Wednesday, April 23, 2014
YOLO COUNTY NEWS
99 CENTS

Shorebirds fit into puzzling future of rice farming

The Yolo Basin is home to rice fields and shorebirds. The two benefit from each other. Sue Cockrell/Enterprise photo

By
From page A1 | April 25, 2013 | 1 Comment

Yolo County’s rice farmland is home to more than one entity that needs to cope with changes in order to survive.

“We get up every morning, look for the sunshine, and hope it’s going to be a good day,” said Yolo County rice farmer Jack De Witte. His 1,500-acre stretch of land sprawls in the Yolo Bypass, and neighbors many unlikely allies — long-legged shorebirds wading in wetlands.

The two — the rice farmer and the (native and migratory) waterbirds — are reliant on one another in their less than ideal circumstances.

Rice is the second most valuable agricultural commodity in Yolo County, and is planted on approximately 46,000 acres locally, according to the county’s recent crop report. Still, competition from other countries in the global market has put a damper on the grander-scale prospects for rice growers this year.

Half of California’s rice crop is reliant on exports, but there has been a price decline for the exported medium- and short-grain rice due to Australia and Egypt stepping up their production. Pricing is one of the key factors De Witte can measure his season’s forecast by.

“A good season for us really comes down to a combination of good yields and good prices,” he said. “Seldom do they come together. Every once in a while — rarely it happens — we get a perfect storm of both.”

Also at play is uncertainty over the status of the 2008 Farm Bill, which usually offers farmers the safety net of direct payments, but has been extended to September and may be subject to cuts due to the sequestration.

And as always, there’s the unpredictability of weather. De Witte said it’s about this time that he starts crossing his fingers that conditions abide by the will of the rice farmer, and they stay crossed until all the rice is picked.

“The drier, the better,” he said. “When a rice farmer is busy getting his fields ready, in March through October, rain is a bad thing. … The harvest weather is important too. We don’t want to see a cool summer — that can be detrimental.”

Intimately tied to the fate of the local rice farmer is the waterbird population. The several species of migratory shorebirds that make a winter journey across California’s Central Valley have seen the gradual loss of 90 percent of natural wetlands, a decline that has consequently removed much of their usual rest stops.

The connection between these displaced fowls and rice farmers is that the lands of the latter group offers an option for a surrogate habitat. Rice farmland exists in the same proportion as remaining wetland areas, and when combined, provide the migratory shorebirds a space double the size of what would otherwise be possible.

The collaboration has allowed for local rice fields to support more than 90 percent of the two most abundant breeding waterbirds in the region, according to data from PRBO Conservation Science. The specifically designated shorebird conservation area has become the second largest in America for harboring these birds.

Participating rice farmers, such as De Witte, flood a portion of their fields between November and March, after harvest and prior to replanting. And there are incentives, beyond its intrinsic good nature, provided by local agencies like the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service for them doing so.

The Waterbird Habitat Enhancement Program, organized by the NRCS, has dispersed nearly $3 million to farmers who manage properties in ways that will benefit a variety of birds. Applications are being accepted through February for the program — with funding decisions based on a screening of said applications.

Phil Hogan, district conservationist at the NRCS, said those within the eligible program area — Yolo County and seven surrounding counties — that are interested in the adoption and implementation of conservation practices should contact their local NRCS service center.

De Witte said the program is an example of private enterprise — for-profit, in good years — and the public sector coming together for a common good: the prosperity of an enduring duo.

“I’m becoming an endangered species when I don’t have the resources to farm,” he said. “and we’re growing food and providing habitat that’s appropriate for hungry migratory waterfowl that may otherwise struggle in the winter. This works out well for both me and the shorebird.”

— Reach Brett Johnson at bjohnson@davisenterprise.net or 530-747-8052. Follow him on Twitter at @ReporterBrett

LEAVE A COMMENT

Discussion | 1 comment

The Davis Enterprise does not necessarily condone the comments here, nor does it review every post. Read our full policy

  • Pacific Flyway Field StationJuly 17, 2013 - 9:27 am

    To view shorebirds now, visit the Pacific Flyway Field Station along State Hwy. 45 & County Road 95B - North of Knights Landing. The Pacific Flyway Field Station provides vital shorebird habitat during the critical months of July - September, as well as year round. Once the land has served as 'Walking Wetlands' it is leased to organic farmers for rice and other crops which supports the Field Station.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Recent Posts

  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this newspaper and receive notifications of new articles by email.

  • .

    News

     
    New mosaic mural reflects Peña family history

    By Jeff Hudson | From Page: A1, 1 Comment | Gallery

     
    UC Davis biodigester hungers for food scraps

    By Elizabeth Case | From Page: A1 | Gallery

     
    Penalty decision looms in Winters homicide case

    By Lauren Keene | From Page: A2

    Hay bales burn east of Davis

    By Lauren Keene | From Page: A2

     
    Woman killed by train ID’d

    By Lauren Keene | From Page: A2

     
    Pro-Russian insurgents hold journalist captive

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2, 1 Comment

    Davis Arts Center: See ceramics, join the Big Day of Giving

    By Erie Vitiello | From Page: A3 | Gallery

     
    Fire damages Woodland home

    By Lauren Keene | From Page: A3

    Register to vote by May 19

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

     
    Sign up for enviro organizations during Earth Week

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

    Bible fun featured at Parents’ Night Out

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

     
    Davis businesswoman presides over conference

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

    Birch Lane sells garden plants, veggies

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

     
    Team Blend hosts fundraiser for Nicaragua project

    By Jeff Hudson | From Page: A3

    Fundraiser benefits Oakley campaign

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

     
    Fire crews gather for joint training

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

    Odd Fellows host culinary benefit for nonprofit

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

     
    400 bikes go up for bids at UCD auction

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

     
    Sunder hosts campaign event for kids

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

    Church hosts discussion of mental health needs, services

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

     
    UCD to host premiere of autism documentary

    By Cory Golden | From Page: A4

    UFC hears from two local historians

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

     
    UCD professor to talk about new book

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

    Fly Fishers talk to focus on healthy streams, rivers

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5 | Gallery

     
    Train to become a weather spotter

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

    Learn survival skills at Cache Creek Preserve

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

     
    Veterans, internees may receive overdue diplomas

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

    UC Davis conference showcases undergraduate research

    By Julia Ann Easley | From Page: A5 | Gallery

     
    Conservation District celebrates its stewardship efforts

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A7

    Slow Food tour showcases area’s young farmers

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A10

     
    .

    Forum

    Even a safe house needs boundaries

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: B5

     
    I support Sunder for board

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

    Will anyone notice?

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

     
    My votes reflect city values

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6, 1 Comment

    Tom Meyer cartoon

    By Debbie Davis | From Page: A6

     
    A plea on the Bard’s birthday

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A6

     
    .

    Sports

    DHS thunders back to win an epic DVC volleyball match

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1

     
    DHS/Franklin I goes to the Blue Devil softballers

    By Chris Saur | From Page: B1 | Gallery

    Davis gets to Grant ace and rolls in DVC crucial

    By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

     
    Walchli is under par in another Devil victory

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1

    Seniors send Blue Devil girls past Broncos in a lacrosse rout

    By Spencer Ault | From Page: B1 | Gallery

     
     
    Baseball roundup: Rangers rally to beat A’s in the ninth

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

    Sharks go up 3-0 with OT win

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B8 | Gallery

     
    .

    Features

     
    .

    Arts

     
    Five Three Oh! featured at April Performers’ Circle

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9 | Gallery

     
    Celebrate spring at I-House on Sunday

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9

     
    Music, wine flow at Fourth Friday

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9

    Biscuits ‘n Honey will play at winery

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9

     
    .

    Business

    .

    Obituaries

    Catharine ‘Kay’ Lathrop

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

     
    .

    Comics

    Comics: Wednesday, April 23, 2014

    By Creator | From Page: B6