Planting Seeds - Food & Farming News from CDFA

California field crop acreages shrinking amid drought – from Capital Press

Fallow Land, near Avenal, California

By Tim Hearden

A continued lack of water availability is causing field crop acreages in California to dip even lower than expected, government and industry representatives say.

Rice acreage in California is now expected to top out at 385,000, a steep drop from the 431,000 acres of rice harvested last year, according to a USDA field crop report.

The actual acreage may end up being lower, cautions Charley Mathews, a Marysville, Calif., grower and member of the USA Rice Federation’s executive committee.

“The industry number we’ve been using is between 350,000 and 375,000,” Mathews said. “I think they (the USDA) started off kind of high.”

Early this spring, farmers told the National Agricultural Statistics Service they intended to seed rice on 408,000 acres, or 6 percent below the acreage seeded in 2014. However, NASS now expects medium- and short-grain rice acreage in California to decrease by 11 percent and 9 percent, respectively, from 2014, its updated field crop report states.

Nationwide, areas planted to rice in 2015 are estimated at 2.77 million acres, down 6 percent from last year, because of lower price expectations this year, according to NASS.

Water uncertainties amid a fourth straight year of drought have continued to fluster growers, particularly along the Sacramento River in Northern California. With regulators wanting to keep enough water in the river for migrating fish, many growers had to wait for deliveries before they could start planting in late April.

Recently, the federal government’s need to keep cold water in Shasta Lake for fish has further complicated the timing and quantity of remaining deliveries to settlement contractors along the river.

“There’s kind of a worry that it’ll decrease their diversions,” Mathews said.

Rice is one of several field crops in California showing sharp acreage declines this year, according to the report. Among others:

• Corn acreage in the Golden State is estimated at 430,000 acres, down from 520,000 acres a year ago. Corn planted nationwide totals 88.9 million acres, down 2 percent from last year.

• California’s 51,000 acres of cotton are down from the 56,000 acres harvested in the state last year.

• Growers have planted 35,000 acres of sunflower in California this year, down from 44,000 acres last year.

The declines come as growers with limited water have sacrificed some annual plantings to concentrate on perennial crops, such as nut orchards, they have said.

For the area survey, NASS officials visited randomly selected tracts of land and interviewed growers in early June, according to a news release.

NASS crop acreage report

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