The 2020-22 Rice Leadership Development Class is visiting California rice country this week and took the opportunity to check in with local growers to find out how harvest is progressing.
In summary, harvest is going nicely and yields are good to very good for many, and, while it is a little early to get a true picture, milling quality might be somewhat lower than desired. A big question these growers had was how M-211, the new Calrose variety from the Rice Experiment Station, would perform and it appears to be doing quite well.
“Early in the week, we only had about 60 acres left to be harvested,” said Bert Manuel who farms near Yuba City.
“Yields are strong with many fields yielding more than 100 sacks (one sack = 100 pounds). A few fields in this area had lower yields (75-80 sacks) mostly attributable to weed control issues.” Manuel said he grew several hundred acres of M-211 this year and, in general, the new variety has performed up to expectations. Other growers pointed out that M-211 must be cut at higher moisture to maintain milling quality.
Brian McKenzie, near Pleasant Grove, has completed harvest on about a third of his acres and yields have been good. A field of M-105 that he was cutting appeared to be yielding well over 110 sacks.
Don Traynham works for Sun Valley Rice in Arbuckle, and grows rice as well. He said that at the beginning of 2021 rice harvest, he was skeptical of the yields being very good. “With other crops like tomatoes and almonds being average to below average, I didn’t believe rice would have good yields but with the rice crop at about 65-70 percent complete, that prediction might be wrong. Yields are up anywhere from 2-7 sacks above last year.”
Traynham did note that the quality of the rice is down. The head and totals that have come back to the warehouses are very similar to the 2020 crop.
“Both last year and this year, the very first head and total milling yields that came in were good, but then the milling quality began to be reduced. I did grow a field of M-211 and it’s yield was very good, my best Calrose yield.” He, too, heard that M-211 needed to be harvested at a higher moisture for it to have any chance of good quality so he cut it at a higher moisture and will see how it performs.
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“Rice harvest has progressed very well,” said Leo LaGrande who farms near Williams. “Yields have been on the high side but concerns about grades and quality exist. Extreme heat and wind throughout the whole growing season are never good for rice quality.” He added that water supply for his region was very tight, and some districts shut off water to farmers before the rice growing season was completed.
Tom Butler, of Robbins, reported that, as of Tuesday this week, he was more than 50 percent harvested which is well ahead of a normal year, although he’s down 1,000 acres due to drought. “Cutting weather has been great. Yields are good, in the 92-102 sack range, and moisture is hanging in there, which isn’t the norm from what I’ve heard around the valley.”
Kim Gallagher, near Woodland, said harvest is in full swing and yields are generally very good. Josh Sheppard, near Richvale, hopes to have rice harvest completed by this coming weekend. He also reports good yields, saying a small field of M-211 on his farm yielded more than 120 sacks.
Nicole Montna Van Vleck and Jon Munger with Montna Farms, south of Yuba City, also hope to have harvest completed by the upcoming weekend. Yields of both their premium quality short grain and Calrose are coming in very good.
Looking beyond harvest, the industry, statewide, is hoping for an above average rainfall and snowpack during the upcoming winter as most of the water that irrigates California’s rice crop comes from Lake Shasta and the Oroville Reservoir. Rice production here is down more than 100,000 acres due to the lack of water availability.