Air moisture dampens rice harvest
Crop not ripening quickly enough; some growers have yet to start combining
By TIM HEARDEN
WILLOWS, Calif. -- The rice harvest in California's Sacramento Valley is under way after a later-than-expected start as growers have been frustrated by lingering moisture in the crop.
The weather has been mostly ideal for crop development, except a high level of moisture in the air has kept some rice from drying to the point where it could be combined from the fields, growers say.
"It's been slow," said Charley Mathews, a Marysville, Calif., grower who chairs the California Rice Commission. "We're starting to pick up the pace and the weather outlook is good, so we're going. It's just strange. Even last year was an odd year and this one is different again."
Willows, Calif., rice farmer Larry Maben said he's about halfway done with his harvest. But he knows other growers who haven't started yet, he said.
"The rice is green. It's not ripening up fast enough," he said. "It's kind of a combination of everything -- a relatively cool summer and the fall has been really cool. We haven't had the north wind or any particular heat."
Rice production in California this year is projected to reach 47.3 million hundredweight, up 2 percent from last year, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service office in Sacramento.
The state's 568,000 harvested acres are expected to yield 8,400 pounds per acre, which would roughly equal 2011 levels, the agency asserts.
Last year, rice growers dodged raindrops as they tried to get their crop from the fields. Farmers had just started with harvest when rain doused the valley in early October 2011, and growers helped each other finish before anticipated rains in early November.
This year, growers expect to be working well into November, Mathews said, but no appreciable rain appears on the horizon. The federal Climate Prediction Center shows below-average chances of rainfall along the entire West Coast over the next month.
"You're always concerned" about rain, Maben said. "You want to get out of the rain if you can. When I was a kid, you didn't even think about starting until the first of October and you planned on going 30 to 60 days. A lot of times we had Thanksgiving in the field. It's a lot different nowadays (with different varieties)."
California Rice Commission: http://www.calrice.org