Bad News for Hawaii: California Rice Farmers May Sell Water Instead of Rice

‘Think the California drought is just going to affect the fruit and veggies you buy? You can probably also expect sharp price increases in that staple starch of many diets in Hawaii: rice.

NBC Nightly News tonight carried a story about a new dilemma that Northern California rice farmers are facing: whether to grow rice or to sell their water allotments to southern California.  The story noted that due to the years-long drought in the state, water prices are two and a half times normal, and the thirsty cities of Southern California are offering to buy water that the rice farmers in the northern half of the state would normally use to plant their thirsty crops.  Right now is the planting season there, so what farmers decide to do with their water in the next few days could well affect what price Hawaii consumers pay for their staple Calrose rice, which by some estimates accounts for about 90 percent of the rice sold here.

“In nearly all cases, farmers will be making a decision to sell a portion of their water in the face of reductions to their own farms of 25 to 50 percent. These are acres they won’t plant to rice or any other crop. Revenue on the farm this year will be off by the same amount,” wrote Tim Rice in his blog at the commission’s California Rice Web site.  “If the farmer decides to sell some of the remaining water, they have the opportunity to generate some additional revenue on the increased acres that will be fallowed. This will increase the total farm revenue over what would otherwise be the case in this fourth year of drought. ”

But Johnson noted that farmers would not be selling all of their water: ” Water sales are nearly always highly limited by the water district. Some allow only one field per farmer to be idled. Impacts on endangered species must also be considered. Considerations for giant garter snakes require that fields be fallowed in a path work so that the snakes can have access to the flooded rice fields where they hunt.”

According to the California Rice Commission’s statistics page, in normal years, rice farmers in the state plant 550,000 acres of rice–almost all of it in the Sacramento Valley–and produce nearly five billion pounds of rice per year.

Hawaii itself once produced a substantial rice crop. with around 10,000 acres in production during the late years of the Kingdom.  Unfortunately, much of that rice was produced in a swampy district of Oahu known as Waikiki.


–Alan McNarie

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