Rice harvest proceeds as production, prices rebound

Tim Hearden/Capital Press A harvester finishes dumping its load into a bankout machine on a rice farm near Willows, Calif., on Sept. 30. The harvest of rice is underway in California.

WILLOWS, Calif. — California rice production is rebounding after two drought-diminished seasons.

The Golden State’s rice crop is expected to come in at 48.6 million hundredweight, a 30 percent jump from last year, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service office in Sacramento.

With spring rains enabling many Northern California growers to get their full allotments of surface water, growers anticipate harvesting from 559,000 acres statewide, up from about 370,000 acres in 2015, NASS reports.

Willows-area grower Larry Maben has harvested about 200 of his 800 acres and the going has been smooth, he said.

“It looks like a pretty decent crop,” Maben said. “It remains to be seen what the yield is going to be, but it looks like a good crop in the field.”

Yields could vary from field to field, suggests Charley Mathews, a Marysville area grower and USA Rice Federation executive committee member.

“At first yield was down a little bit, but I’m hearing mixed results from everyone,” he said. “It’s about average.”

NASS expects yields to be 8,700 pounds per acre, down 2 percent from last year. Growers reported a near-normal planting season, and the mostly mild summer temperatures aided the crop.

Rice averaged $414.22 per metric ton in August, up from $370.48 in March but still down significantly from a peak of more than $600 per metric ton in 2011 and 2012, according to the IndexMundi online data portal.

However, the lower prices could spur increased exports to trading partners in the Middle East and northern Africa, which had bought their rice elsewhere when prices were high, and California could regain a bigger market share for medium-grain rice now that some of its competitors have decreased production, the California Farm Bureau Federation notes.

Among other field crops in California, according to NASS:

• The corn silage harvest is underway in the San Joaquin Valley. Corn for grain production statewide is forecast at 389,000 tons, up 47 percent from last year, as yields and acreage has rebounded because of last winter’s rains.

Growers are set to harvest corn from 75,000 acres and produce 5.18 tons per acre, up 25 percent and 18 percent, respectively, from the 2015 crop year.

• Cotton was past flowering stage and bolls were opening as of the end of September, and cotton defoliation began in some areas.

Growers are expected to produce 484,000 bales of American Pima cotton and 260,000 bales of Upland cotton, up 34 percent and 58 percent, respectively, from last season.

• Hay producers are still irrigating, cutting and baling alfalfa, while winter grains are being planted in the San Joaquin Valley.

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