California rice fields provide habitat and nourishment for approximately seven million ducks and geese migrating along the Pacific Flyway each year. Ricelands are increasingly crucial to hundreds of thousands of shorebirds that nest in the fields year round. For example, recent studies have shown that California ricelands currently provide more than half of the nutritional requirements of wintering waterfowl in the Sacramento Valley.
Ricelands provide more than 300,000 acres of equivalent wetland. In other words, this amount of new wetlands habitat would have to be created to support the same waterbird populations that California’s ricelands support today. Acquiring and restoring this amount of land to create wetland for wintering waterfowl populations would initially cost about $2 billion and about $35 million annually for upkeep.
Rice fields provide a substantial wildlife resource benefit that comes essentially free to the public as long as California rice remains viable.
One of the greatest benefits from rice farming in the Central Valley is the environmental gains that accrue to wildlife. California ricelands provide valuable open space and habitat for 230 species of wildlife, many of which are species of special concern, threatened or endangered. This is especially important today, given that 95 percent of California’s historical wetlands in the Central Valley are now gone.
Sacramento Valley rice farms not only produce food, they also provide vital environmental benefits. Approximately 500,000 acres of rice fields in the region, in conjunction with 75,000 acres of managed wetlands, provide food and other habitat requirements for nearly 230 wildlife species.
With approximately 500,000 acres of rice grown annually north of Sacramento, most emphasis has been on the Sacramento River Basin. Beginning in 2003, the California Rice Commission took over full management of the Rice Pesticides Program, assuming the responsibility for monitoring, sampling, analysis, reporting and recommendations. The Rice Pesticides Program is currently specific to one pesticide, thiobencarb, known by the common trade names of Abolish and Bolero.
From the experience gained with the Rice Pesticides Program, the California rice industry took a proactive role in the Irrigated Lands Regulatory Program (ILRP) as a commodity specific coalition that covers rice growers in the Sacramento River Basin. Irrigated agriculture has operated under an agricultural discharge waiver from 1982 until December 31, 2002. Rice farmers operated under a conditional ILRP that was set to expire in 2011. The conditional ILRP included surface water monitoring of several constituents including, but not limited to, pesticides, nutrients, sediment, turbidity, total organic carbons, toxicity, dissolved oxygen and total dissolved solids. In addition, the program provided management plan development for mitigation purposes.
The California rice industry takes a proactive approach to the registration, use and maintenance of pesticides also known as crop protection tools.
All pesticides used in California receive registration at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA), followed by registration with the California Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR). Usually, rice pesticides receive registration in California one to two years later than other rice growing states. The California Rice Commission only supports registration of pesticides that do not have negative impacts to the environment or the economy.
Hosting rice tours for state and federal regulators and annual meetings with the U.S. EPA has built credibility between regulatory, decision makers and the California rice industry. The California Rice Commission is proud of its long-standing and positive relationship with the county agricultural commissioners, the UC Cooperative Extension, the University of California Davis, and state and federal regulators.
The California rice industry takes a positive approach to working with the county and state and federal regulators on stewardship practices to ensure the rice industry maintains the short list of pesticides available to growers.
The annual cycle of Sacramento Valley rice production (blue) and migratory waterbirds (green) can be aligned by implementing alternative management practices on rice fields that provide enhanced habitat for waterbirds throughout the year (purple). Width of the arrows represents the relative amount of flooded habitat available for waterbirds (blue) and abundance of waterbirds in the Sacramento Valley (green).