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Growers rush to finish rice planting after field work delays

May 25 2017

May 24, 2017 ( by Tim Hearden, Capital Press)


A rice field near Williams, Calif., is prepared in late April for plating. Rice growers are scrambling to finish planting by June 1 after early spring rains delayed their field work.

WILLOWS, Calif. — Rice growers are scrambling to finish planting after persistent winter and early-spring rains delayed their ability to prepare their fields.

Growers face an unofficial June 1 deadline for getting their rice seed down, as planting any later would likely push harvests into the rainy season.

Rice is typically planted between mid-April and mid-May, with harvests coming six months later. But soggy fields prevented growers from working in them until recently — particularly on the west side of the Sacramento Valley, where fields were flooded by torrential rains in February.

“I’ve got a little bit left (to plant), but for the most part we’re wrapping it up,” said Charley Mathews, a Marysville area grower and a USA Rice Federation executive committee member.

“I don’t know what normal is anymore,” he said of the weather. “We didn’t get to start field work until about the 28th of April. Usually we like to start around the first week of April.”

Willows farmer Larry Maben said he’ll get all his 800 rice acres planted, but he’s aware of other area growers in low-lying areas that have struggled to get going because of wet ground.

“I’m a couple of weeks behind, but we should be fine unless we have an early fall,” Maben said.

The delays could cause a dip in overall acreage. California rice farms are expected to plant 539,000 acres this year, down slightly from the 541,000 acres planted in 2016, according to the USDA.

Rice planting rebounded last year from the 421,000 acres planted at the height of the drought in 2015, the agency reported. That year, planting was delayed because of the slow pace of water deliveries as exchange contractors along the Sacramento River agreed to shift their delivery schedules to maintain the right river temperatures for winter run salmon.

Growers with crop insurance could seek compensation for any ground they can’t get to by June 1, the California Farm Bureau Federation advises.

Among other field crops in California, according to a USDA prospective plantings report:

  • Growers expect to plant 430,000 acres of corn, up from 420,000 acres planted last year.
  • Cotton acreage continues to rebound after the drought stifled planting. Growers expect to plant 85,000 acres of upland cotton in 2017, up from 66,000 last year and 47,000 in 2015. In addition, growers were seeding 190,000 acres of American Pima cotton, up from 117,000 and 155,000, respectively, the last two years.
  • Producers intend to harvest hay of all types from 1.1 million acres, down from 1.2 million acres last year.
  • Acreage planted to winter wheat is forecast at 350,000 acres, down from 425,000 acres last year, while another 40,000 acres are planted to Durum wheat, down from 55,000 acres in 2016.
  • California growers plan to plant 27,000 acres of spring potatoes and 21,000 acres of sweet potatoes, up from last year’s 26,000 and 20,000, respectively.
  • Growers intend to plant 25,300 acres of sugar beets, unchanged from last year.
  • Plantings of sunflowers for oil are expected to total 39,000 acres in California, down from last year’s 45,000 acres. Non-oil sunflower acres are expected to total 4,000, up from 1,600 in 2016.