Rice producers in the northern Sacramento Valley, Calif., rice fields are finishing up a challenging growing season mired by cool and wet spring weather. Many of California’s 2,500 rice farmers struggled to get the crop back on schedule due to cool temperatures and wet fields. California is the nation’s second largest rice producer behind Arkansas.

Charley Mathews, owner of C and H Farms in Marysville in Yuba County, began harvest the last week of September. Initial yield returns were 8,000 pounds per acre of medium-grain Calrose rice, an average yield in the valley. About 85 percent of all California rice is the Calrose japonica type.

Despite the late growing season, Mathews kicked off the harvest a little earlier than he would like, due to inherent rains which usually fall in October and November. The average October rainfall in the area is 3 to 4 inches.

 “I will be happy with an average yield,” said Mathews. “The rice looks real good. It was the latest crop we ever planted. It was a very rushed approach; we call it shotgun planting.

“Shotgunning means you go as fast as you can and don’t try to perfect anything or clean things up. We had to get the water started and the seed planted between the rain storms.”

The rushed approach left perfecting land-leveling for next year and cancelled extra field chiseling and disking. The plus side of this was reduced production costs.

“The fields had big clods and muddy spots since the soil didn’t get a chance to dry out completely,” Mathews said. “It was like spreading peanut butter.”

Mathews said rice prices early in the season were good, but below the highest price of about $1,000 per ton FOB milled in 2008.

This strange production year, says Mathews, illustrates the resiliency of high-quality rice varieties currently available to growers.

“The varieties were developed over time to withstand weather challenges and provide good emergence and vigor,” Mathews said. “Even the yields don’t fluctuate much with difficult weather.”

Frank Rehermann, FJR Farms, in Nelson, Calif., said the season started out with frustration. Generating a rice stand took Rehermann a month to achieve, versus a more typical two- to three-week period. But Rehermann is all smiles today. Early yields in fields planted with the M206 variety generated 9,000 pounds per acre, about 1,000 pounds less than his all-time record crop of about 10,000 pounds last year.

The largest challenge for the financial viability of California rice growers is controlling production costs.

“I try to be as cost effective as I can be to hold down the production costs on my operation,” Rehermann said. “Increasing production costs is the biggest single threat we have to remain in the rice business.”