As rice harvest in the Sacramento Valley begins to ramp up, farmers say prospects for their 2018 crop look good, with only minimal stocks remaining in warehouses and buyers "eagerly waiting" for the new crop.
Growers enter the harvest season with one of the smallest carryovers they've had since before the state's four-year drought in 2013, said Chris Crutchfield, president and CEO of Williams-based American Commodity Co., which markets rice domestically and internationally.
"California right now is out of rice," Sutter County grower Steve Butler said. "Most of the warehouses are empty and have been since mid- to late summer."
California farmers are on track to harvest some 500,000 acres of rice this year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That's up from 445,000 acres in 2017, when torrential spring rains and flooded fields prevented some growers from planting the acres they wanted.
Despite the reduced acreage last year, a robust crop in 2016, coupled with higher global supplies, kept downward pressure on prices. Marketers spent all last year and the early part of this year selling "a lot of cheap rice," Butler said. Now that supplies are depleted, "people are anxiously awaiting the 2018 crop," he added."It's always better to have our new crop being anticipated by the marketplace because we get a lot of volume moved in a hurry, and that's good for everybody," he said.
Meanwhile, growers up and down the valley have been busy draining fields and readying their harvesters, while those with earlier-maturing varieties have begun harvest.Jon Munger, manager of Montna Farms in Sutter County, said late spring rains delayed planting by 10 to 14 days, so harvest is now starting a little later, and recent mild weather has not helped.