Sacramento Valley Rice Growers in Survival Mode

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SACRAMENTO COUNTY-

Rice growers in the Sacramento Valley just north of Sacramento say the drought has forced them to cut down the size of their crops.

"I've left out 150 acres of rice out of 600 acres...it's pretty much survival mode," said Natomas Basin rice grower Mike Daddow.

The California Rice Commission says about 370,000 acres was planted this year, down from 500,00 acres, which is a 32 percent reduction.

"For my employees, it is a reduction of not only time of employment for part-time people but over-time, which really affects them," Daddow said.

Chico State Agribusiness professor Eric Houk says less income not only affects rice related business but other segments of the economy in the Northern California.

"As we see lower incomes and less employment opportunities, those individuals will reduce their spending in the economy, as well," Houk said.

Surveys show that most Californians believe that farmers use more than their fair share of water. That may be especially true of rice growers who must flood their fields to plant their crop.

But growers like Sean Doherty, who farms rice near Knight's Landing, says the heavy clay soil in the valley means water doesn't soak down into the ground.

Instead the water in rice fields, which averages five inches in depth, can be recycled from field to field. At the end of the season it drains back into the Sacramento River.

"Water that gets used at the top of the valley will actually be reused three or four times going down through the river," Doherty said.

He says rice uses less water to produce than broccoli and carrots. Still growers have fought the perception battle all during the drought. Right now, they are also treading water business-wise.

"You won't make any money, hopefully if everything goes right, you won't lose any money, and it's as if the year never happened," Doherty said.

Daddow does worry that a smaller crop will force buyers to get rice from other producers, and he says it's tough to attract customers once you have lost them.