coincides with snow melt from the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range. The runoff is used throughout the year by residents, municipalities, private industries as well as for recreation, conservation and agriculture. This year marked the smallest snow pack on record for April in the Sierras.
On April 1, 2015, the California Department of Water Resources measured the statewide water content of Sierra snowpack at five percent of normal for April 1st. These levels are lower than any year in records going back to 1950, according to a KTLA5 article.
Californians are working together to conserve this valuable resource. At Hinode rice, we are in close contact with rice farmers, water districts, conservation groups and industry leaders to balance production with a reduction in water supply.

Sourcing Water

Farmers receive water allocations from State and Federal authorities to grow their crops each year. When there is ample snow pack and rain fall, the runoff becomes fresh surface water that feeds Northern California reservoirs, dams and rivers. The biggest portion of surface water used for rice production in California originates from Shasta and Oroville Reservoirs, located in the northern half of the state.

Lake Shasta, CA, August 17, 2014 -- California's drought exposes the 180-200-foot drop in water levels at the Silverthorn Resort.
Lake Shasta, CA, August 17, 2014 — California’s drought exposes the 180-200-foot drop in water levels at the Silverthorn Resort. The reservoir is receding at an average of 4.9 inches per day.

Oroville Lake, seen here in the middle of a summer drought.
Oroville Lake, seen here in the middle of a summer drought. Oroville Dam is the tallest dam in the United States and is in the top twenty in the world for dam height and volume of dam materials.

During drought years, State and Federal authorities have no choice but to cut allocations to all Californians, including farmers. Without their normal allocations, some farmers who can afford to drill expensive wells can supplement irrigation with ground water from aquifers. Other farmers who invest in additional machinery can plant and harvest different crops that use less water, like safflower. Rice farmers can also rotate part of their acres and leave them fallow.
Growing rice during water shortage.
Growing rice during water shortage.

Tim Johnson, President and CEO of the California Rice Commission shares in his blog post, that 23 percent of rice acres were left unplanted last year, and he estimates about 30 to 35 percent of rice acres could be cut this year. Hinode secures its rice production each spring after water allocations are handed down and farmers begin to prepare their fields for planting.
President and CEO of SunFoods, LLC, Matt Alonso shares; “we are grateful for our industry partnerships among growers and conservation groups who are dedicated to the cultivation of rice in uncertain times and the preservation of 230 wildlife species which depend on California rice habitat for food, migration and nesting.”

Sharing Water

SACRAMENTO, CA, USA - JUNE 17, 2014.: combine harvester cuts through a field of rice in Northern California.
SACRAMENTO, CA, USA – JUNE 17, 2014: combine harvester cuts through a field of rice in Northern California which is suffering a drought and water use restrictions.

Historically, farms located on the South and West ends of the Central Valley have the driest climates and the greatest need to purchase water from other water districts. As aquifers shrink and reservoirs decrease, more Californians are looking for ways to secure their source of water.
While some farmers are able to plant reduced acres with less water, others may receive no allocations and have to abandon their crop altogether. Even more costly is the option to depend solely on wells, which increases demand on underground aquifers.
This transcript between Renee Montagne of NPR Morning Addition and Samuel Sandoval, an Assistant Professor of Water Resource Management at UC-Davis, explains the impacts on farmers and our economy.
By working together, we can transfer water around the state to balance competing needs for this limited resource. In this fourth year of drought, citizens and industry alike are all challenged to cut back and share.
The California Rice Commission summarizes the difficult growing season ahead for the Sacramento Valley in Tim Johnson’s recent blog post.

Water Wise

There are certain regions in the world that are ideal for growing medium grain rice. The Central Valley of California, just north of Sacramento, is one of these regions. Warm summer nights and the Mediterranean climate support rice grain development while surrounding mountain ranges usually provide ample runoff throughout the dry summer months. Even more beneficial in the process of growing rice here, though, is the hard-pan and clay soils that retain water.
“Grown on heavy clay soils, rice fields are very efficient users of water even though they are shallow–flooded to 5 inches during the growing season,” explains the California Rice Commission.
This is a result of farmers making significant investments in the leveling/grading of land used for rice production. This allows farmers to use a lower depth of water thus decreasing per acre water use, increasing grain yield and significantly reducing the amount of water required to produce a serving of rice.
“A lot of people think rice is a heavy water user,” says Jim Hill a Cooperative Extension Specialist and Associate Dean at UC Davis. “But it’s not much more than other crops and actually less so than some.”
Jim Hill shared in the same recent article, “one farmer’s tailwater is the next person’s irrigation water.” Water used by rice farmers to flood fields is recycled over and over again as it flows through the Central Valley from one farm to the next.

Protecting Wildlife

Reflection of Winter Evening Duck Flying over Wildlife Pond, San Joaquin Delta, California Flyway.
Reflection of Winter Evening Duck Flying over Wildlife Pond, San Joaquin Delta, California Flyway.

Although rice grains are credited as the “primary staple for more than half the world’s population” by the USA Rice Federation; rice fields are equally important to providing habitat to our environment.
The California Rice Commission explains in their blog that the land used to grow rice; “provide(s) habitat in the spring for nesting shorebirds and waterfowl. These same lands provide 60 percent of the food for the millions of ducks and geese that migrate into the region each fall.”
When we reduce the acres of rice fields that are planted we also impact migratory waterfowl and local species that use the fields for nesting, feeding and protection. Learn more about how rice fields in the Pacific Flyway and the California Rice Commission are supporting wildlife through the Migratory Bird Conservation Partnership.

Share Solutions

Hinode rice is adapting to water shortages in California rice fields with support from individuals and organizations statewide. Tag us on Instagram @hinoderice in a photo showing how you are adapting to water shortages at home. Share your knowledge and create solutions – #CaliforniaDrought