Drought Trims Rice Acreage

Thousands of acres of fallowed rice fields are expected to have a significant impact on the local economy.

In all, an estimated 100,000 acres out of the 550,000 acres of rice in the state will be fallowed, according to the California Rice Commission.

That number will solidify as the summer wears on, but, due to water allocation unknowns creating a late start to the planting season, less than half of the summer's rice crop has been planted in the Sacramento Valley. Yuba and Sutter counties are farther along than the western parts of the valley.

Montna Farms, one of the larger rice-growing operations in Sutter County, is working to prepare its last field for the summer, said Nicole Van Vleck, managing partner on the farm.

About 1,800 acres, close to a third of the farm's total acreage, will be fallowed this year due to water shortages, mostly in the Sutter Bypass area, Van Vleck said.

Van Vleck said the impact to the economy will be felt this year, given how interwoven many local industries are with agriculture.

"If farmers are planting less, that affects equipment dealerships and fertilizer and chemical dealers," Van Vleck said. "It affects labor in the region because they'll be working a shorter season."

Rice is the No. 1 valued crop in Yuba and Sutter counties, with a combined value of $227 million in 2012, according to the California Rice Commission.

Agriculture accounted for 14 percent of the gross domestic product in Yuba and Sutter counties in 2011, the last year for which data are available, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. That figure does not include transportation, equipment sales and other associated sales.

Agriculture is the fourth-largest employment sector in Yuba-Sutter, employing 10 percent of the total workforce in 2013, according to the Yuba-Sutter Economic Development Corp.

Total 2012 wages of rice farm workers in Sutter County amounted to $9.4 million. In Yuba County in 2011, total wages were $3.2 million, according to the Yuba-Sutter Economic Development Corp.

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