Rice production is the third largest cereal crop in the United States after corn and wheat. Four regions in the country produce almost the entire U.S. rice crop: the Arkansas Grand Prairie, the Mississippi Delta, the Gulf Coast, and the Sacramento Valley in California. Arkansas is the largest producer of rice in the country by far, but California ranks second.
A combination of drought and water shortages in the Sacramento Valley has taken a major toll on the California rice crop. This year, rice growers have only planted half as much grain as usual. The changes in rice plantings in California are so substantial that they are easily visible from space.
In Colusa and Glenn counties, rice acreage this year dropped by 84 and 75 percent respectively, compared to 2021. Farther to the east, in Butte Country, rice acreage was down by 17%. The change was smaller there because farmers in that county had more groundwater to tap into.
According to the USDA, the California rice crop will be reduced by 38% this year, making it the smallest rice crop in the state since 1977. California mostly grows short- and medium-grained rice, which is used in dishes like sushi, paella, and risotto. Arkansas and other states produce most of the long-grain rice such as basmati and jasmine rice.
In late September, there was a burst of rain, which offered some short-term relief for farmers. However, it will take much more wet weather to ease the ongoing drought conditions. As of the end of September, over 40% of California remained in extreme drought and 17% was in exceptional drought.
Photo, posted March 21, 2020, courtesy of Ajay Suresh via Flickr.