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California’s Drought Wipes Out Nearly One Quarter Of State’s $5 Billion Rice Crop

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Anjali Hemphill joined CBS 13 in June 2012 and she's happy to make the...
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YOLO COUNTY (CBS13) — California’s drought has wiped out nearly a quarter of the state’s $5 billion rice crop.

California is the sole source of sushi rice in America and it is one of the largest producers of rice as a whole. About 97 percent of that crop is grown in Sacramento alone. The industry provides about 25,000 jobs.

Harvest season is lighter this year after farmers weren’t able to plant as much with this year’s drought.

Almost one-third of the fields at Dewit Farms in Yolo County that were supposed to grow rice have left to dry up.

“It’s tough,” said Mike Dewit. “I could be growing a crop here and it’s nothing but a dry field.”

The second-generation rice farmer has been forced to let 30 percent of his rice fields in the Yolo basin go to waste because there isn’t enough water.

“My dad’s been doing this for 40 years, and not even in the big drought of [1976-77] did he experience this,” he said.

Jim Morris with the California Rice Commission says the entire local rice industry is in a similar boat.

“We anticipate about 420,000 acres of rice has been planted and will be harvested this fall, and that’s down about 25 percent from last year’s crop,” he said. “The impacts are great not only for the farmers but for the rural communities and also for the wildlife that depend on rice fields.”

With less rice being planted, fewer farm workers are needed.

“We didn’t rent another tractor this year to help us get the crop in,” Dewit said. “Unfortunately we had to lay off a few operators that had been with us for awhile because we just didn’t have the acreage to plant.”

With business drying up, merchants could be forced to turn elsewhere for their rice if the rain doesn’t return.

“We are hoping with the lack of rice maybe the price increases, we don’t know that. But the question is will an increase in price offset the loss in acre,” he said.

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