SACRAMENTO — Ken LaGrande grew up in the Sacramento Valley’s “Rice Country.” In its fifth generation, the sprawling family operation continues to thrive today.

“In 1851, the LaGrande family moved to the Sacramento Valley,” he said. “We grow, dry, mill and market rice.”

The brands include Sun Valley Rice, Planet Rice, Valley Select and Gen-Ji-Mai. Planet Rice was recently voted “best whole grain” rice by Delicious Living magazine.

LaGrande, founder of the Sun Valley Rice Co. and the LaGrande Family Foods Group, plants about 500,000 acres to rice each year. Because of consistent weather and low humidity, California does not have the pest issues that some other parts of the country experience.

Though one of the largest rice operations, the farm is one of many in the valley.

“There are approximately 2,500 rice farmers in the state,” said Jim Morris, spokesman for the California Rice Commission. “In addition, 97 percent of the nation’s rice is grown in Sacramento Valley and virtually 100 percent of America’s sushi rice is grown in California.”

What about competition? LeGrande said it’s not a problem.

“The California rice industry is relatively small with a handful of competitors of different sizes,” he said. “But, for the most part we all work together really well to bring the highest quality to the consumers. We currently sell rice in North America, parts of Asia, Europe and the Middle East.”

When he is not farming rice, LeGrande is involved in many of the important issues that impact California’s environment and farmers.

“Ken LaGrande has been a leader and advocate for California agriculture and irrigation water policy for over two decades,” said Jeffrey Sutton, general manager of the Tehama-Colusa Canal Authority. He has served as a member of the authority board of directors for 21 years.

The authority operates and maintains a 140-mile dual canal water conveyance system that provides irrigation water to 17 Central Valley Project water contractor districts throughout four counties: Tehama, Glenn, Colusa and Yolo.

“Ken’s talent, conviction and leadership were instrumental to the successful implementation of the $185 million Red Bluff Fish Passage Improvement Project,” said Sutton. The project is a partnership between the authority and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and resulted in the construction of a quarter-mile fish screen, one of the longest in the country.

“This important project secured reliable year-round water diversion capability for the 17 water districts served by the TCCA, while simultaneously resolving a huge (Endangered Species Act) conflict and greatly benefiting several listed threatened and endangered fish species,” he said.

“The successful implementation of the Fish Passage Improvement Project prevented a huge regional catastrophe to our rural agricultural communities,” Sutton said. “Without Ken LaGrande’s determination and ingenuity the project would not have been a reality. The success of this effort will serve to benefit the farms and ranches of the west side of the Sacramento Valley for generations to come.”

Would LaGrande advise anyone to begin a career in rice farming today?

“A simple answer is ‘Yes,’” he said, but he added a caveat. “Rice farming is a commitment of time, energy and resources and it would be difficult to jump into without experience.”

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