california rice production:

economic and environmental partnerships





Steven Shaffer


Agriculture and Environmental Policy

California Department of Food and Agriculture

1220 N Street

Sacramento, California 95814

United States of America




Presented to the

World Japonica Rice Research Project Conference and Workshop

March 7 - 10, 2001

Kyoto, Japan





Table of Contents



Industry Overview                                                                                                   




Soil and Water and Cultural Practices                                                                                                               

Varieties and Yields                                                                                                                                                     

Wildlife Overview                                                                                                     

Existing Regulations                                                                                              

Public Trust Doctrine                                                                                                                                                   

Federal Endangered Species Act                                                                                                                         

California Endangered Species Act                                                                                                                     

Federal Water Pollution Control Act (Clean Water Act)                                                                             

California Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act                                                                                  

California Department of Pesticide Regulation Rice Pesticide Program                                           

California Air Resources Board                                                                                                                              

Air Quality Regulations                                                                                                                                              

Existing Programs                                                                                                    

CALFED Bay-Delta Program                                                                                                                                    

California Department of Fish and Game                                                                                                         

California Air Resources Board                                                                                                                              

California Department of Food and Agriculture                                                                                             

The Rice Straw Utilization Tax Credit Program                                                                                                         

Agricultural Biomass Utilization Grants Program                                                                                                     

Department of Agriculture and the University of California, Davis – Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering                                                                                                                                                                     

Existing Partnerships                                                                                           

California Ricelands Habitat Partnership - Ducks Unlimited, California Waterfowl Association, The Nature Conservancy                                                                                                                                                                                               

Easement Programs                                                                                                                                                       

Geographic Information Systems                                                                                                                               

Seeking Win-Win Solutions – New Opportunities                                   

Tables and Charts                                                                                                   







The California rice industry is also the most efficient and productive found anywhere in the world.  The industry is fortunate to have a solid base of natural resources including good soils, abundant water, and highly favorable climate.  The industry is well positioned to produce high quality Japonica rice for domestic and export markets for the foreseeable future.


The California rice industry is the most highly regulated in the world, especially regarding environmental regulations.  Interestingly, California rice production is also one of the most environmentally beneficial agricultural activities in the state.  The California rice industry continues to seek out and develop strategic partnerships with government regulators, allied industries and environmental interests to further develop associated environmental benefits that help strengthen its economic viability.  Many partnerships currently exist and are described.


There currently exist and will continue to exist opportunities for expansion of rice production in California due to further recognition of the environmental benefits of rice production.  The ability of the industry to expand domestic and international markets and future government agricultural policy will play a significant role in determining whether and to what extent expansion will occur.  Examples of future opportunities are described.



The Sacramento Valley of Northern California is one of the ideal regions in the world for the production of Japonia rice.  Much of the rice production land is a fine-textured clay soil that drains slowly.  It is well suited to rice culture, but not to other crops.  Historical planted rice acreage over the past twenty-five years fluctuates between 300,000 acres and 600,000 acres.


The Mediterranean climate of an extended summer dry season of warm days and cool nights allows rice to establish quickly, mature properly, and avoid many of the diseases that are common in other parts of the world. An extensive water storage and delivery system provides rice farmers with an abundant and reliable supply of surface water that is easily managed to assure top yields and high quality of each yearfs crop.  The unique California water seeded method of rice production results in yields on average over 8,000 pounds of paddy rice per acre.


The ability and desire of California rice growers to develop and implement new technology also ensure high yields and high quality.  Sophisticated cultural practices including laser leveling of fields, precise water level management, aerial sowing of pregerminated seed into flooded fields, precise fertilizer management, and precise and judicious application  of pesticides using Geo-Positional Satellite technology are all used in the most efficient rice production system found in the world today. 


The need and ability to use pesticides for rice production is low compared to other rice production areas of the world.  The combination outstanding natural resources, relatively low disease and insect pressures, and advanced technology provide California rice growers with an almost ideal situation for growing Japonica rice. Pesticide laws set up at the national, state and local levels to protect human health and the environment are the most stringent of any in the world.  Other laws established to protect air, water and wildlife also restrict a farmers ability to use pesticides, and also to perform other crop management tasks.


California rice production also affords many environmental benefits that are increasingly being recognized by government agencies, the environmental community, and the general public.  These environmental benefits include extensive and diverse wildlife habitat, water quality benefits, air quality benefits, potential water storage and supply benefits, and land conservation benefits.  Existing public/private partnerships support development and maintenance of strategies to provide these environmental benefits.  New opportunities are being identified that will lead to new partnerships in the future.  There continues to be a need to identify and quantify the environmental benefits provided by rice production in California so that they can be developed and implemented.



Industry Overview


California's great Central Valley once contained 2 to 4 million acres of seasonal and semi-permanent wetlands.  Most are now converted to anthropogenic uses, including agriculture.  Only 300,000 acres are estimated to remain in natural wetlands.  Rice  is produced mostly on former wetlands - heavy, poorly drained clay soils of the valley floor which are relatively unsuited for other crops.  Commercial rice production began in Butte County, California in 1912 and is now an important field crop in acreage and value. 


In the early years of rice production, grain depredation by waterfowl made ducks and geese a major pest of rice farmers.  In 1917, only five years after the first commercial rice crop in California, grain losses due to ducks totaled $1 million.  In the 1940s, both the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the California Department of Fish and Game expanded and developed the wildlife refuges, effectively reducing the problem of grain depredation by waterfowl. 


By 1920 over 150,000 acres of rice were being grown in the Sacramento Valley, and production extended down into the San Joaquin Valley.  Weed management problems quickly lead to a change from planting into dry soils to seeding into water, which is the predominant method still used today.  Acreage held relatively steady until 1940, when acreage steadily increased to about 300,000 acres by 1950. 



More than 90 percent of California's rice acreage is located in the Sacramento Valley; the remainder is in the north to central San Joaquin Valley (Figure 1).  The leading rice producing counties are Colusa, Butte, Sutter, and Glenn.  Colusa county typically grows 100,000 to over 134,000 acres each year, with Butte County planting over 80,000 to 102,000 acres.  Sutter County planting can range from 70,000 to over 104,000 acres and Glenn County can range from 65,000 acres to nearly 90,000 acres.  Other significant producing counties include Placer, Sacramento, Yolo and Yuba, which combined can account for 80,000 to 93,000 acres.  The San Joaquin Valley region, which includes the rice producing counties of San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Merced and Fresno, account for only about 15,000 acres of rice production.


The Delta region of Yolo, Sacramento, and San Joaquin counties accounted for about 35,000 to 45,000 acres of production each year over the last seven years.  Contra Costa and Solano counties, the two other Delta counties, do not produce rice.


Rice acreage fluctuates annually according to changes in price, government programs, and changes in water availability.  For example, rice acreage increased to over 500,000 acres in 1975 when the government removed mandatory acreage control but then declined to 308,000 acres in 1977 because of a severe 2-year drought.  Relatively high prices led to a record 605,000 acres in 1981.  World rice surpluses, low prices and acreage reduction incentives offered by the US Department of Agriculture reduced the acreage by nearly 50 percent in 1983.  Acreage over the last seven years has ranged between 440,000 to 550,000 acres (Figure 2). 


Soil and Water and Cultural Practices

Rice is grown mostly on fine-textured, poorly drained soils with impervious hardpans or claypans.  These soils are principally in three textural classes: clays, silty clays, and silty clay loams ranging from 25 to 70 percent clay.  A few of the soils are loam in the surface horizon but are underlain with hardpans.  These soils are well suited to rice production   since their low water permeability enhances water use efficiency.  

Most of the irrigation water for California rice comes from winter rain and snow-fed reservoirs of the Cascade, Klamath, and Sierra Nevada mountain ranges.  Less than 10 percent of rice irrigation water is pumped from wells in areas where surface water is not available, or as a supplement to surface supplies.  The high cost of pumping well water prevents its widespread use in rice production.  Surface water and most groundwater are of very good quality for rice irrigation. Applied water for rice production has decreased significantly over the past 40 years, from an average of 7.1 acre-feet per acre, to an average of 4.3 acre-feet per acre.  About 3.0 to 3.5 acre-feet per acre are consumed through crop evapotranspiration.  The remainder percolates to groundwater or is returned to surface waters. 


In the decade of the 1970s, semidwarf lodging resistant cultivars were introduced to California rice culture.  Not only were these cultivars high yielding, but they were largely photoperiod insensitive, shortening the growing season from 160-170 days to 135-145 days.  Furthermore, soil leveling with laser-directed equipment was widely adopted, greatly improving water management during critical periods of seedling development as well as for field drainage and soil drying prior to harvest. With erect (nonlodged), short-season rice, uniformly dry soils and larger combines, harvest is now completed largely before migratory waterfowl arrive.  Although primarily aimed at the improvement of agronomic efficiency in rice, these events greatly enhanced the possibilities for environmental stewardship with respect to the conjunctive use of rice production and overwintering waterfowl.


Varieties and Yields

The clear, warm summer days and dry growing season are highly favorable for rice production, making California the highest yielding rice area in the world.  Statewide average yields have exceeded 9.5 t/ha (8,500 lbs/acre) with maximum yields exceeding 12.3 t/ha (12,000 lbs/acre).  Medium grain Japonia varieties represent nearly 90% of California rice production.  Short grain varieties account for nearly all of the remaining production with only about 1% of production in long grain varieties.  A short description of the varieties most suitable for production in the Bay-Delta region is provided below.


M-103 is the earliest variety, with vigor less than that of M-202.  It has excellent resistance to blanking and good head and total milled rice yields. It is moderately resistant to lodging. It has good yield potential, about 7% less than M-202 at normal planting dates. It is an alternative variety for M-202 in coldest rice producing areas and for late (or delayed) planting in warmer areas.


M-202 has a very high yield potential.  It performs better than M-201 in cooler growing areas.  It matures three days earlier, ripens more uniformly, and is more resistant to blanking than M-201.


M-204 also has a very high yield potential.  Seedling vigor is lower than M-202, but higher than M-201. Height and heading date is similar to M-201; it matures very close to the same time as M-202. Lodging resistance is intermediate between M-201 and M-202. It has improved total milling and head rice yields. Resistance to blanking is similar to M-202.  It threshes easily like M-202.


S-102 has a very high yield potential and matures two weeks earlier than S-201.  It has good resistance to low temperature blanking.  The grain is 8% larger than S-201 with less chalkiness.  It has rough leaves and hulls and the grain dries down rapidly during ripening.  It is however more susceptible to stem rot.


Calmochi 101 is a sweet glutinous rice.  It matures two weeks earlier than S-201. It has excellent resistance to low temperature blanking. It has rough leaves and hulls and no awns. The grain dries down rapidly during ripening. One needs to be careful not to contaminate other varieties with it.  It is an ASCS non-program rice.


Wildlife Overview

California's Central Valley was estimated to have concentrated 40 to 50 million migratory waterfowl in the late 1800s, and as recently as the 1970s 10-12 million birds migrated through the state.  Even today, it supports 3 to 5 million waterfowl, the largest concentration in North America.  These populations are increasing as habitat is restored both in their northern nesting grounds and in their southern over-wintering habitat.  Emerging evidence suggests that when populations are low, nesting areas are most important, but when populations are high, the quality of over-wintering habitat is critical to subsequent reproduction.  Thus, in recent years wildlife biologists have given increasing emphasis on the quantity and quality of winter habitat.

California rice fields have long been a source of food and habitat for a large number of waterfowl species.  An average of 350 lbs/acre (400 kg/ha) of unharvested rice grain coupled with 250 lbs/acre of small invertebrates, tubers, edible shoots and seeds provide a food value nearly equivalent to that produced by natural wetlands.  Thus waterfowl have become highly dependent on rice fields (and other grain fields) for food.  While some farmers and hunting clubs have managed rice fields in the fall and winter to attract ducks and geese, only recently has the industry as a whole proactively embraced the idea of post harvest management of rice fields for their unique qualities as a waterfowl habitat.

The Central Valley of California is the most important waterfowl wintering area in the Pacific Flyway, supporting 60 percent of the total duck and goose population and 20% of all North American wintering waterfowl. Of special importance is the fact that 65% of all pintails in the United States use the Central Valley.  Its wetlands, in addition to adjacent uplands and riparian areas, also provide habitat for many other plants and animals, including many threatened and endangered species.


Existing Laws and Regulations

Public Trust Doctrine

Certain types of property are of high public value and private right of ownership of these properties should be limited. The state holds these properties as sovereign for the benefit of all citizens and limits the creation of private rights in public trust properties.  Portions of trust property may be disposed of if such action furthers public interest. A key court case was National Audubon Society v. Superior Court, (1983) 33 Cal.3d 419 which applied the public trust doctrine to the water itself rather than limiting itself to the land beneath.

·        Most of the tributary water supply of Mono Lake was being diverted by the City of Los Angeles and as a result the lake level had greatly subsided producing ecological and environmental damage.

·        The court held the public trust doctrine applied to tributary streams (non-navigable watercourses) of Mono Lake (a navigable body of water).

·        The court prevented the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power from maintaining a vested right to divert the waters if the diversion would harm public trust values.

·        This decision limits diversions of water from non-navigable tributaries of a navigable watercourse and allows appropriative rights to be reconsidered by the State Water Resources Control Board where public trust values are harmed.


Federal Endangered Species Act

The federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) prohibits the gtakingh of a threatened or endangered species.  A taking is defined as to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture or collect such species.  The Secretary of the Interior makes a determination of the status of a species based upon a Biological Opinion prepared by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  Measures to conserve the species (recovery plans) are then prescribed including determination of critical habitat, and restrictions of use of that habitat.  Such restrictions can include reduction or curtailment of use of certain pesticides.  California has more species listed a threatened or endangered than any other state in the U. S.  The rice growing region of the state provides habitat for several of these species. 


California Endangered Species Act

The California Endangered Species Act is patterned after the federal law and is enforced by the California Department of Fish and Game.  The Department conducts studies to determine if a particular species should be considered for listing as threatened or endangered.  Once a species is listed, the Department may issue permits authorizing gtakeh of an endangered species under specific conditions including mitigation measures to offset the impact of the action resulting in gtake.h


Federal Water Pollution Control Act (Clean Water Act)

The federal Clean Water Act (CWA) regulates surface water quality.  It sets up a mechanism to establish beneficial uses of water bodies and to set water quality standards to protect those beneficial uses. The CWA is administered by the USEPA which may establish national water quality standards, including specific numeric standards for certain pollutants.  The USEPA also approves state water quality plans required under the CWA.  The CWA is implemented in California by the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) and the Regional Water Quality Control Boards (RWQCB), with oversight by the USEPA.


California Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act

This law, enacted in 1969, established the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB), and nine Regional Water Quality Control Boards (RWQCB).  The SWRCB formulates and adopts state policy for water quality control.  It is the primary state water pollution control agency for the purposes of the Federal CWA.  The SWRCB establishes general procedures for the RWQCBs and allocates funds to the RWQCBs.  Each RWQCB must prepare a water quality control plan which is then adopted by the SWRCB.  Under the federal CWA, state water quality plans must be updated and approved by the USEPA every three years.  A regulatory system is established that identifies the type of water body under regulation; determines beneficial uses of that water body;  mandates specific federal and state water narrative and numeric quality objectives to protect those uses; and provides enforcement mechanisms.  State law, unlike the federal CWA, also regulates ground water quality as well as surface water quality.


California Department of Pesticide Regulation Rice Pesticide Program

The California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) has managed a program to reduce the discharges of rice pesticides into surface water since 1983.  Currently, the program regulates five rice pesticides - the herbicides molinate (Ordram®) and thiobencarb (Bolero®), and the insecticides carbofuran (Furadan®), methyl parathion, and malathion.  In general irrigation water to which these pesticides have been applied must be held on the field or recirculated in a closed system for 28 days before being released to the Sacramento River or its tributaries.  This program has been extremely effective by reducing pesticide residue levels in the river by 99.5%.  The program has been so successful that the RWQCB approved moving from an annual reporting cycle to a three-year reporting cycle.  2001 will start the third three year review cycle.  The program also monitors and regulates for air drift and seepage, and has expanded to include new rice herbicides.


California Air Resources Board

Starting in 1992, the Rice Straw Burning Reduction Act required progressive reductions in rice straw burning according to a schedule of decreasing percentages of planted acreage.  In 1997, the schedule was modified to limit the burning to 200,000 acres annually for three years, starting September 1998.  For these three years only, the law set a separate limit for fall burning.  Of the 200,000 acres allowed to be burned annually, up to 90,000 acres are allowed to be burned during the fall, subject to the acreage allocations of the Sacramento Valley Agricultural Burning Program. The final step of the phase down starts September 2001, when the law will allow burning only for disease control.  The disease control burning will be limited to 25 percent of planted acres or 125,000 acres, whichever is less.


While the Act limits the total rice acres allowed to be burned, it is critical to manage when, where, and how all agricultural burning, including rice straw burning, is done to minimize the public's exposure to smoke.  These activities are addressed with the smoke management program administered by the ARB and the air pollution control districts (districts) within the Sacramento Valley.  The heart of this program is the Sacramento Valley Agricultural Burning Plan (Burn Plan).


The amount of burning allowed each day depends on prevailing meteorological and air quality conditions. The Burn Plan allows more acres to be burned on days with good ventilation, restricts the acres burned on days with limited ability to disperse smoke, and allows no agricultural burning on days with adverse meteorological and air quality conditions. The Burn Plan encourages spring burning by increasing the allocation by a factor of 1.5.

Existing Programs

CALFED Bay-Delta Program

The CALFED Bay-Delta Program was established in 1995 as a result of a 1994 Framework Agreement between the State and Federal governments and the 1994 Bay-Delta Accord signed by state and federal government agencies and urban, agricultural and environmental interests.  The actions were taken as a response to federal actions under the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act to protect fish species including salmon, splittail and Delta smelt whose populations had been declining significantly over the past twenty years.


The CALFED Bay-Delta Program is a cooperative, interagency effort involving 18 state and federal agencies with management and regulatory responsibilities in the Bay-Delta with direct involvement of urban, agricultural and environmental interests at both the state and local levels.


The 18 state and federal agencies include:


                        Resources Agency

Department of Water Resources

Department of Fish and Game

Reclamation Board

Delta Protection Commission

California Environmental Protection Agency

State Water Resources Control Board

California Department of Food and Agriculture


Department of Interior

Bureau of Reclamation

Fish and Wildlife Service

Bureau of Land Management

Geological Survey

Army Corp of Engineers

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Department of Commerce

National Marine Fisheries Service

Department of Agriculture

Natural Resources Conservation Service

Forest Service

Western Area Power Administration


Four major conflicts within the Bay-Delta system were identified during the early scoping period as needing resolution.  They were:

1.      Fisheries and Water Diversions

2.      Habitat and Land Use

3.      Water Supply Availability and other Beneficial Uses of Water

4.      Water Quality and Human Activity

Each of these major conflicts is interrelated and together they require a comprehensive plan to achieve successful resolution.  The resulting CALFED Bay-Delta Program is such a plan.  The plan describes both a Problem Area that focuses on the Delta, and a Solution Area that encompasses most of the State (Figure 3).


The Mission Statement is shown as part of the set of Primary Objectives and Solution Principles. The individual words of the Mission Statement are important and must reflect the basic intent of the Program. However, the full expression of program mission is reflected in the Mission Statement, Objectives and Solution Principles read together.


The mission of the CALFED Bay-Delta Program is to develop and implement a long-term comprehensive plan that will restore ecological health and improve water management for beneficial uses of the Bay-Delta System.


The four Primary Objectives are the overall objectives for each of the key program areas of water quality, ecosystem quality, water supply and vulnerability of Delta functions. Secondary objectives within each of these areas tie back to the Primary Objectives and back through the Mission Statement itself.


Water Quality--Provide good water quality for all beneficial uses


Ecosystem Quality--Improve and increase aquatic and terrestrial habitats and improve ecological functions in the Bay-Delta to support sustainable populations of diverse and valuable plant and animal species


Water Supply Reliability--Reduce the mismatch between Bay-Delta water supplies and current and projected beneficial uses dependent on the Bay-Delta system


Bay-Delta System Vulnerability--Reduce the risk to land use and associated economic activities, water supply, infrastructure, and the ecosystem from catastrophic breaching of Delta levees


Solution principles are fundamental principles which will guide the CALFED Bay-Delta program. The six principles that guide the development and evaluation of the program and development of the alternatives are:

Affordable--An affordable solution will be one that can be implemented and maintained within the foreseeable resources of the CALFED Bay-Delta Program and stakeholders.

Equitable--An equitable solution will focus on resolving problems in all problem areas. Improvements for some problems will not be made without corresponding improvements for other problems.

Implementable--An implementable solution will have broad public acceptance, legal feasibility and will be timely and relatively simple compared with other alternatives.

Durable--A durable solution will have political and economic staying power and will sustain the resources it was designed to protect and enhance.

Reduce conflicts in the system--A solution will reduce major conflicts among beneficial users of water.

No Significant Redirected Impacts--A solution will not solve problems in the Bay-Delta system by redirecting significant negative impacts, when viewed in its entirety, in the Bay-Delta or other regions of California.


The problems and potential solutions facing the Bay-Delta involve a complex set of interrelated biological, chemical, and physical systems. This complexity, coupled with the broad scope and number of actions needed to implement the Program, the 30.year or more implementation period, the need to test hypotheses, and resource limitations make it necessary to implement the Program in stages. Consequently, the Preferred Program Alternative provides for implementation of the Program in a staged manner and establishes mechanisms to obtain th? necessary additional information to guide the next stage of decision making.


The CALFED Bay-Delta Program has moved from its scoping phase (1995 – 1996), and planning phase (1996 – 2000) into its implementation phase (2000 – 2030).  The implementation phase will occur in three stages, with stage 1 lasting approximately seven years and costing about $8.7 billion.  The entire program may ultimately cost over $30 billion.


The CALFED Bay-Delta Program is comprised of eight program elements:

1.      Ecosystem Restoration

2.      Water Quality

3.      Levee System Integrity

4.      Water Use Efficiency

5.      Watershed Coordination and Restoration

6.      Water Transfers

7.      Storage

8.      Conveyance

Foundational to the entire program is a science and adaptive management element.


Many actions resulting from the CALFED Bay-Delta Program may beneficially or adversely impact rice production in California.  These potential impacts will be described later.


Biologically Integrated Farming Systems (BIFS)

The goal of Biologically Integrated Farming Systems (BIFS) in Rice is to demonstrate at the field level alternative rice production strategies that reduce inputs while maintaining high grain yields. The conventional water-seeded system that produces the highest yields in the world requires approximately 150 kg/ha of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer, several pesticide applications, and sophisticated cultural management. Rising input costs, strict pesticide regulations, the imminent ban on rice straw burning, and the implementation of the Food Quality Protection Act prompted researchers and growers to explore alternative farming practices. Alternative management practices used by some growers or those developed based on University of California research may potentially reduce chemical inputs (i.e., production costs) while maintaining high yields. These practices include: straw residue incorporation to conserve N. That also preserves air quality by eliminating straw burning, leguminous winter cover crops as an alternative N source, drill seeding, and water depth management as a means of weed control. Thus, the objective of this project is to demonstrate alternative rice production methods, promote sustainability, and distribute applicable information using a farmer-to-farmer extension model.


Table 1

Alternative Practice

Number of fields

Hectares (acres)

Drill seeded


67 (165)




Deep water for watergrass control


11 (27)




Deep water followed by dry down


200 (493)

for broadleaf control






Straw incorporated, winter flood,


12 (30)

reduced N






Straw removed, reduced N


1.6 (4)




Straw incorporated, winter flood,


3.2 (8)

reduced N, deep water






Winter cover crop, reduced N,


28 (70)


United States Department of Agriculture

EQIP Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP)

Contact: USDA, Natural Resources Conservation Service

The Environmental Quality Incentives Program provides technical, educational, and financial assistance to eligible farmers and ranchers to address soil, water, and related natural resource concerns on their lands in an environmentally beneficial and cost-effective manner. The program provides assistance to farmers and ranchers in complying with Federal, State, and tribal environmental laws, and encourages environmental enhancement. The program is funded through the Commodity Credit Corporation. The purposes of the program are achieved through the implementation of a conservation plan which includes structural, vegetative, and land management practices on eligible land. Five- to ten-year contracts are made with eligible producers. Cost-share payments may be made to implement one or more eligible structural or vegetative practices, such as animal waste management facilities, terraces, filter strips, tree planting, and permanent wildlife habitat. Incentive payments can be made to implement one or more land management practices, such as nutrient management, pest management, and grazing land management.


Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program

The Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program provides financial incentives to develop habitat for fish and wildlife on private lands. Participants agree to implement a wildlife habitat development plan and USDA agrees to provide cost-share assistance for the initial implementation of wildlife habitat development practices. USDA and program participants enter into a cost-share agreement for wildlife habitat development. This agreement generally lasts a minimum of 10 years from the date that the contract is signed.

Conservation Reserve Program (CRP)

The Conservation Reserve Program reduces soil erosion, protects the Nation's ability to produce food and fiber, reduces sedimentation in streams and lakes, improves water quality, establishes wildlife habitat, and enhances forest and wetland resources. It encourages farmers to convert highly erodible cropland or other environmentally sensitive acreage to vegetative cover, such as tame or native grasses, wildlife plantings, trees, filterstrips, or riparian buffers. Farmers receive an annual rental payment for the term of the multi-year contract. Cost sharing is provided to establish the vegetative cover practices.


Conservation Farm Option (CFO)

The Conservation Farm Option is a pilot program for producers of wheat, feed grains, cotton, and rice. The program's purposes include conservation of soil, water, and related resources, water quality protection and improvement, wetland restoration, protection and creation, wildlife habitat development and protection, or other similar conservation purposes. Eligibility is limited to owners and producers who have contract acreage enrolled in the Agricultural Market Transition Act program, i.e. production flexibility contracts. The CFO is a voluntary program. Participants are required to develop and implement a conservation farm plan. The plan becomes part of the CFO contract which covers a ten year period. CFO is not restricted as to what measures may be included in the conservation plan, so long as they provide environmental benefits. During the contract period the owner or producer (1.) receives annual payments for implementing the CFO contract and (2.) agrees to forgo payments under the Conservation Reserve Program, the Wetlands Reserve Program, and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program in exchange for one consolidated payment.


California Department of Fish and Game

The Department's role in wetlands management is to meet the wetlands protection, restoration, and enhancement goals of the Central Valley Habitat Joint Venture, a component of the North American Waterfowl Management Plan. These habitat goals are achieved on state-administered wildlife areas and on private land enrolled in the Department's voluntary wetland incentive or easement programs:

Central Valley Habitat Joint Venture (CVHJV): The California Central Valley Habitat Joint Venture is a cooperative effort of state and federal agencies, and private organizations to implement the North American Waterfowl Management Plan. Habitat joint venture actions include protection, restoration, and enhancement of wetland and associated upland habitats. Protection strategies include habitat acquisition, conservation easements, leases, and management agreements with private landowners.

Wetland Easement Program: This program was initiated to protect Central Valley wetlands. Conservation easements are legal agreements that allow landowners to sell some "rights" on portions of their land to the state. In exchange for cash, the owner agrees to restrict farming and development and assures the easement land remains a wetland in perpetuity.

California Waterfowl Habitat Program: This program pays private landowners for following practices in department approved management plans. Activities include increasing food supplies, providing optimal water depth for foraging birds, and offering summer wetlands for breeding birds.

A guidebook- Farming for Wildlife: Voluntary Practices for Attracting Wildlife to your Farm is a collaborative effort and excellent resource available from the Department.


California Air Resources Board

The Connelly-Areias-Chandler Rice Straw Burning Reduction Act of 1991 (the Phase Down Act) mandated the phase down of rice straw burning in Californiafs Sacramento Valley.  When the Act was written, it was anticipated that a new market for rice straw would be created that would provide an alternative to burning rice straw.  However, eight years into the phase down, approximately 97 percent of the straw not burned continues to be incorporated into the soil, a practice that the rice growers object to because it is costly and may be conducive to increased incidence of crop diseases.  In its 1997 status report, the Advisory Committee on Alternatives to Rice Straw Burning estimated that, at the current rate of development, only two percent of the straw produced in the year 2000 would find commercial uses. 


In 1997, when the Phase Down Act limited rice straw burning to 38 percent of the acreage planted, rice growers turned to the California Legislature seeking relief from the phase down.  The resulting legislation, Senate Bill 318, authored by Senator Mike Thompson, created the Rice Straw Demonstration Project Fund (the Rice Fund) and directed the California Air Resources Board to administer it.  The Rice Fund provides cost-sharing grants for projects which utilize California rice straw according to criteria adopted by the Air Resources Board at its January 29, 1998, public meeting in Sacramento.


During the last three years, a total of about $4 million has been awarded from the Rice Fund for five demonstration and commercialization projects.  This is the third and last Invitation for Grant Requests that is authorized for the Rice Fund Program.   Approximately $1.2 million is available for grants for this fiscal year.



"Preprocessing of Rice Straw for Multiple Products" by Anderson Hay & Grain Co., Inc. for $500,000;

"Bioboard Plant for Colusa, California" by FiberTech USA, Inc. for $750,000;

"Production of Fermented Animal Feeds from Sacramento Valley Rice Straw: Prototype and Commercial Pilot" by MBI International for $820,000.



Agriboard Industries L.C., Phase One Development of the Agriboard Industries L.C. Rice Fiber Based Structural Panel Plant in Sacramento Valley, California, for a grant award of $665,000;

Louisiana-Pacific Corporation, Medium Density Fiberboard Manufactured from Sacramento Valley Rice Straw Residuals", for a grant award of $565,753;

Enviro Board Corporation, Inc., Colusa Rice Straw Project, for a grant award of $500,000; and

Arkenol Holdings, L.L.C., Production of Citric Acid From Sacramento Valley Rice Straw, for a grant award of $519,247.



Evaluation and Delivery of Rice Straw Needed for Gridley Ethanol Plantfs Startup Year of Operation by Rice Straw Cooperative for a grant award of $380,000;


Development of a Commercial Scale Composting Plant in Colusa County by Broken Box Ranch for a grant award of $297,589;


"Rice Straw Export Project" by Kuhn Hay, a California Corporation for a grant award of $402,311;


"Rice Straw Silage Production for Cattle Feedh by Smith Ranches for a grant award of $50,100; and,


gProduction of Ethanol From Rice Strawh by Arkenol Holdings, L.L.C., for a grant award of $100,000.



California Department of Food and Agriculture

The Rice Straw Utilization Tax Credit Program

This program was established by SB 38 (Lockyer, Ch 954, 1996) as Section 17052.10 of the State Revenue and Taxation Code.  The law provides that for each taxable year beginning on or after January 1, 1997, and before January 1, 2008, there shall be allowed as a credit against the amount of gnet tax,h as defined (California state income tax), the amount of $15 per ton of rice straw that is grown within California and purchased during the taxable year by the taxpayer.  The taxpayer must be the gend userh of the rice straw, meaning anyone who uses the rice straw for any purpose, including but not limited to processing, generation of energy, manufacturing, export, or prevention of erosion, exclusive of open burning, that consumes the rice straw.  The taxpayer cannot be related, under the Internal Revenue Code to any person who grew the rice straw within California.  The law limits the aggregate amount of the tax credit to $400,000 for each calendar year.  In cases where the tax credit exceeds the gnet tax,h the excess may be carried over to reduce the gnet taxh for the next ten taxable years, or until the credit has been exhausted, which ever comes first.


Agricultural Biomass Utilization Grants Program

This program provides $2 million to the Department of Food and Agriculture to provide grants at the rate of $20 per ton of rice straw to businesses that use rice straw for agricultural biomass projects.  This measure will help California utilize agricultural biomass as a means of avoiding landfill use, preventing air pollution, and enhancing environmental quality.  It will help to create hundreds of direct and indirect jobs in Northern California communities with historically high levels of unemployment.  AB 2514 will foster alternative uses for rice straw and create new markets for recycled rice straw products.


University of California, Davis – Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering

UC Davis, Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering, under the direction of Professor Bryan Jenkins is conducting a three year study titled Rice Straw Harvesting and Handling for Off-Field Utilization.  The study includes a comprehensive analysis including time and motion studies of field operations, straw storage options, equipment development, system cost analysis and development of a Geographical Information System (GIS) model to optimize straw harvesting systems (Figure 6).  The work is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.


Existing Partnerships


California Ricelands Habitat Partnership - Ducks Unlimited, California Waterfowl Association, The Nature Conservancy

The rice-growing regions of the Sacramento Valley sit right in the middle of the route followed by 60 percent or more of the migrating waterfowl in the Pacific Flyway. The winter flooding of rice fields provides perfect seasonal habitat for migrating waterfowl. Winter flooding also has direct, positive environmental consequences because it eliminates need to burn the waste straw.  Encouraged by DU, farmers now flood nearly 200,000 acres of rice fields each winter, and more than 40,000 acres are rolled to enhance straw decomposition.

Easement Programs

A Memorandum of Understanding was completed with Sutter County to clear the way for DU's Conservation Easements for Agricultural Lands Program (CEAL). These easements will operate within the guidelines of the county's general plan. The CEAL goal is to work with the community and willing landowners to protect agricultural lands by acquiring development rights and restricting incompatible uses. The restrictions will be recorded as an encumbrance against the property and will be in perpetuity.

Geographic Information Systems

Four Sacramento Valley counties - each critical to the success of migratory waterfowl - are being mapped by the GIS staff. A computer model of these four counties will provide a cutting-edge scientific tool to DU, its partners, and to local, state and federal government agencies.

All the available satellite and ground-based information about Glenn, Sutter, Yuba and Colusa counties is being incorporated into this model. With this new scientific tool, DU and its conservation partners will be able to determine the most productive and important wetlands areas.

Local government will be better able to determine flood potential, soil types, ground cover, reasonable patterns of urbanization and agricultural uses. When fully developed, all the agencies and all the citizens will have up-to-date, comprehensive, shared information. This project will serve as a model for local, regional and state planning agencies; agencies that have responsibilities to make decisions about water, land, people and wildlife, all basic to the fulfillment of the DU mission.


Environmental Benefits of Rice Production

The California Rice Commission has supported the preparation of an environmental and conservation audit of the California rice industry by CH2MHill . The resulting balance sheet, summarized in this section, is intended to communicate the industry's level of environmental stewardship to neighbors, business partners, and society at large. The performance of rice farming relative to each of several environmental values is scored in the table below, and summarized in the following paragraphs.

In some areas where the industry's performance is already high, there is still good potential for further improvement. This is where the industry is investing heavily in research and development. Stewardship of wildlife, as well as land use and productivity are examples of this situation:

·        Rice fields offer a number of environmental advantages that no alternative land use would, a variety of upland and shallow aquatic habitat. In their quest to reduce rice straw burning and to improve wildlife habitat, rice farmers have begun to flood their fields during the winter (when no rice is present). Floodwaters allow organisms in the rice field to degrade the straw. Residual rice, native invertebrates, and the flooded field provide good habitat for waterfowl that otherwise depend on wildlife refuges and dwindling native wetlands. With the advent of winter flooding on up to 40 percent of the region's rice acreage, rice fields have begun to restore the role of the Sacramento Valley as a region rich in critical habitat for migratory waterfowl.

·        Much of the land currently dedicated to rice production in the Sacramento Valley is unsuitable for other crops because of poor drainage and the tendency for the soils to become saline when not flooded. In contrast, this land is practically ideal for rice production, producing the world's highest rice crop yields. Rice farming is therefore a relatively productive land use. Further, the compatibility of rice fields with other environmental roles that this land must play, including the provision of high-quality wildlife habitat, makes rice production an attractive land use relative to other options.

The performance of rice farming relative to water supply and water quality is rated slightly better than neutral relative to alternatives. The potential for improvement currently appears to be limited. This reflects the challenge of executing any economic activity in the Sacramento Valley without using and affecting the water supply. Careful stewardship of water resources and the economic and social benefits of rice farming must therefore be balanced:

·        Conservation of water supply also benefits water quality by providing more time for herbicides to degrade in rice fields. More efficient irrigation practices, including innovative recirculation systems, have been implemented to improve water quality. As a result of these and other water conservation efforts, the amount of water used to grow an acre of rice has gradually declined, and the water required to produce a serving of rice is now much less than that required for many other foods.

What impact does conservation of rice irrigation water have on the total water supply? Water flowing off of or through rice fields returns to rivers and to groundwater, where it is available for other water users. Also, the minimum needs for irrigation include not only the crop's requirement, but also water for flushing of salinity that might otherwise build up from rice fields. The potential for and the benefit of extensive, additional water conservation are therefore minimal.

·        Water quality is one of the areas in which rice farmers have made the greatest progress. Relative to alternative land uses, the performance of the rice industry relative to water quality has been and is expected to remain good. The retention of irrigation water in rice fields after herbicide application allows the water to be cleansed as the herbicide breaks down in the field. Target concentrations of herbicides in agricultural drains and rivers (performance goals) have become much more stringent. However, fairly steady reductions in herbicide concentrations since the early 1980s have allowed performance goals in the Sacramento River to be met for the last 10 years, including a 99 percent reduction in herbicide load in the Sacramento River.

At least two water quality challenges remain for the rice industry. First, performance goals in agricultural drains have not been achieved during drought years when the amount of water flow is low. Second, levels of temperature and dissolved oxygen in return flows are somewhat unfavorable to fish.

Where current environmental performance is low, levels of investment can run high, but performance is improving as a result. Air quality and fisheries are examples:

·        Air quality ratings relate primarily to burning of rice straw, which remains a valued farming practice for its ability to destroy organisms that cause plant diseases. Alternative means of disease prevention and rice straw disposal are being actively researched and developed, and the acreage that can be burned is being gradually reduced according to industry- supported legislation.

·        Fisheries are influenced indirectly by rice farming. First, when water is diverted from rivers and streams for irrigation, the hydraulic conditions created by the diversion can harm fish. Second, when irrigation return flow (water running off of rice fields) enters rivers and streams, streamwater quality can be influenced. To date, some of the conditions at irrigation diversions have been improved, and levels of rice herbicides in return flows have been greatly reduced by innovative water management programs instituted by rice farmers. Water conservation reduces the amount of warm, low-oxygen water returning to rivers from rice fields. Critical improvements to fish screens at many diversions are expected to occur within the next few years. Alternative agricultural and urban land uses would pose similar or more severe challenges to fisheries.

Industry performance relative to recreation and energy were not scored separately, but are discussed here.

·        Recreational activities relating to the region's natural environment are tightly linked to the fisheries and to wildlife, consisting of sportfishing, birdwatching, and hunting. Industry performance relative to fisheries and wildlife (discussed earlier) therefore provides an indication of how rice farming affects recreation.

·        The amount of energy consumed by rice farming is broadly similar to alternative farming activities, and is substantially less than would be demanded by any urban land use. Rice farming may one day produce substantial energy if straw can economically fuel energy generation.

Overall, this environmental audit indicates favorable environmental performance by the California rice industry. The industry has made great progress in the areas of land use, water quality, wildlife, fisheries, and recreation. More modest progress has been made relative to water supply, air quality, fisheries, and energy. Rapid future progress is expected in all areas except water supply and water quality, where much of the potential for improvement has already been realized. Major improvements in environmental stewardship have been and will continue to be supported by heavy investment by the California rice industry.


Table 2

Overall Environmental and Conservation Rating of Rice Production a

Environmental Value

Basis of Ratingb

Overall Performancec

Land Use and Productivity









Water Supply









Water Quality









Air Quality





























Seeking Win-Win Solutions – New Opportunities


The CALFED Bay-Delta Program has several objectives in the Delta pertaining to wildlife habitat, levee system integrity, reversal of land subsidence, and improved water quality that may offer opportunities for expanding rice production in this region of California.  The legal Delta comprises 738,000 acres (299,000 ha), while the Primary Zone of the Delta is 530,000 acres (215,000 ha). It spans small portions of Yolo, Solano and Contra Costa counties, a greater extent of Sacramento County, but is primarily located in San Joaquin County (Figure 4).  It is the Primary zone that is of greatest concern in terms of the issues listed above.  Current cropping patterns include corn, irrigated pasture, alfalfa, tomatoes, orchards and vineyards, dairy and asparagus.


Current rice production is limited to approximately 1,000 acres (405 ha) of organic rice production in the Consumnes River Preserve in Sacramento County, just north of the San Joaquin County line, and approximately 1,000 acres (405 ha) of conventionally farmed rice located on Brack Tract in San Joaquin County.  


Land subsidence is caused by the loss of high organic matter soils (peat) prevelent in the Delta (Figure 5).  The loss of these soils is caused by the exposure of peat to oxygen (oxidization) that converts the organic carbon to carbon dioxide gas and aqueous carbon.  Subsidence is a major concern in the Delta because it increases the water pressure on levees and thus the probability of levee failure.  Levee failure, depending on location in the Delta, can result in flooding and impairment of water quality due to seawater intrusion.  It can also result in loss of valuable wildlife habitat.  It is believed that rice culture can retard or even reverse land subsidence.  Maintaining Delta island land in a flooded condition during rice culture in the spring and summer (except for field preparation and just prior and during harvest) and for wildlife purposes in the fall and winter – a total of  approximately ten months of the year may be an appropriate strategy that can benefit the local agricultural economy while providing several of the benefits that the CALFED Bay-Delta Program is seeking.  The residual rice grain remaining in the field may be equal to or greater in value to wildlife than corn grain residuals. 


The Consumnes River is the last major undammed, free-flowing river in California.  Producing rice in the floodplain of the river as Alan Garcia practices in the Consumes River Preserve is another approach to farming compatibly with nature.  As part of the floodplain, Alanfs land is inundated most winters, providing valuable habitat for Delta fish, both resident and migratory such as splittail and salmon.  The organic rice production, which includes Akitakomachi and Koshihikari, is compatible with the goals and objective of the nature preserve. 


There is a need and a potential to utilize the approximately 1.5 million tons of rice straw produced each year in California.  As mentioned previously, much of the straw was burned in the field, but air quality regulations now severely restrict the practice for use only as a disease management tool.  Rice straw burning costs less than $5 per acre, while soil incorporation of the straw (the predominant management method) cost about $16 to $37 per acre.  Straw removal is even more expensive, at approximately $50 to $90 per acre.  There is a great potential for processing rice straw into useful products, but only if the economics of doing so is favorable.  If growers can reduce their straw management costs to below the cost of soil incorporation, straw removal for off-field uses could become viable.  Straw removal, if done properly can also assist in stem rot and aggregate sheath spot disease management.


Several products that are being produced or are being considered for production from rice straw.  Products currently being manufactured or processed include several erosion control products, animal feed, compost and construction materials.  Future products may include ethanol fuel and other chemicals such as citric acid, electricity and other construction materials including fiber board, straw composite panels, oriented strand board, and formed or extruded products.  In addition to the agronomic and environmental benefits of rice straw processing, rural economic development benefits are also being realized.



Figure 1           


Figure 2



Figure 3


Figure 4


Figure 5           


Figure 6








1.      Environmental Mandates Index Affecting the Agricultural Industry in California, California Department of Pesticide Regulation, 1995.

2.      Californiafs Pesticide Regulatory Program, California Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Pesticide Regulation, Report to the Legislature, November, 1998.

3.      Integrated Pest Management for Rice, Second Edition.  University of California Publication 3280, 1993.

4.      Rice Pest Management Guidelines, University of California, 1994.


5.      Brandon, D.M., S. Brouder, D. Chaney, J.E. Hill, J.M. Payne, S.C. Scardaci, J.F. Williams and J.E. Wrysinski. 1995. Rice straw management today and tomorrow. University of California and Ducks Unlimited. 6p.


6.      Hill, J.E., S.R. Roberts, D.M. Brandon, S.C. Scardaci, J.F. Williams, C.M. Wick, W.M. Canaveri and B.L.Weir. 1992. Rice Production in California. University of California Cooperative Extension, Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Publication 21498. 22p.


7.      Miller, M.D. and D.M. Brandon. 1979. Evolution of California rice culture. IN: Willson, Jack H. (ed.). Rice in California. Butte County Rice Growers Association, P.O. Box 128, Richvale, CA. Pp79-134.


8.      Reid, Frederic A. and Mickey E. Heitmeyer. 1995. Waterfowl and rice in California's Central Valley. Calif. Agric. 49(6):62.


9.      Brouder, Sylvie M. and James E. Hill. 1995. Conjunctive use of California ricelands enhances the value of agricultural land. Calif. Agric. 49(6):58-64.


10.  Blank, Steven C., Karen Jetter, Carl M. Wick and John F. Williams. 1993. Incorporating rice straw into soil may become disposal option for growers. Calif. Agriculture. 47(4):8-12.


11.  Miller, M.R., D.E. Sharp, D.S. Gilmer and W.R. Mulvaney. 1989. Rice available to waterfowl in harvested fields in the Sacramento Valley, California. Calif. Fish and Game 75: 113-123.


12.  Bakker-Dhaliwal, R., et. al. 1999.  Rice Straw Harvesting and Handling for Off-Field Utilization.  2nd Annual Report.  Prepared for the USDA.  UC Davis Department of  Biological and Agricultural Engineering.


13.  Sacramento San Joaquin Delta Atlas.  California Department of Water Resources.  July 1995.


14.  California Agricultural Resource Directory 2000.  California Department of Food and Agriculture. January 2001.


15.  California Agricultural Resource Directory 1999.  California Department of Food and Agriculture. January 2000.


16.  California Agricultural Resource Directory 1998.  California Department of Food and Agriculture. January 1999.


17.  California Agricultural Resource Directory 1997.  California Department of Food and Agriculture. January 1998.



18.  California Agricultural Resource Directory 1996.  California Department of Food and Agriculture. January 1995.


19. – California Air Resources Board


20.  - The CALFED Bay-Delta Program


21. – Central Valley Habitat Joint Venture


22. – California Department of Fish and Game


23. – USDA-FSA Conservation Reserve Program




25. - University of California, Davis, UCCE Rice Project


26. – California Rice Commission.