Delays likely to lead to lower yields for many farmers
By TIM HEARDEN
WILLOWS, Calif. -- For Larry Maben and other Northern California rice farmers, it's better late than never.
Rice planting is in high gear in the Sacramento Valley after spring rains pushed most of the work back from its usual mid-April startup.
"We're about two weeks behind," Maben said on May 14 as an airplane crew was finishing its rice-seeding flyovers on his farm for the day.
"The old rule of thumb is that for every day you plant past the 15th of May, it will cost you 100 pounds of rice per acre per day," he said. "I'll be planting over the next week."
Rice farmers don't have much margin to work with, either in terms of planting season or conditions. The ground has to be reasonably dry before levelers can prepare it to be flooded with a shallow layer of water.
"The water depth is pretty critical for rice," Maben said. "You want to have it deep enough to kill the weeds but shallow enough to grow the rice. There's not a lot of margin."
"The bulk of this crop that's usually planted between April 15 and May 15 will be planted between May 15 and June 1," Leo LaGrande, a rice farmer in Williams, said earlier this month.
Also, the first fields are planted "because you do need to get going," so you don't create the field bed you like, he said. "It's just not going to be as good as you want it and the yield will show that, too."
Growers on the east side of the Sacramento River are a little further behind because they got more rain, Maben said.
Ted Novack, a loader for Regenald Michaud's Aviation in Willows, said air crews have been busy helping farmers catch up.
"We got a late start, but it's good now," Novack said. "As long as the wind stays down, we'll be all right."
Maben said farmers are trying to remain optimistic despite the late start.
"We're hoping that it's a normal crop and hoping the price stays at a reasonable level," he said. "We'll ride with it whatever happens."
California Rice Commission: www.calrice.org