Created with Sketch.
34 minutes | 2 months ago
Episode 16: The Case for Sites
Insufficient investment in water storage has brought about an almost yearly struggle in California, and another dry start to the rainy season is cause for concern. A big part of the solution to inadequate water storage may come a project that has been debated for more than half a century – Sites Reservoir, which would be built in rural Colusa and Glenn Counties. Sites Reservoir is the largest surface storage facility proposed to be added to California's water supply system since New Melones Reservoir in 1979. “Sites Reservoir, in my opinion, is sort of the poster child of modern surface water storage in California,” remarked Tim Quinn, who has 40 years of experience in water issues, including at the largest water district in the state, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. “In years gone by, we used to build dams on live rivers with great ecological damage. We’re not doing that any more. Sites is a wonderful example of an off-site storage facility that has virtually no footprint impacts, and is being woven into a comprehensive package in the Sacramento Valley to do multiple purposes... It’s a classic example of modern water management in 21st century California.” The three major water consumers in California – the environment, cities and farms – all stand to benefit if Sites is completed. “The Sites Reservoir Project is very unique,” said Fritz Durst, a diversified farmer in Yolo County who serves as chair of the Sites Joint Powers Authority. “Because of Proposition 1 funding, Sites Reservoir would have its own unique block of water that’s solely for the environment… it won’t have a junior priority… it could be used for fish, for birds or for water quality, Delta outflow, for the many small critters that live in the Delta.” Durst said if Sites were built, it would not lead to major growth in acreage of Sacramento Valley crops, including rice, but it would create a more certain water supply, which would be invaluable to farmers, ranchers and support industries. He added urban residents would benefit from Sites Reservoir, through a more stable water supply. Having additional water in storage would gather water in wet years and make it available during dry periods. Mary Wells owns and runs a ranch in Sites. Her experience is unique – decades of ranching in a remote part of the Sacramento Valley as well as a leader in water and agriculture in the valley. She calls the prospect of building water storage in the Sites Valley bittersweet, but something that should happen for the betterment of our state. “In terms of the physical viability of a reservoir here, it’s just amazing,” she said. “You have two major canyons that come in…. but when you consider an area of about 14,000-acres, about 14-15 miles from one tip to another, that’s amazing. It’s just a natural bowl.” Jerry Brown, Executive Director of the Sites Project Authority, is among those determined to get this storage facility built. He said he sees growing momentum to get the project completed. “One of the key aspects of the Sites Reservoir Project for California is that it is creating flexibility for our system, which is badly needed,” he said. “You hear a lot about climate change and the fact that we’re getting a lot more extreme variability in our precipitation. We need storage facilities in order to regulate the water flow to some degree, to allow us to optimize its use.” Sites would be an off-stream storage facility. It has recently been ‘right-sized,’ with some areas scaled back to help ensure the project can be built in a reasonable time frame. Key aspects of the new plan include a slight reduction in the storage capacity, the elimination of a new conveyance pipeline that would have brought in and taken out water from the Sacramento River and pump back storage for energy generation. The changes reduced the project cost about $2 billion, to $3 billion. Brown said if all goes well, construction on Sites could begin by about 2024, with the facility completed and operating by 2030. Episode Transcript Jim Morris: California has natural beauty and tremendous commerce. We're the most populous state and the most productive farm state. We also aren't without significant issues. Besides COVID-19, we've had multiple years of devastating wildfires. Something that doesn't grab as many headlines has also proven to be a big challenge, a lack of adequate water storage. Without water in reserve, dry winters can cause widespread pain. I'm in Sites in rural Colusa County, which may be a critical link for a better future for our environment, cities and farms. Welcome to Ingrained, the California Rice Podcast. I'm your host, Jim Morris, proud to have worked for 30 years with farmers and ranchers in the state to help tell their stories. And today's subject is critical to all Californians, ensuring sufficient water for future generations. One brief footnote, these interviews were done prior to the state's latest COVID-19 stay at home order. I'm with Mary Wells, fifth generation rancher in Sites. And Mary, tell me a little bit about your family history and also the history of this area. Mary Wells: My roots in this area go way, way back. I am actually fifth generation Californian. My great, great grandfather was W H Williams, the founder of the little town of Williams. As a youngster, I used to come up here with my grandfather. We had cattle ranches in Merced. Spent a lot of time up here, my brother and I. After college, I inherited, when my grandfather passed away, inherited some properties and have since expanded. Went into farming and ranching on these rangelands. Very interesting place, lots of history, mid-1800s. John Sites came into this area, brought some sheep in and liked the area so much he came back a few years later. He was a man of great foresight. He had a brother, I think he had two brothers that came here. Had adjoining ranches, operated the same, grain, sheep, so on. The family retained the ranch that I have. John Lee Sites took it over and I purchased this from the Sites' family in 1974. So they had this for a long, long time. And the bottom line is that, at one point, Sites was a very significant little community in the foothills. Not was there dry land wheat farming on all of the flats and in the lower hills, there was a very prosperous sheep production in the hills. And, on the way into Sites, there is a very famous quarry and there was a narrow gauge railroad. The Colusa Lake Railroad that came from Colusa and the river of Sacramento and brought the slabs of sandstone that were cut in the quarry. And they would come up into Sites. There was a turntable, and they would go back to the Sacramento River and be loaded on barges and taken to San Francisco. And, if you've visited San Francisco, the Ferry Building the Emporium, a lot of the facades in San Francisco are from the Sites quarry. The train was also used on holidays to bring people up into Sites. They had an annual Easter picnic. You can imagine it, the women in their fancy dresses and parasol...I would not have done well in that generation, but they would come up for the day and they had games and picnics and food. And so it was a very thriving, thriving community. Hard to imagine today. As time moved on and highest and best use for land always prevails. The grain disappeared in the fifties and sixties, 1950 in 1960. The sheep went to somewhere along about the same line. There are no sheep here now, all cattle. In fact, almost all of the valley, which is about 14,000 acres. And then of course you have, the hills are utilized as well. So, you've got more acreage there, but most of that now is winter rangeland for the cattle. Jim Morris: Is it safe to say there are more cattle on this ranch than people that live in Sites? Mary Wells: Oh, very much so. Yes. From November through May, the cattle definitely have the upper hand on population. Currently there's probably 15 families that live here. When I first came here, there were 22, 23 are carrying on. The interesting thing though is, while we have cattle and this is a very integral part of our total operation, I would say almost everyone who farms or now ranches here also has significant investment and concerns in the Valley. On the other side in irrigated lands. Jim Morris: I know it's not an easy issue here because you have such an emotional investment in this area. We also desperately need water storage. So how do you reconcile those two? And tell me a little bit about this area as a potential water storage area? Mary Wells: Oh, that's a great question. When I first came here and of course you're checking out our ranch and all of the things, I was told that the Bureau of Reclamation clear back in the fifties was looking at this for a reservoir. And I said, "Oh, interesting." Did some research on it and found out that actually Sites was easily designated as a potential off stream storage as far back as the fifties and the Central Valley Project or CVP was very interested in it. They had done a lot of studies. In fact, I had some observation wells, studies going on in 1974. But it was shortly thereafter, about '77, that all went away, political change. The studies and maps were all rolled up and put away by the Bureau of Reclamation, never to be seen again. In terms of the physical viability of a reservoir here, it's just an amazing...you have two major canyons, if you will, that come in. I know the proposed project calls for the two major dams and nine small saddle dams. But when you consider an area of 14,000 acres, about 14 to 15 miles from one tip to another, that's amazing. It's just a natural bowl. Jim Morris: We do have a significant issues in California in terms of water storage. You also have 40 plus years of experience at the water issues, actively engaged also a leader in agriculture. So you're balancing all that out and I believe you've come to the conclusion that Sites should be carried out here for the betterment, the ultimate betterment of our state. Mary Wells: Yes, I do agree with that. In my early research, I knew that this was a potential reservoir. And I remember asking Bureau of Reclamation, Bill Martin, he was at that time the director, and I said, "Mr. Martin, should I repair the screen porch or not?" And he said, "Mary, I think you probably will do that two or three times before the reservoir." He says it needs to happen, but California politics, agencies grind very slowly. Jim Morris: Where would we be if we do not beef up our water storage in California? I mean, it's very dry right now. What are some of the things that you're doing that you wouldn't be doing if we had rain so far this fall? Mary Wells: We're feeding hay. I have a fortunately a fairly good well, but there are areas where we'll need to haul water in to make it through the winter. So, it's significant. When we don't have the rain we normally do on as I go out in the valley and I think about the operation out there of the potential for water shortages, the need to transfer or use groundwater for my orchard ground. That's on my mind, if it doesn't rain. The rice production, critical part of our total operation. We may be short or the seasons limited. It's not so much the water right now, but it's when we can use it out of the Sacramento River. From one end of my operation to the other, I am feeling the significance of lack of rain. Jim Morris: In your estimation, will Sites be completed in your lifetime? Mary Wells: Well, I have so much to do. I keep telling my kids I'm going to be around for a long time. I got a lot of unfinished projects. I don't know if they agree with that or not, but I laughingly say that. I really hope so. Leaders in Northern California, clear back in the early nineties, said we need to start thinking about this. This was a very farsighted group of leaders in Northern California Water Association that... Mary Wells: In fact, we had sort of a kickoff meeting here. I spoke on the steps of my house there to kick off the concept of getting it going again. And that was in the early 1990s. One other interesting thing I did to reach out, for three years I did tours every month, mostly year round with Metropolitan Water District board members and what a great experience that was. But more importantly, they went home. You would not believe the letters I received that they just did not understand how important the environment and all that we do up here is to the total picture of California. I did that for three years and hoping to get the word out for all Californians that this is a great project and we really need to have it done. Jim Morris: His career in California water has spanned more than 40 years. I feel very fortunate to visit with Tim Quinn. Tim's resume includes 22 years at Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which serves 19 million customers and is California's largest water district. He also served 11 years at the helm of the Association of California Water Agencies. So Tim let's get right into water storage in California. What is your assessment as to how adequate our storage capacity currently is in the state? Tim Quinn: There's no doubt in my mind, we need no more storage capacity, both above ground and below ground, which is where we've been heading through much of my career. Sites Reservoir is, in my opinion, sort of the poster child of modern storage in California, modern surface storage anyway. In years gone by, we used to build reservoirs, dams on live rivers with great ecological damage. We're not doing that anymore and Sites is a wonderful example of an offsite storage facility that has virtually no footprint impact. Very, very little compared to what storage used to do. And it's being woven into a comprehensive package in the Sacramento Valley to do multiple purposes. To serve the environment while it serves rice farmers, while it serves cities. It's a classic example of modern water management in 21st century California. Jim Morris: In your time at Metropolitan Water District, how did the water storage situation for your district change? And what are your thoughts about that? Tim Quinn: Water storage was one of the most important changes that happened in Southern California in the last quarter of the last century. When I went to work at the Metropolitan Water District in 1985, Metropolitan had 200,000 acre feet of storage capacity. Next to 4 million acre feet of demand a year. So next to none. But the leaders of Metropolitan realized...by the way, they have so little storage because they were counting on the state to do the storing water for them under the state water contract. Tim Quinn: By the time you got to the late 1980s, it was clear the state wasn't going to do that. So I was part of the team that really focused on expanding Metropolitan Water District Storage, and today with Diamond Valley Lake, with all the groundwater storage partnerships that I helped negotiate, the Metropolitan Water District has more than 4 million acre feet of storage capacity available to it. And that is what saved that economy during the last two big droughts. Jim Morris: There are three distinct water users in our state, the environment, cities and farms, and the environment is a big deal in our state. And how would Sites help in that regard, and how important is nurturing our environment in terms of water use? Tim Quinn: Nurturing the environment is absolutely essential in modern California. You didn't have to pay attention to it through most of the 20th century, but it is a driving political factor today. And I couldn't be more pleased by that. That is not a bad thing. It's a good thing. You have to design and manage a project like Sites for the environment as much as you do for water supply for the Sacramento region and other parts of California. I was one of the main negotiators that negotiated what became Proposition 1 and defined a new approach to storage in the state of California, where we were understanding that storage was going to be multi-benefit. It was going to work for the environment and for water supply agencies. And we got the public to agree to pay for the portions that were not for water supply. So, we are building expressly multiple purpose projects up in a place like Sites Reservoir. And I think all Californians should celebrate that. Jim Morris: So what is your guess as to whether Sites will be completed someday? Tim Quinn: If you want something done in modern California, you have to develop a coalition of support. Used to be the big water agencies could decide what they wanted and could roll over everybody else and get their projects built. That doesn't happen in California anymore or anywhere else. So, the people who are managing Sites understand that, and they are building coalitions of support. They always talk about multiple benefits. They talk about multiple partners. They're reaching out across old silo lines to deal with environmentalists and others. That's how you get complex, controversial things built. I don't think you can say Sites will never be controversial. There will be those that will oppose it, but I'm pretty optimistic that you can build Sites Reservoir. Jim Morris: I'm in the Dunnigan Hills in Yolo County speaking with Fritz Durst, a sixth generation grower. Fritz, what are some of the things that you grow? Fritz Durst: Out west out here in the dry land area I raise three or four different types of wheat. I raise hay for cattle. I also have some wine grapes and asparagus and I also run beef cattle. Jim Morris: You also grow rice in the Sacramento Valley and you're also chair of the Sites Joint Powers Authority. So tell me a little bit about what the Joint Powers Authority is. Fritz Durst: The Joint Powers Authority is a group of Northern California agencies. Some of them are water agencies, some of it is counties, cities, the city of Sacramento, for example, is involved. And we got together with a common goal of developing a more secure water system. It wasn't necessarily to get more water to expand growth in California, but as we all know, in the drought years the shortcomings harm the cities, the environment and agriculture as well. Jim Morris: If Site's reservoir is built, it doesn't necessarily mean that there's a massive expansion of rice or other crops in the Sacramento Valley? Fritz Durst: Yeah, that's correct. In 2014 and '15, we actually fallowed a lot of rice in Northern California. And, the water that would have been used on those fields was transferred to urban areas and also to environmental needs in the Delta region. What Sites will do, will backfill that water in those drier years and give us a lot more security. Jim Morris: How helpful would Sites Reservoir be for our environment? Fritz Durst: The Sites reservoir project is very unique. Because of Prop 1 funding, Sites reservoir will have its own unique block of water that is solely for the environment, and it will be managed by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. And it won't have a junior priority. It will get as much water or what it's percentage of water, just like everybody else from the reservoir. If it's needed for fish, it could be used for fish. It could be used for birds or terrestrials. Or, maybe just water quality Delta outflow for the minutiae, the many small, small critters that live in the Delta. Jim Morris: So, this is a beautiful backdrop here in the Dunnigan Hills. And how important is the environment for you and how much does the environment factor into what you do? Because you sit on some water boards, et cetera. And it seems like more and more there is discussion about salmon and birds, et cetera, when you're looking at the agricultural community. Fritz Durst: The environment's really important to me. I spend a lot of my time out of doors. I just love...It's beautiful. Just this morning, I saw two Golden Eagles in one of my grain fields from this past year. And I learned as a younger man that I can either have a park or a parking lot. And I've chose the prior, the park. I want this place to be beautiful. I want to make...to be home for not just myself and my crops, but also to mother nature. Jim Morris: How impressed are you with the level of innovation and efficiency with water use in the Sacramento Valley? Fritz Durst: I think we have a phenomenal story to tell. When we take a drop of water and apply it to a rice field in the Northern part of the valley, oftentimes the water flows through the rice field, it's needed for culturally to grow a better crop, but then that water is picked up by another rice farmer and it gets used four or five times before it actually gets back into the Sacramento River. And, that's the rice farmer. And the rice farmer provides benefits for those who eat the rice, for the local economy, as I just pointed out. But also, the untold story is all the wildlife that benefits from that drop of water. You have birds, you have reptiles. Later in the winter, phytoplankton grows in that water. And when the water goes back into the Sacramento River, it feeds fingerling salmon. We're just on the tip of the iceberg learning about the fishery and how rice can contribute to the health of the fish. We know a lot about waterfowl already, and we're actually using, we're taking that model and applying it to the fish and with great results. Jim Morris: How helpful would Sites be for those in urban areas? Fritz Durst: It will be very helpful. As we all know, we're experiencing climate change and what I'm seeing out here in my fields, as we see with water, we're seeing huge variability between years. Last year we had an okay amount of rain. The year before we had lots of rain. This year so far, this fall looks very dry, does not look promising. Sites will capture those high flows in the wet years. It's an off stream storage. So what that means is it sits back in an area where there's just a small creek. We're not damning a major river. Unfortunately, we have to pump the water in there though. But when the water runs out, we can generate electricity. So it doesn't make a huge footprint in terms of carbon footprint, but it will provide us that stability in the wet years. So in the years when everyone has to stop watering their lawns and let things die and businesses struggle because they don't have an adequate water supply for their processing, it will help in those years. Jim Morris: From a farmer perspective, you have a lot of uncertainty in what you do. Yields and markets are two examples where there are wide fluctuations. How helpful would it be to have a more secure water supply moving forward? Fritz Durst: As a farmer, we have markets and then we also have commitments. So, in the case of markets, we'll develop markets for rice, for example, for processors to use our rice, to make Rice Krispies and other things. But when we can't supply them, then they go elsewhere looking for a product and then they have to retool their factories or food processing. So we lose markets. And then it's hard to get back into those spaces. And it's not just the grower, it's also our community. We have infrastructure. I personally have millions of dollars of farm equipment and some of that I have loans on and I need to make my payments every year. And having stability helps me to be able to make those decisions. We also have all the support people. We have people who in the trucking business, we have people in the fertilizer and herbicide business and the processing of these crops. And those people are all affected as well. So by offering them stability, it's a greater plus for the whole valley. Jim Morris: I know what you'd like to have happen, but do you believe that you will see Sites Reservoir completed? Fritz Durst: I do. It's still a bumpy road ahead of us here. And the reason I think it will be completed is because California needs more water. I know it's expensive, but we've done a great job in the last year trying to get the right size here for the project. I mean, it's like we were going to build a Greyhound bus when all we needed was a little minivan. So, we've got a better focus on what it is we really need and I'm confident it will get built. Hopefully I'll live long enough to see it. Jim Morris: Jerry Brown is Executive Director of the Sites Project Authority. Jerry, thanks so much for your time. Can you tell me a little bit about your background in water? Jerry Brown: Sure Jim. Thanks for having me and thanks for your podcast. It's really a wonderful to have you in the community talking about these issues and particularly on this one, talking about the Sites Reservoir project, which is so important to the state of California. My background, well, first of all, I'm the other Jerry Brown. Let me just say that. And I've been in water management and utilities in California for over 30 years, but in water management for the last two decades and the last decade from about 2010 to 2019, I was a general manager at Contra Costa Water District. And after that stint, I started my own firm Waterology Consulting, and then this opportunity came up to lead the Sites project and was selected and really pleased to be able to be a part of this important project. Jim Morris: The water situation in California is far from robust. So as we move forward, conservation and efficiency, more of that will be helpful. I think most people understand we need water storage. Why is Sites a good fit? Jerry Brown: Well I think one of the key aspects of the Sites Reservoir project for California is that it is creating flexibility for our system, which is badly needed. You hear a lot about climate change and the fact that we're getting a lot more extreme variability in our precipitation. We need storage facilities in order to regulate the water flow to some degree, and to allow us to optimize its use. We talk a lot about groundwater basins being depleted and issues with that. Jerry Brown: Well, those groundwater basins can't absorb the water as it comes naturally in the same way that we can when we have off stream storage reservoirs, where we can park the water when it's available and then regulate it out as needed for the various uses throughout the state. Jim Morris: Why is this area such a good fit? It does have a bowl shape, if you will. So comment a bit about that. And also Sites has been right-sized, I believe is the term. So tell me a little bit about all of those things. Jerry Brown: The Site is really unique and it's been considered for storage of water for over six decades. It's just the topography of the area is just wonderful. Its proximity to the river. Its proximity to existing conveyance facilities that are in place. The Tehama-Colusa Canal and the Glenn-Colusa Canal. Both of those are key aspects of getting the water into the reservoir. And a couple of years ago, we went through public process with the environmental document, and we went through a public process with the grant program with the state, the Prop 1 grant, and got a lot of feedback from folks about different aspects of the project. Jerry Brown: And before I came to the project, the team sat down and said, "Okay, well with all this feedback, what can we actually get done? What can we actually afford and get permitted?" And took a hard look at all those things and said, "Okay, let's try to optimize what we've got here and put a package together that can actually get built within a reasonable amount of time." Jerry Brown: And that's essentially what came out of the right sizing. Pretty much three key aspects out of that, number one, the size of the reservoir downsized a little bit from about 1.8 million acre feet, total storage capacity to about 1.5 million acre feet storage capacity. So that eliminates some of the footprint issues and also reduces a little bit in the storage, but not substantially. A big, big piece that was adjusted was the elimination of what's called the Delevan pipeline. That was going to be a new conveyance pipe that was going to bring water into the reservoir from the Sacramento River and take it back out to the Sacramento River. Just very controversial for a lot of different reasons and that has since been eliminated. Jerry Brown: And then finally pump back storage for energy generation was an original piece of the project. And that has been eliminated because it just didn't pencil out from a business case perspective at this time. Not that we can't do it in the future, but it just didn't make sense right now. Jerry Brown: So, all of those changes combined reduced the total project costs by about $2 billion, from $5.2 billion to about $3 billion. And so that sets us up for a more affordable situation. We also adjusted our assumptions about how often and when we could take water out of the Sacramento River safely and be protective of the species. And, with those adjustments, we are reducing our benefits from the project by about a half, to about 240,000 acre feet of new water supplies generated on average every year. All of those things factored together, give us an affordable, permitable and buildable project, which are three of the key ingredients for actually getting anything done in the state of California. Jim Morris: The environment is critical in California. How would Sites specifically help for the environment? Jerry Brown: I mentioned the protective diversion criteria. Using the existing state-of-the-art fish screens that are existing at Hamilton City and Red Bluff at the existing canal diversion points. Very key factors. Beyond that though, we have a major component of investment by the state through the Proposition 1 water supply investment program, which involves benefits for refuges. So, some of the water that we would be diverting and supplying would be for the purpose of supplies to refuges, to help the Pacific Flyway. And then another would be to improve flows in the river and into the Delta. Jerry Brown: We are inextricably connected to the Delta through the Sacramento River and, where we are located, positions us uniquely so that we can make some significant contributions to both the flow patterns in the Delta, but also to helping to bring some of the flow that's necessary to create and restore floodplains for the production of food for fish and the improvement of the habitat for the fish in the river. And beyond that, we're working with the federal government to coordinate our operations in a way that we might be able to help with the cold water that's available up at the Shasta Lake and Oroville Lake, to serve the needs of the spawning and rearing of salmon in the Sacramento River at times. So we're excited about that as well as in partnership with the federal government. Jim Morris: We've had a bit of a dry cycle since 2013. Ups and downs. Some years have been wet, but many have been dry. And here we are in December, it's beautiful weather but we need the rain desperately. So Jerry, how would Sites help equalize all of that moving forward? Jerry Brown: Those periods where it's wetter, we need to be able to capture that water and the Sites Reservoir...we went through that period 2013 to 2015, very dry period, lots of effects on various parts of our economy. And, then we came out of that and we got a few wetter years and things kind of felt like they went back to normal. Well, those are the years that we need to be bringing water into places like Sites and storing it so that when we go into these drier periods, which we could be going back into a drier period, that we have the water and it's available for our use. Jim Morris: The Sacramento Valley is a really unique and special place. How important is it, Jerry, to maintain what we have here in terms of the environment, the communities and the farms? Jerry Brown: One of the things that we recently did on the project is we went through a strategic planning process. And, as part of that, we revisited our vision, mission and values of ourselves as an organization, as an authority. And, I'm really happy that as part of those values, that our board adopted a key tenant of respecting and honoring the local community. And, we are not going to be successful without the support and the contribution of the local community. I mean, there are landowners that are literally giving up their farms for the benefit of all of us in California. And, I'm happy to see and very diligent about making sure that we maintain that, that contribution be honored and respected and valued as an organization. Including as we go forward, addressing concerns and discussing the project with folks and making sure that any issues or any sort of items that they feel are important for this local community, that we address those within the context of the project. Jim Morris: So, help for the environment, cities and farms. However, this has been discussed for more than a half a century. Not to be indelicate, but do you feel Sites will get done? And if so, what kind of timeframe is ideal? What's the earliest that Sites could be in place? Jerry Brown: I think Sites Reservoir absolutely has to be built for the state of California. In the last century, a lot of our water management system was built for what I call yield, and that is to generate new water, generate supplies of water for businesses and farms and people. Our next century, we're going to need flexibility because we don't really have a great handle yet on how things are going to change or what the changes are going to be. We know that things are getting warmer. And, we know with warmer temperatures that the variability in our precipitation is going to be more extreme. And so, flexibility is what we're going to need. And that's what the Sites Reservoir provides. Jerry Brown: What's our timeline? We are on a track to have this project built within the next decade. For the next approximately 12 months, we're working diligently to establish analysis and review and evaluations that are necessary to give to our local state and federal participants to make decisions about their investments. About this time next year, we're expecting that folks will be making that decision. If everything's a go, then we would be expeditious in our completion of permits and the other approvals for water rights and things that we need over the course of about two years, which would then put us into a final engineering and construction starting in about 2024 and completing the construction of the project and having it operational by 2030. Jim Morris: That will wrap up this episode. Thanks so much to our interviewees, Mary Wells, Fritz Durst, Tim Quinn, and Jerry Brown. You can find out more at Podcast.CalRice.org, including listening to past episodes. And we appreciate your comments and questions. There's also excellent information at SitesProject.org. Thanks for listening.
19 minutes | 2 months ago
Episode 15: Where the Wild Things Are
Their journey is long and exhausting. For those who follow their travels, it’s exhilarating. Every fall and winter, the Sacramento Valley becomes a key rest and refuel stop for millions of birds, as part of their annual migration along the Pacific Flyway, a wildlife highway in the sky. Immediately after harvest, a shallow amount of water is added to rice fields, which quickly become home for ducks, geese, swans, cranes, shorebirds, Bald Eagles and many other migrating wildlife. Generations ago, rice fields were predominantly burned after harvest, to eliminate rice straw. Starting 30-years ago, growers shifted to shallow-flooding fields to decompose straw. It timed perfectly with the Pacific Flyway migration. Rice grower Charley Mathews Jr California has lost the vast majority of its original wetlands. However, Sacramento Valley rice fields have proven vital as ‘surrogate wetlands’ for nearly 230 wildlife species. In fact, rice fields provide more than 60 percent of the fall and winter diet for the 7 to 10 million ducks and geese every fall and winter in the Central Valley. “It’s very unique,” remarked rice grower Charley Mathews, Jr, whose Marysville-area fields are frequently loaded with Tundra Swans, geese, ducks, and many other birds. “It’s kind of like having a national park in your own backyard. It’s very easy to access. There’s no payment or parking you have to pay for. Anybody can come out here at any time. It’s a great place!” Xeronimo Castanada of Audubon California Rice fields work well with local wildlife refuges to not only provide habitat, they afford bird watchers amazing viewing opportunities. Great viewing opportunities include the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge in Willows, Colusa National Wildlife Refuge and Gray Lodge Wildlife Area, among other valley stops. Also, be sure to keep watch for wildlife in nearby rice fields while on your journey. “They key in on the rice fields that are flooded as good habitat,” said Xeronimo Castanada with Audubon California, among those in the conservation community working with rice farmers to maximize wildlife habitat. “It provides food. It provides shelter. It draws in millions and millions of ducks and geese, hundreds of thousands of shorebirds, and at any given time, you could be driving down the highway, and you’ll see a field just covered in waterfowl. Especially when they take off in flight, it’s something really special to see.” California Rice Commission Wildlife Programs Manager, Luke Matthews Luke Matthews is Wildlife Programs Manager with the California Rice Commission. He works with rice growers and many partners to help maximize their conservation work. He said there are currently three key programs to aid conservation – a winter flooding program with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Bid4Birds through the California Ricelands Waterbird Foundation and an upcoming program with the US Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, providing a wider suite of wildlife-friendly farming practices for growers to enroll in. “People are really interested,” Matthews said. “These farmers really love their land, and they love to increase the wildlife benefit whenever they can.” Seeing magnificent wildlife in rice country is not only special to bird lovers, it’s appreciated by rice growers, as well. Rice grower Josh Sheppard “I find myself taken aback sometimes,” said rice grower Josh Sheppard in Butte County. “It’s wonderful when you see millions of birds that are using an area, and, within a specific field, you’d have thousands of geese and ducks, all coexisting, all using that space. We’re not using these fields for growing crops during the winter time, but it’s got a great use. It’s got an important use, as far as the eco-diversity and the biological helpfulness that we can provide to the migratory waterfowl. It’s a just a really great feeling I have as a rice farmer, knowing that benefit exists, with just a little bit of water.” Episode Transcript Jim Morris: If you think about rice in California, these are the sounds that likely come to mind first: tractors working, high-speed low flying airplanes planting seed, and GPS-guided harvesters bringing in America's sushi rice. But in the fall and winter, the sounds from Sacramento Valley rice fields are different. We have ducks and geese by the millions, joy-filled sandhill cranes, large flocks of white-faced ibis, and majestic tundra swans. Jim Morris: While many wildlife species thrive in rice fields throughout the year, including the fantastic American bittern, the original angry bird, black terns, the tremendously photogenic shorebird, the black-necked stilt, it's not unusual to hear from a western meadowlark in rice country. But there's something extra special about fall and winter in rice country, it's when rice fields really come alive. Jim Morris: Welcome to Ingrained, the California rice podcast, I'm your host, Jim Morris, proud to have worked with California farmers and ranchers for 30 years. And this year's rice harvest is wrapped up, but fields are still full with equally precious contents, wildlife, millions of birds. I'm speaking with Josh Sheppard, a rice grower in Butte County. And Josh, you put just a few inches of water in the fields after harvest, it helps break down the straw, and then wildlife shows up. What kind of wildlife species do you see this time of year? Josh Sheppard: We see a wide range of species. The ducks, everybody knows the mallards, the pintails. The teal are just awesome to see. They frolic around these fields, they're just playful like schoolyard children. And it's just great to see that. The bigger species, some geese, snow geese, dark geese, specklebellies, accompanied by the swan, a bigger creature and the sandhill crane, one of my favorites, a prehistoric long-legged bird makes a very unique sound. Jim Morris: And I have to thank you Josh, because you let me know every year when you see your first sandhill, So I'm very grateful for that. And they are impressive six and a half foot wingspan, tremendous vocalizations, and a lot of joy too, which is something we need right now. And we also have bald eagles in the area. So how frequently do you see bald eagles in this Richvale Butte County area? Josh Sheppard: I anticipate a lot of eagles showing up. This area in Richvale always hosts dozens of eagles. It's not uncommon to see 10 roosted in a tree. And we have a tree on one of our farms that is known as the eagle tree because that is a common perch for the eagle. Jim Morris: How does it feel once you have the rice in, that you now see all of the wildlife here and that added value that rice provides in the Sacramento Valley? Josh Sheppard: I find myself kind of taken aback sometimes when you see millions of birds that are in an area and then, within a specific field, you'd have thousands of geese and ducks, all coexisting, all using that space. And it's just wonderful to know that our off-season, we're not using these fields for growing crops during the winter time, but it's got a great use, it's got an important use as far as the eco-diversity and the biological helpfulness that we can then provide to the migratory waterfowl and just a really great feeling I have as a rice farmer, knowing that that benefit exists just from a little bit of water. Jim Morris: I'm speaking with Charley Mathews Jr, a rice grower in Yuba County. Charley, tell me a little bit about this season and what you see out here. Charley Mathews Jr: Well, there's lots of activity that's for sure. Harvest has quieted down. We had a good harvest season, no rain, dry, everything in and out of the field. But the thing that happened was that the geese showed up extra early. Not sure why that is, but usually for some reason, they know that when they get here, there's going to be water, there's rice left in the fields to eat, and we've been part of this migration pattern longer than human existence out here. And so timing is everything. You want to get harvested before the geese and the ducks show up and it worked out perfect this year. If you can hear in the backgrounds, there's thousands of snow geese, dark geese, Canadian geese, swans, ducks, everything's out here. It's a busy place. I live out here. I get to listen to this at night. It's kind of similar to somebody living next to the ocean, or a stream, or a highway. There's that constant background noise, but it's the noise that you know you're home. Jim Morris: How has rice farming changed, and it's certainly today very complimentary with the Pacific Flyway migration, but has that always been the case? Charley Mathews Jr: As far as we can tell it has. Rice in this area has been grown just about a hundred years now. In the early days, it was very labor-intensive, water was readily available, but machinery, equipment, and things that made efficient were not. The early rice varieties took a long time to grow, the very long growing season. That harvest was typically late October into November, which is the rainy season, there's photos out there of people in the mud trying to gather rice up. But the problem at the time, the other challenge was the migrating birds. Migrating birds thought this was the greatest thing, they could come to these fields full of rice and eat the rice crop. That was a problem for the farmer. We consider ducks and geese at the time a pest. But, over time, we changed kind of our methods. The refuges you see now in the Sacramento Valley were originally created by rice farmers. Charley Mathews Jr: They wanted a place for ducks and geese to go to that was flooded, didn't have rice fields in it, just to get the pressure off their own fields. And that works well today. Our rice varieties are shorter season, we harvest much faster. So the timing was perfect this year. We were all harvested and then the geese and ducks started showing up. Jim Morris: There aren't a lot of options for these millions of birds. We've lost a lot of our historic wetlands. So how does it make you feel as a rice grower that you have this growing season of a food, and then you turn into a tremendous environmental benefit for the state? Charley Mathews Jr: Yeah, it was kind of very fortunate. When I was younger, the standard practice after harvest was burn your rice fields. Well, that created air pollution, and as our urban centers grew larger and larger, we became the nuisance. And so we figured ways around that. And so, the practice now today is flood your fields immediately after harvest, to help in the decomposition of that straw, and fortunately for geese and ducks, that worked great for them too, so now we see them feeding in these areas. There's more flooded fields today than there ever has been. It's been a great replacement for all those wetlands that were lost over the last century. So we've all benefited. Very interesting. Jim Morris: You have a very large bird that is a neighbor and can be noisy, but is a spectacular bird. Tell me about the Tundra swan. Charley Mathews Jr: Oh, they're interesting. The tundra swan is actually quite a large bird. It's about a 20 pounder, about a five and a half foot wingspan, long neck, very distinguishable when they're mixed in with ducks and geese because they're the biggest bird out there. Very beautiful. Jim Morris: Birdwatching is phenomenal in this area. It is also important to be safe. And can you comment on that, about how people should safely look at the birds, because you may be overwhelmed when you see thousands of birds, but you do want to respect the traffic. Charley Mathews Jr: There's occasional traffic out here. We get large groups of birdwatchers that follow each other around, and drive slowly. There's plenty of places. You just have to find them to pull off the road and park safely. Some of these roads are narrow and there's no place to get out of your car. You want to make sure you don't stop in the middle of the road. This isn't something like Yellowstone where traffic is a normal practice, just stops. But here there's areas you need to find, there's nice, quiet country roads. There's plenty of room to pull off and take some great pictures. Jim Morris: I'm with Luke Matthews, Wildlife Programs Manager with the California Rice Commission. And Luke, the Sutter Buttes are in the backdrop, as well as thousands of birds. What do you like about this time of the year? Luke Matthews: I just love the sheer number and variety of waterbirds that come up here and use these rice fields in the Sacramento Valley every winter. Jim Morris: What are some of the things that you're doing, with the help of others to help maintain and enhance the wildlife habitat that we have in Sacramento Valley rice fields? Luke Matthews: We work with a variety of partners on different programs. Right now, there's three I'll talk about. The first is the State Winter Flooding Program, and we work with California Fish and Wildlife to help get acres out to ensure that flooding stays on the landscape. And there's about 45,000 acres in that program right now. A second program is something called Bid4Birds. This is something that I help run through the California Ricelands Waterbird Foundation, and it focuses on providing key shallow flooded habitat for shorebirds on the shoulder seasons of the winter flooding period. And that's sort of the late spring and the early fall time-frame. And then the third is a program that's not quite up and running yet, but it's with the Natural Resources Conservation Service. And it'll provide a wider suite of wildlife-friendly farming practices for growers to enroll in. Jim Morris: So rice farmers and the rice industry work with state and federal groups as well as conservation groups. How important are those partnerships to making sure that this is going to be continued, this environmental habitat for generations to come? Luke Matthews: It's absolutely critical, Jim. Without our conservation partners, we couldn't do it. And the partnerships range far from working with federal entities like US Fish and Wildlife, and Natural Resources Conservation Service down to State Wildlife Management. And then our conservation partners working with birds, from the smallest of shorebirds all the way up to ducks, geese and swans. Jim Morris: Timing is important, in terms of water on the landscape, and also the depth of water. Can you explain a little bit? I mean, it's not a one size fits all approach for the wildlife that we see, because we are talking about more than 200 different wildlife species in rice country. Luke Matthews: Some of the smaller birds need shallower habitat, right? They have shorter feet, shorter beaks. And so, some of our programs focus on providing that shallow habitat and in an earlier time frame because they migrate down earlier. Whereas now, sort of in the winter time, a lot of those other birds are gone and the waterfowl are here in mass, the ducks and geese, and they prefer deeper depth. So you really need to manage water levels and times to really benefit the wildlife to the best of our abilities. Jim Morris: You provide an assessment service where you meet with growers. Tell me a little bit about how that helps. Luke Matthews: So, I will meet with interested rice farmers. Though the way it works is they'll contact me and then I'll go out to the property and just do a biological assessment of the property and talk with that farmer about their goals and objectives for conservation on their property. And then, I'll pair them up with either some of the existing practices and programs I just talked about. And if that's not a great fit, then we'll figure out some other small-scale habitat enhancement that maybe they can do on their own, to really just ramp up the wildlife benefit of their ranch or of their property. Jim Morris: How interested have the people that you've communicated with been in terms of trying to make the most out of what they have on the rice farm? Luke Matthews: People are really interested. These farmers really love their land, and they love to increase the wildlife benefit whenever they can. So folks are pretty interested in it. Jim Morris: Maybe an unfair question, but all of the different wildlife to choose from, do you have a favorite or favorites? Luke Matthews: Wow, that's going to be hard for me to answer. I'm a waterfowl biologist by training, so people would probably think I'll pick a duck, but to be honest, I would go with the prairie falcon. You don't see it as much here in the Sacramento Valley, but they do come down and I just love watching those big, beautiful falcons flying around and hunting in the Sacramento Valley. Jim Morris: I was going to give you a really poor answer and say, well, the next new one that comes in every fall and winter is my favorite. But I don't know for me, I would just throw out sandhill cranes, tundra swans, and bald eagles. And we're having, I think, more bald eagles in the Sacramento Valley, and I think people are surprised at that. 10, 15 minutes from the State Capitol, you can see a bald eagle, that's pretty impressive. Luke Matthews: Yeah, it really is. The sheer variety of species and numbers of species, particularly in the winter time right now is just astounding if you've never seen it. It's something to behold. Jim Morris: I'm speaking with Xeronimo Castaneda, conservation project manager with Audubon, California. And before we get into the rice wildlife connection, Xeronimo, can you tell me a little bit about the overall bird population in the US and how that's going? Xeronimo Castaneda: Recently, there were two studies published that highlighted the significant declines of bird populations across North America. And it's impacting all species of birds, in particular grassland species and shorebirds. Jim Morris: Based on this, it sounds like habitat, preserving it, enhancing it, is more important than ever. Tell me about how rice fields fit into the equation. Xeronimo Castaneda: Here in California, the majority of wetlands, natural wetlands, have been lost to conversion to urban or agriculture. Rice plays a really critical role in the Pacific Flyway along the West Coast, because, as many folks know, to grow rice, you have to flood the fields. And that provides a surrogate habitat for a lot of waterbirds that used to rely on native wetlands. And so, rice fields play this really important role to continue to provide habitat for waterbirds, ducks, geese, and a lot of shorebirds that have been impacted. Jim Morris: What level of cooperation have you seen from the rice growers that you've worked with and spoken with? Xeronimo Castaneda: Oh, the cooperation has been really great. There's a lot of partnerships that have been forming over the last 20 plus years throughout the Sacramento Valley between Audubon and some other NGO organizations and rice growers throughout the Valley. It's been a really collaborative effort. Everyone's come to the table to have constructive conversations about how it can work for both the growers and how wildlife can benefit from these different programs. Jim Morris: What are some of the thoughts that go through your mind when you see it at peak migration? And, by the way, if somebody hasn't seen it, what can they expect in terms of just the numbers, the variety, et cetera, that are going to spend their fall and winter here in the Sacramento Valley? Xeronimo Castaneda: This is one of the most special times a year to be out in the Sacramento Valley. We're right along the Pacific Flyway. So as birds move from their breeding grounds in the North and start moving South, they follow the Central Valley. They key in on the rice fields that are flooded as good habitat. It provides food, it provides shelter. It draws in millions and millions of ducks and geese, hundreds of thousands of shorebirds. And at any given time, you could be driving down the highway and you'll see a field just covered in waterfowl. And then especially when they take off and fly, it's something really special to see. Jim Morris: So, we do have a challenge with the bird population on the decline. Are you optimistic that there could be something better coming, based on these kinds of partnerships with rice growers? Xeronimo Castaneda: Absolutely. All sides are happy with the outcomes. It's a good example of how environmental conservation groups and agriculture can work together to provide benefits to wildlife, and in this case, to waterbirds. And so, hopefully we can use that as an example of how other agricultural sectors can figure out a way to work cooperatively to provide and create habitat. Jim Morris: The California landscape has changed so much over the generations, with tremendous losses of our traditional wetlands. Fortunately, there is progress through ingenuity, partnerships and rice. Those shallow flooded fields are home for millions of creatures, great and small. As we navigate through life's challenges, a trip to rice country could be a chance to exhale, and to appreciate nature and all it has to offer. Here's Charley Mathews Jr. Charley Mathews Jr: Oh, it's a great place. It's very unique. It's kind of like having a national park in your own backyard. Very easy to access, there's no paying, there's no parking that you have to pay for. Anybody can come out here at any time. It's a great place. Jim Morris: My appreciation for our interview subjects, rice growers, Josh Sheppard and Charley Mathews Jr, Luke Matthews with the California Rice Commission, and Xeronimo Castaneda with Audubon, California. I thank them for their time and passion to help the wildlife population thrive. You can find more information including past episodes at podcast.calrice.org. Please subscribe, tell your friends, and we invite all of your comments and questions. Thanks for listening.
24 minutes | 4 months ago
Episode 13: Harvesting Rice with Kim Gallagher
Before your sushi roll or rice bowl, there’s a team effort to grow, harvest, mill and ship the fundamental ingredient – California rice. Fall is a busy time in the Sacramento Valley, with GPS-guided harvesters bringing in more than four billion pounds of grain from a half-million acres of rice fields. In Colusa County, America’s largest rice-growing area, Kim Gallagher continues the family tradition of her father and grandfather. Rice quality and production continue to rise, thanks to hard work, forethought and amazing advancements in technology. Rice varieties have improved. Through conventional breeding advancements, California rice varieties are semi-dwarf, meaning they are shorter and produce more grain than what was planted in past generations. Also, newer varieties can be harvested earlier in the season, helping avoid pitfalls of rain during harvest. Global Positioning System, or GPS technology, has dramatically changed planting, fieldwork and harvest. “I’m having a little bit of fun with that this year,” Kim said. “We have the technology where I’m actually taking these yields, putting them on my laptop, looking to see where the yields are as the harvester is going through and counting how many grains are going through that harvester. It can tell me where my weak spots are in the field and where my strong spots are - where I have high yields. Then I can go back the next year and make decisions based on that yield, what I want to do with fertilizer and where the weeds were. There’s so much information now available.” Kim said she shoots for 10,000 pounds of rice produced per acre, which reflects the amazing growth in productivity in California rice farming during the last 20 to 30 years. Kim and her family run the Erdman Warehouse, which dries and stores more than 30-million pounds of rice each season. Rice is stored with its protective hull in place, which helps maintain its quality and shelf life before milling. The former Biology Teacher is not only enjoying farming, but marvels at the diverse ecosystem found in rice fields. “That’s probably the whole piece of the puzzle that makes this job so satisfying,” she remarked. ”There’s an enormous amount–millions of waterfowl that come in – and they eat first of all the rice and then the bugs. They just love living in our rice fields during the winter. Even after the waterfowl leave, we have all of these shorebirds. This is such an incredible crop. How many things can we feed? There are just so many different wildlife species that make their home out here. All through the year, you can find something amazing out here.”
17 minutes | 5 months ago
S1 E12: Bartell’s Backroads
California has long been a place with great scenery, diversity and creativity. Even with a challenging 2020, there are great places and interesting people hard at work. John Bartell, a reporter for ABC 10-TV in Sacramento, has spent years chronicling the hidden gems of our state in Bartell’s Backroads, where he “uncovers unique sights and interesting people you might not find in the typical tour book.” Some of the topics John has covered include harvesting Sea Monkeys (brine shrimp in Mono Lake), Bigfoot aficionados in the Gold Country (John says he has seen the legendary creature), Banana Slugs in Santa Cruz, carnivorous plants, tarantula mating season, Corning’s Giant Olive and many more. “California is just amazing!” John remarked. “It’s such a huge state. We have so many different regions. So many different backgrounds with people, where it’s farming, the city. There is just really an immense amount of backroads. There are hidden little gems and people stories wherever you go.” John grew up on a farm in Oregon and has a fascination for agriculture, something that is conveyed in his reports. His travels include covering rice seeding in the Sacramento Valley, which features fast-moving, GPS-guided airplanes. “Northern California, the Sacramento Valley specifically, is an agricultural mecca,” he said. “It’s so fun. I did a half-hour special just on some of what we grow in our state. It’s very fascinating to see!” John’s work is similar to legendary PBS reporter Huell Howser, who left a major impression on many in his television reports. Howser passed in 2013, but his travel legacy lives on. Here’s a link to find out more about Bartell’s Backroads, including an interactive map where you can plan your post-pandemic road trip. John said he welcomes story ideas. Jim Morris: Dinosaurs in California? You bet! John Bartell on video clip: The Cabazon Dinosaurs. From Interstate 10 in Riverside County, the two concrete beasts dominate the skyline. Jim Morris: Are you a fan of banana slugs? This is for you. Speaker on video clip: And then it's got a mouth which has more teeth in it than a great white shark. John Bartell on video clip: That's a lot of teeth. Speaker on video clip: Thousands and thousands of little tiny, tiny teeth. John Bartell on video clip: Yeah. Now we're talking. Jim Morris: Harvesting sea monkeys. Absolutely. John Bartell on video clip: On the salty waters of Mono Lake, sea monkeys serve a much different purpose. John Bartell here on Mono Lake where we're doing a little brine shrimp fishing. You may know them as sea monkeys, but these guys are not just some obscure pets. They're actually fish food. Jim Morris: Welcome to Ingrained, the California rice podcast. I'm your host, Jim Morris. Proud to have spent more than 30 years helping farmers and ranchers tell their stories. And today I'm thrilled to visit with someone bringing an alternative to the breakneck modern news cycle. John Bartell's career in news began in 2008 in Medford, Oregon. His multiple award winning career has taking him to Pennsylvania and Texas before where he currently works at ABC10 TV in Sacramento. And John, before we get into Bartell's Backroads, you have been doing some breaking news recently. So tell me a little bit about that. And you have to really work on the fly on these things. How about the Zinger Ranch shoot that you did in Vacaville recently? John Bartell: Yeah, so you know it is fire season. Fire season is getting longer and longer in California now. And oftentimes, fire season takes me off of my normal path, which is Bartell's Backroads. And I get pulled into doing fire coverage. It's an animal sanctuary. I believe there's around 40 to 80 different types of just livestock that lives on this ranch there. And this was just one of these crazy moments where it's kind of settled in a canyon just outside of Vacaville, and a fire was coming on from the east and the west, down this canyon, right towards one of the livestock pens in there. This fire is rapidly moving down the hill. Oh my gosh, it is just moving here. Everyone around here is doing what they can to save these 40 animals. All right, the gate is open here. Ducks, I wish you well. The reason they can't remove these animals right now is because, one, it is extremely hard to get any large vehicles up here. Two, we are surrounded by flames. You can't just open up and let these animals out at this point. There's nowhere for them to go. Luckily, those fire crews, they did, what's called a backburn. A backburn is essentially you set the grass on fire, hoping to get it burn up all of the fuel before the major fire hits your area. And luckily, it worked. Jim Morris: I believe you were responding to people almost real-time on Facebook, which was fascinating to me. And you were also saving the animals, in a way, with some of the steps you were doing. So how do you juggle all that in the field? John Bartell: I have been in news since 2008, and it has just changed dramatically. We're doing these Facebook Lives. Everything is live now when you're going on there. So it's just me, my cell phone, and you're just telling what's happening at that very moment. And it is tough because you're working off a phone. And it is amazing in a sense because viewers can ask me questions as it's happening, and I can see what's going on. And it is a juggling act. Jim Morris: So, Bartell's Backroads is described as the unique sites and interesting people you may not find in the typical tour book. John Bartell: It's easy to take the same route. There's over 50,000 miles of California state highway. And it only takes you to well-known destinations. But, if you veer off the highway system, I mean really off it, away from the city streets, far from your neighborhood boulevard, you may just find yourself on one Bartell's Backroads. Jim Morris: So, why is California such an ideal place for these kinds of stories? John Bartell: I am not a Californian, a native one, anyways. I consider myself one now. I'm from Oregon, Northeastern Oregon. And I have discovered that California is just this amazing place. It is such a huge state. We have so many different regions, so many different backgrounds with people, whether it's farming, the city. There is really just an immense amount of backroads. And there's hidden little gems. There's people stories everywhere you go. And that's what Bartell's Backroads is. It's my discoveries along with my, "Hey, I'm going to pull off on this road and see what's down it." And a lot of it is just my discovery of California, being here, living here about four and a half years now. Jim Morris: COVID-19, how has that affected what you do? John Bartell: When COVID hit in March, about mid-March, the station, ABC10, decided that maybe it's not the best time to promote traveling at this time until everyone gets a handle on COVID. So for about two, two and a half months, almost three months, we did not run Bartell's Backroads. So that was a huge impact on there. But, before COVID hit, I was actually on a weeklong tour down in southern California. We had banked about 28 stories while we were down in Southern California. And then when the station decided, and the state of California, "Okay, you can socially distance, do these small travels to these remote areas," we decided, "Okay, it's time to start Bartell's Backroads up." So what you're seeing on broadcast and what you're seeing on the internet now was shot before March. We are still not currently recording any new Backroads at this moment. That is still to be announced when we will start filming new episodes. Jim Morris: So when you do get back to that regular travel schedule, how many miles do you put in? How many hours? You may find the perfect subject, but it could be five-hours or more from Sacramento, right? John Bartell: This show was really more of... It was a regional, as in we would cover 16 counties, our 16 county viewing area. That's what it started out at. Then it was northern California, and now it spans all of California. So I've had this goal of hitting all 58 counties in California. We are almost there. We've just got two, three counties left to finish up here. But yeah, it's not uncommon for us to travel 300-miles in a day to get some of these stories. And a lot of times, we'll pick up multiple stories throughout the day. Jim Morris: When I see you, I think of Huell Howser. I suspect you may have heard that once or twice. And Huell, he's still on TV, and he's going to be on long past our time, I think. But how do you liken your work to Huell Howser, the similarities and perhaps the differences? John Bartell: I have watched so many episodes of Huell Howser right now. I'm not going to lie. I do take a lot of ideas from Huell. He is a California expert. He's also someone that is not a California native. He's from Tennessee. And, so, I really look up to him. And he does have a different style than I did. He's very cheery. It's almost like a live style. What he does is it's basically one shot the whole time. It's funny that you actually brought that up. So, before COVID, I was working on a tribute piece to Huell Howser and had plans to interview Luis Fuentes, his photographer, who has a book out. And basically, I wanted to do this tribute piece, Five Corners of California. And, Huell Howser did this before, too. So he visited all the survey markers on all five corners of California. Now I say five. Remember, there's a little dogleg in, in California there, which lands right in Lake Tahoe. As soon as COVID is, we got a handle on this, we're going to get right back on that. Jim Morris: Oh, that's awesome. And I think he was indeed a legend and really paved the way for a lot of great reports and was featured twice in the Simpsons. So that's pretty cool too. You don't see that every day. So in 2017, we met. You covered rice seeding in the Sacramento Valley. And for those who haven't
15 minutes | 6 months ago
S1 E11: Giants in the Rice Fields
Head north of Sacramento along any of the major freeways, you’ve likely seen the lush green rice fields with ubiquitous wildlife such as herons, hawks, and egrets. What may surprise you is just how diverse the rice field ecosystem is – and the unseen giants at home in those fields. Nearly 230 wildlife species depend on Sacramento Valley rice fields for food and a resting place, including the giant gartersnake, a threatened species. Although it has “giant” in its name, this creature is, at most, five-feet long. These snakes are heavily dependent on rice fields for their survival; having lost most of their earlier habitat – traditional wetlands, which have been lost over the generations. Anna Jordan and Allie Essert of the U.S. Geological Survey are among those working to maintain and enhance the giant garter snake population. They work in rice fields, trapping and tracking the snakes. The more they understand about this species, the better chance it has at surviving. This is unusual work may not appeal to many, but these biologists love what they do. “It’s really kind of funny. Whenever I tell people what my job is, the first question I get is ‘Why?’” Anna said. “It’s a hard question to answer. You don’t get that question when you’re an accountant or a doctor. I love what I do and I wouldn’t change it for the world.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rYOZtOG4CDg Those who don’t like snakes – and there are many in that category – may not realize how valuable they are. “For all of the people who don’t like snakes, you probably don’t like pest species either,” Allie remarked. “Snakes do a lot to keep pest populations down. They help to regulate the ecosystem as an aquatic predator.” Here are links to more information on this rice field giant: USGS Article - Construction and analysis of a giant gartersnake population projection model Article - Conservation reliance of a threatened snake on rice agriculture Article - Behavioral response of giant gartersnakes to the relative availability of aquatic habitat on the landscape WERC Scientists Find that Threatened Snakes Depend on Agriculture Episode Transcript Anna Jordan: It's really kind of funny. Whenever I tell people what my job is, the first question I get is, why? It's kind of a hard question to answer, because you don't get that question when you're an accountant or a doctor. So, it's definitely really interesting and I love what I do and I wouldn't change it for the world. Jim Morris: Anna Jordan and her coworker, Allie Essert have really unusual jobs and I mean really unusual. But, what they and other colleagues are doing here in the rice fields of the Sacramento Valley, should pay big dividends for our ecosystem. Welcome to Ingrained, the California Rice Podcast. I'm your host, Jim Morris. Proud to have worked with California farmers and ranchers for 30 years. And today, I'm in the Natomas area at a rice farm, about a 15-minute drive from the state capitol. Sacramento Valley rice fields are home to nearly 230 wildlife species. And that includes millions of ducks and geese, more than a dozen types of raptors, and world-class habitat for shorebirds. Jim Morris: In my travels, I've seen bald eagle parents teaching their young how to hunt in a rice field. I watched an epic grind of about 30,000 snow geese in one shallow flooded rice field in the winter. I had to stop while a river otter family crossed the road in Yolo County, that was awesome. And only yesterday in Colusa County, I watched a muskrat peek its head up from a small canal next to a rice field. One of the most unusual species we have is also heavily dependent on rice fields for its survival. It's the giant gartersnake. I'm speaking with Anna Jordan with the US Geological Survey. And can I ask what your title is and how long you've been working with giant garter snakes? Anna Jordan: I am a wildlife biologist with the USGS and I'm also one of the project managers on our giant gartersnake project. And I've been working at the US Geological Survey since 2014. Basically right after I graduated college, I started and never stopped. And I loved it enough to start managing the project. Jim Morris: How important is it to maintain this habitat? We have a lot of urbanization in this area. It's critical for the snakes, right? Anna Jordan: So, the giant gartersnakes are a federally and state listed species. They are threatened. And the major reason for that is because of habitat loss. There used to be historically a lot of native wetlands, but like you said, with urbanization, a lot of those wetlands have been completely replaced by agriculture. And in some places that agriculture is orchards or sunflower fields, very dry crops, but giant gartersnakes are a wetland obligate species, which means they need water to survive. And, in the Sacramento Valley, which a lot of people may not know, we grow so much rice and this rice basically acts like a wetland for snakes, and it's what allows their population to exist at all. And so it's so important for them. Jim Morris: So we're right along Highway 99, checking out traps and Anna, how many do you look at in a given time that you're out here? Anna Jordan: So, our trap lines are made up of usually about 50 traps, but we can go upwards to a hundred, depending on how big the canal is because we want to get a good even sampling of the length of the canal. This one is only 50 and they're are about 10 to 20 meters apart. And that really just makes it so that, if we have a snake, we know that we're sampling the entire canal and where they could possibly be to get an idea of what the population is like there. Jim Morris: Oh great. You have a very large pole and you're going to see what we have here. So why don't you go forward and do that please? And this is a trap that's what, about three feet long, I guess? What do you have in there? Anna Jordan: Look at that. Lucky snake number one in trap number one. And there's also a crayfish with him, which is pretty common. There's a lot of crayfish and these rice fields, so that's a pretty common trap content. And here we go, this looks like an adult snake. I think it is a male, which you can tell by the length of their tail, but we do also probe them to check for the hemipene pockets. Jim Morris: This one looks pretty lively and healthy to me, but you're the expert. So tell me about the overall health here. Anna Jordan: Yeah, I would say the snake seems pretty healthy, rambunctious, lively, not super happy that I took him out of the water. But yeah, he looks great to me, no scars, nice full tail. Sometimes they will have blunt tails and that's usually from predation or sometimes the crayfish will even chop them a little bit. And that happens even without us trapping. We will measure the mass of the snake. And we will also measure the length, both from the snout to the vent, which is this right here. And then the vent to the tail, to give us an idea of how big the snake is and can help us determine the overall growth rate of the population and how big the snakes are. We will also mark each snake. This actually looks like a new snake. So, this is a snake we've never captured before, which is awesome because we've been out here trapping for 20 years and we're still catching new snakes, which means that the population is still growing. Anna Jordan: And that's really good to see. We will also give them a pit tag, which is the same as you would give a cat or a dog, a microchip. And that lets us know, in case the brand fades a little bit, that we know we have the same snake. Because they are a listed species, obviously we really care about how their population is doing. And one thing that we found actually is that the presence of rice fields not only increases the possibility of giant gartersnakes being present in an area, but it also increases the probability that they will stay in an area year after year. And that's directly affected to the proportion of rice in an area. I'm really optimistic because, after that drought ended and farmers are able to grow rice and there's more water available, we've seen that population start to bounce back. So, California will continue to have droughts, but as long as we're able to keep that water available, then giant gartersnakes, I'm really optimistic about their population increasing. Jim Morris: They are a key indicator of the ecosystem, I imagine, because they interact with so many other species. Anna Jordan: They are a very important of the ecosystem. Almost every species in an ecosystem is important. And that includes the species that humans may not necessarily like, but giant gartersnakes are really important in keeping pest populations down. And if you remove one species, it affects everything else. So you really want to protect the entire community and not just the ones that you think are cute. Though personally, I think giant gartersnakes are very cute, especially for snakes. Jim Morris: I have to tell you, I was slightly disappointed when I first heard the name giant garter snake, because as a fan of B movie monsters, Anaconda comes to mind, 1997, J-Lo, John Voight, Ice Cube and an Anaconda, the size of a Winnebago. And that's not the case here, but are they still giants in their own world, if you will? Anna Jordan: Honestly, I was a little bit disappointed the first time I saw a giant gartersnake as well, because you hear the word giant and you think these giant boa constrictors, they are giant for gartersnakes. They actually did used to get larger in the southern portion of their range. But due to habitat loss, they have been extirpated, which means they are no longer present in that southern portion. Up north, they do still get pretty big. They can be about three to five feet, but that's not really as giant as you would think. Jim Morris: Do you have friends that have
14 minutes | 7 months ago
S1 E10: Avocets, Ibis and Stilts, Oh My!
The lush green color you see in the Sacramento Valley during summer is from a half-million acres of young rice fields. Those fields are not only beautiful to see, their ecosystem is impressive in its abundance and diversity. “Rice ecosystems are fascinating marshes maintained by human beings,” said naturalist, artist and educator John Muir Laws. “Many of the birds have adopted these. You look at them – there’s shallow water and green plants growing out of them. That’s a great place to find food. That’s a great place to nest.” Laws has made several treks to rice country, including with nature journalists, whose artwork chronicling their natural surroundings with enthusiasm, love and creativity. His new book with Emilie Lygren, “How to Teach Nature Journaling: Curiosity, Wonder, Attention,” is another in a long line of informative and inspiring books about our natural world. Nearly 230 wildlife species depend on Sacramento Valley rice fields for their habitat, and early summer is a critical time for many. Shorebirds such as American Avocets and Black-necked Stilts are nesting and raising their next generation, as they have for generations. Additionally, White-faced Ibis, Egrets, Herons and many other birds are frequently seen and well-fed. Seeing wildlife is a daily occurrence for rice grower Hans Herkert in Colusa County. “It may be my favorite part of rice farming is the synergy between the rice farmers and wildlife,” he remarked. His two and a half-year-old daughter, Harper, occasionally joins him in the field and is an expert spotter of Snowy Egrets among the rice plants. Greg Yarris is Science Coordinator for the Central Valley Joint Venture, a partnership of 19 organizations and agencies to improve bird habitat throughout the Central Valley. As a biologist, he has a great appreciation for what rice fields provide for wildlife. “When I see rice fields, I think of birds being fed, especially during the winter. But I also see an extensive breeding ground during the spring and summer. The beauty of rice fields is it provides year-round habitat. During the fall and winter, we get millions of ducks and geese that come down from the north, and during the spring and summer we have local Mallards, Cinnamon Teal and Gadwall that will make this home.” Yarris said rice is so valuable to wildlife that, in the Joint Venture’s implementation plan, they have a goal to maintain at least 350,000 acres of shallow-flooded rice fields during the fall and winter. Since the vast majority of California’s original wetlands are gone, he said the value of rice fields to our environment is significant. “For us to replace the value of rice with comparable natural wetlands would be extremely difficult and not cost effective,” he said. There are several programs working to help rice growers maintain or enhance wildlife habitat, including the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, BirdReturns, Bid4Birds and a complementary program with wheat growers. Here’s a quick look at some of the wonderful wildlife found in rice fields during summertime Here’s a link to much more information on wildlife in Sacramento Valley rice fields. Episode Transcript John Muir Laws: Rice ecosystems are fascinating marshes maintained by human beings. Many of the birds have adopted these. You look at them. There's shallow water and green plants growing out of them. That's a great place to find food. That's a great place to nest. Jim Morris: Naturalist, artist, and educator John Muir Laws is passionate about rice farming in the Sacramento Valley. It provides food and a resting place for millions of birds. This time of the year, shorebirds nest and raise their next generation. Come along as we venture to the thriving ecosystem found in California rice fields. Jim Morris: Welcome to Ingrained, the California rice podcast. I'm your host, Jim Morris, grateful to have worked for 30 years with farmers and ranchers. It's summer, and one of my favorite times of the year in the Sacramento Valley. You have the rice fields with a lot of color and plenty of wildlife getting food and rest. Here's more from John Muir Laws on two of the most common and beautiful shorebirds you can find in rice fields right now. John Muir Laws: The black-necked stilt is a beautiful critter you can find in the rice fields. Bold, contrasting black and white body and incredibly long, bright red legs. And they will hunt by carefully stepping through shallow water and pecking at whatever little crustaceans or other small animals they can see in front of them. So, very, very small food types, so a long, thin, very precise bill. John Muir Laws: American avocets have a beautiful orange head, soft orange color, and a contrasting black and white body. If you look carefully, you'll notice that their bill is not straight, but it curves up slightly at the tip. And what they'll do is they hunt by touch. So, they'll lower their head to the water surface and move it rapidly back and forth, side to side, side to side, side to side. And where they bump into a small crustacean floating in the water, gobble, gobble, gobble, they nibble it up and then go on to the next one. So, you'll see them doing this touch feeding as they slowly move forward through the water, their head going back and forth, back and forth in front of them. Jim Morris: I'm in Colusa County at Hans Herkert's rice fields. It's such a peaceful environment out here, Hans. A little breezy today, but very nice. How has this year gone so far? Hans Herkert: Yeah, good morning, Jim. It's gone really well so far. It's been an early season. In fact, this is the earliest season in my short tenure. I believe we've just finished planting my eighth rice crop. Started planting in late April and finished on the 21st of May this year. Jim Morris: So, we're about a third of the way through the growing season, roughly, and that'll be a fall harvest. What are some of the things you see in these rice fields besides the plants themselves? Hans Herkert: Lots of wildlife year-round. This time of year, we're seeing a lot of killdeer on the rollovers on the levees. They prefer that habitat. We're some avocets in the fields, some shorebirds, and some ducks, and ducklings this time of year as they're being weaned up. Jim Morris: This is all compatible, right? You can grow a crop and also help the environment too? Hans Herkert: Absolutely. I think it may be my favorite part of rice farming is the synergy between the rice farmers and the wildlife. Jim Morris: There are conservation programs that help this whole cause. What are some of those that you know and have participated in, and how helpful are they? Hans Herkert: They've been very helpful. I've participated in a few, Jim. My first involvement was with a program called BirdReturns, and I've also been involved with a program through the Natural Resources Conservation Service. And now, for the first time this year, a great program through the California Rice Commission, Bid4Birds. All three of those programs have been helpful to me as a beginning farmer and helpful to the environment and to the wildlife species that really are thriving out here. Hans Herkert: I think I could probably say that if those programs didn't exist, wildlife would still flourish in rice fields. But my opinion of these programs are that they enable growers to enact practices, extend some of the practices that they're already doing, and enact some new practices on their operations, provide some funds to make it feasible. There's a certain cost to managing, and pumping water, and maintaining that shallow level of water on the field. And so, if we can manage water earlier in the season and later in the season, on those shoulders of the wildlife season in both the winter time and spring time, that's really what these programs are enabling us to do. Jim Morris: I think it's wonderful to see the nests and to see generation after generation of wildlife out here. Do you have some favorite birds or ones that you see more often out here? Hans Herkert: I definitely have a few favorites. Great-blue herons are the big ones, and they're fun to watch. I've got a two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Harper, and she enjoys coming out here. I tell you, she can spot a snowy egret every bit as good as any three-year-old I know. She's really up to speed on her bird identification, and it's fun to watch her. We have a lot of bitterns, and they're not flashy birds, but I tend to like their personality. The American bittern is another favorite of mine. Jim Morris: And they're looking at you like, "You don't really see me. You just think you do." Yeah, they're wonderful birds. And I love them too. You mentioned your daughter, and I want to talk a little bit about family. Your dad, Bob, left quite a legacy in California rice. One of the things that comes to my mind is when he brought author, Marc Reisner out to rice country, Marc was not keen on growing rice in California, and after Bob and others visited with him and showed him the rice fields, Marc Reisner thought completely differently and became a real advocate for growing rice. So, tell me about your dad's legacy and how it may impact your daily work here on the farm. Hans Herkert: It impacts me greatly. He left such a substantial mark on the rice industry and as on me, as his son, and he instilled his passion for rice farming, the rice industry and how it not only co-exists, but really thrives with wildlife species in the Sacramento Valley as well. And so, the Marc Reisner story is such a great story, and it's been remembered over the years for a great reason. And I remember being eight or nine years old with both my dad and Marc Reisner driving around the Valley, looking at rice farms and looking at birds. And that's a memory that I'll carry forever. And it seems as though it's made an impact on our industry and rightfully so. I think that the California rice indus
11 minutes | 8 months ago
S1 E9: Raining Rice in the Sacramento Valley
It’s an annual occurrence throughout the Sacramento Valley; something countless motorists have seen while heading north of Sacramento – skilled pilots flying high-speed, GPS-guided airplanes, planting rice over a half-million acres of fields. Rick Richter of Richter Aviation in Maxwell, Colusa County, has been seeding rice fields since 1979. It’s not only his profession, it’s also a great passion for him. “It’s so rewarding to see that rice come up,” Richter remarked. “It’s a beautiful green within a week or two after you plant it, and the whole area turns into just a magic carpet. You watch it all summer long, and then it comes to a golden yellow/brown at harvest, and you just get that feeling that I did this. I provided part of this 500,000-acres in this valley for people around the world to use. It just hits home, I’ll tell you.” May is a spectacularly busy month for rice seeding in California. Pilots frequently work before sunup and after sundown to keep up with the workload. One of the biggest advancements in this effort is Global Positioning System (GPS) technology, which provides tremendous accuracy for the pilots, who often exceed 100-mph while seeding fields. Safety is a crucial element for ag pilots, who operate under strict state and federal regulations. Richter said an extremely helpful program is the Professional Aerial Applicator Support System (PASSS Program), which has been running for more than 20 years, and has proven to lower accident rates. The role agricultural pilots play in farming is huge. Rice grower Kurt Richter relies on the pinpoint work of his cousin Rick and Rick’s son, Nick, to seed his rice fields. “The pilot plays a huge role in the quality of the product that you’re going to put out at the end of the season,” Kurt said. “The seed application just in and of itself is one of the most important applications of the year…. A good quality pilot can definitely make or break any particular crop.” Here are more comments from Kurt on the important role agricultural pilots play: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OKA5CDchSX8 For more information on agricultural pilots, here’s a link to the California Agricultural Aircraft Association. Episode Transcript Jim Morris: California rice holds many surprises. Whether it's the vital wildlife connection, the scale and efficiency of growing and milling rice, or the billions of dollars this industry generates for our economy, the impacts are huge. One of the most surprising facets of California rice is happening here in mid spring, planting the crop via airplane, and it is an amazing process. Jim Morris: Welcome to Ingrained, the California Rice Podcast. I'm your host, Jim Morris, and I've been helping farmers and ranchers tell their story for 30 years. I'm in the Sacramento Valley today covering an important part of the rice growing season. Jim Morris: I'm in Colusa County speaking with Rick Richter of Richter Aviation, and you've been an ag pilot for more than 40 years. Let's start with the early days. What was your background and what interested you in this profession? Rick Richter: Well Jim, I started out with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Agriculture from Chico State College. It was just so hard back then to try to get into farming, which was what I wanted to do. I had a passion for aviation, so I learned to fly while going to Chico State. When I got to Maxwell, I was looking for opportunities to work and my cousin had just started this business here east of Maxwell, crop dusting business, in 1976. It was perfect timing for me. I talked with him, Paul Richter, and he made a spot for me and we started loading airplanes, and from then it grew to flying their planes, and, three years later, in 1979 was my first a year as an ag pilot. Jim Morris: And so 41 years in, that's an amazing run. How many flights or hours would that be in the air? Rick Richter: Jim, that's about 22,000 hours to date, counting all my flying, which isn't much in the general aviation side. It's mostly ag flying. Jim Morris: Do you ever have dreams about flying when you're resting or can you leave the 9:00 to 5:00 at the office? Rick Richter: It's tough. It's tough. This is our life this time of year. We do five months out here from May to August in the rice business. It's a every day, 4:00 in the morning until dark. Sometimes in the summer, usually around the 4th of July, we'll get a break and start getting Sundays off, so it's kind of a treat for us. Jim Morris: It is a busy time right now in the spring. Tell me what an average day looks like in terms of seeding the rice fields. Rick Richter: Well we're up at 4:00 in the morning, we're here at 5:00 to 6:00, the crews roll in, we're out on the jobs by 6:30 and from then until dark sometimes we're out, depending on the workload. Jim Morris: What happens when they're seeding? You have a pre-germinated seed. I mean, just walk me through some of the major steps in it. It's fascinating to see that seed being loaded. They're working like an Indy pit crew, I think. Rick Richter: Oh yeah, we pride ourselves on the speed that it takes, that we can get the load out. The seed is soaked for at least 24 hours prior to our applications. It's brought to us in bulk trailers, bulk semi-truck trailers, to the airstrips, usually the closest strip within two miles of the field so we can make our turnarounds quicker and get more done. Jim Morris: What speed can you travel? What's the highest speed and what's the lowest altitude you might be traveling depending on the circumstances of each rice farm? Rick Richter: Well, we're probably seeding rice about 30 feet in the air, depending on the wind. The windier conditions require a lower altitude, but spraying, we're within 10 feet of the crop and going about 120 to 130 miles per hour on some of the more modern turbine aircraft. Some of the faster ones will go up to 150, and that's moving fast compared to the old days when it was just 100 miles an hour in an old Ag Cat. The professional ag pilots that we have nowadays don't leave anything for granted. We take pride in what we do and we want to be there for our children and our families at the end of the day. Jim Morris: Talk about the change in technology since when you started and the importance of global positioning system, GPS. Rick Richter: GPS is the biggest breakthrough that's ever come to this industry, and it just changed it forever. It's amazing we can get within three feet of our swath and multiple swaths at a time, the fields all laid out for us, hardly any problems. It's just amazing what it did. It took away the job from the flaggers and the crews that we had to position on each field, and it allowed it for much more efficiency in the operation. Jim Morris: The term crop duster comes up a lot, much more than the term ag pilot. What's the name that you think is most fitting? Rick Richter: Crop duster is just an old moniker from the back of the old days when they dusted crops. But nowadays they're professional pilots. We are required to have training, continuing education every year, licensed by the state, licensed by the Federal Aviation Regulations as commercial pilots. And the operators are actually licensed as commercial ag operators. So there's plenty of regulation in our business. We take it in stride. We understand that we need to have that to keep our skills honed and to protect the crop protection materials. Jim Morris: You have the good fortune of working with your son. When did that start and how does that make you feel, because you're getting closer to retirement? Rick Richter: It just makes me feel great. He's such a major link in this operation. We're getting in the process of turning it over to him. It's kind of hard for me to let go of the reins. The good thing about it, he understands that, and he's taking that in stride. He knows that someday it'll be all his to worry about. Jim Morris: This is Nick, and you have a traditional looking yellow airplane and he has a white one that looks a little different. Now I'm no aviation expert. Tell me the difference of what you fly and what Nick flies. Rick Richter: Well I'm flying a 1979 biplane, and he's flying a 2011 Thrush S2R with a Pratt Whitney engine on it. It goes faster. It carries the same amount of speed, but it's a sleeker, modern-looking airplane, probably the wave of the future. The old biplanes are kind of being in a thing of the past, but they're good, strong, sturdy airplanes and they're more suited to our country where the fields are maybe smaller. You can get a tighter turn out of it. But he enjoys that speed and the wider swath that he gets with the larger wing on that airplane. Jim Morris: With the COVID-19 crisis, agriculture has rightly been deemed an essential industry. And, of course, it's easy here in Maxwell to see that with farms and farm-related industries. But what's your comment about the value of agriculture to California? Rick Richter: It's worth so much to our economy here in California. I'm not sure of the numbers, but just the rice business alone contribute so much to the local economy. Everybody's job in this area depends on rice. Jim Morris: How do you feel when people are eating a rice bowl or risotto, paella, sushi, et cetera, you had a hand in that? Rick Richter: Well, I sure did. I've been to restaurants in the South that have used California medium grain rice in their sushi. I tell them all about it. I say, "Hey, I know where that came from." Jim Morris: Rick, tell me a little bit about your level of pride. You're coming to the end of your career. You've done a lot. You and other ag pilots have done a lot to keep rice on tables. Rick Richter: It's so rewarding to see that rice come up and, it's beautiful green after you plant it within a week or two, and the whole area turns into just a magic carpet. You watch it all summer long, and then it comes to golden yellow-brown at harvest. And you just
8 minutes | 9 months ago
S1 E8: Essential Work in Rice Country
Tractors are working ground, airplanes are flying and mills are in full production, marking another busy spring in Sacramento Valley rice country. There are marked differences this year compared to recent history, starting with the weather. A dryer spring has enabled growers to get a much earlier start on working ground for planting. “We're probably two-and-a-half, maybe close to three weeks ahead of where we were last year,” remarked grower Mike DeWit. “I don't know what a normal year is anymore, but we're at least two weeks ahead.” GPS-guided tractors and airplanes help rice growers be as efficient as they can – getting the most out of resources including water and maximizing production. For consumers, that translates into a consistent supply of premium-quality rice. 2020 will long be remembered globally for COVID-19. While the important work of sheltering in place continues, farmers and mills are carefully proceeding with their vital work of producing food. Rice is deemed as an essential industry in California, as is agriculture as a whole. Many steps have been taken at the farm and mill level to protect employees. “My foreman, Luis Beltran has been with me for 12 years now, and has taken the COVID situation real seriously,” DeWit said. “He's got the Clorox wipes. He's got the nitrile gloves. He's got everything the guys need, and makes sure they're well supplied in the tractors.” On rice farms, social distancing is the norm. Tractor operators frequently work fields spanning hundreds of acres with no other workers nearby. Rice mills have also adapted rigorous additional steps for employee safety. “We have stepped up our sanitation, we have people who now their sole purpose is to sanitize and disinfect all surfaces in the facility,” said Jennifer Kalfsbeek, Senior Vice President and Chief Operations Officer at Sun Valley Rice in Colusa County, one of more than a dozen rice mills in the Sacramento Valley. “We've actually put up some clear window barriers in places where truck drivers would be in contact with our employees. We have an adequate supply of personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies. We've expanded our supply vendors to meet our needs, so we have added additional sanitation pumps throughout the facility, and increased sanitizing our truck driver areas.” Kalfsbeek added that there is some natural social distancing in the mill. They have also staggered breaks and lunch times to help maintain social distancing. The consumer response to COVID-19 has included less demand for rice from restaurants and much more demand at retail. Kalfsbeek said retail orders have started to slow and consumers should soon begin seeing more rice in supermarkets. Here’s a link to more information on employee safety on California rice farms and mills. Episode Transcript Jim Morris: Springtime in the Sacramento Valley means it's rice planting time. I'm in Robbins in Sutter County as tractors are working ground, and a new crop will soon be planted. Welcome to Ingrained, The California Rice Podcast. I'm your host, Jim Morris. This is my 30th year working with farmers and ranchers to help tell their stories. Jim Morris: Today I'm in Sutter County, and especially during this period of incredible challenge with COVID-19 it is so nice to see growers getting fields ready for a new season. This is a brief field trip with plenty of social distancing. Agriculture in California is essential and designated as such. So with proper precautions, farmers and mills are continuing their important work. I'm with grower Mike Dewit. Mike, we have tractors working. What's happening today? Mike DeWit: Well, we're on our third operation across this field, just trying to dry up the ground. What we're doing now is a chisel plow, and we're just getting that last little bit of moisture exposed to these nice warm days we've had the last few days. Jim Morris: What other steps will need to take place before you plant the rice this year? Mike DeWit: This particular field, we will disc it one more time just to smooth out some of those bigger clods that are out there. Then we'll level it one time with a GPS scraper. Then we'll apply the fertilizer, the water, and plant it. I've got May 5, May 6 in mind for a planting date. So, it's another three weeks of groundwork. Mostly it's just time letting the ground dry up. Jim Morris: You mentioned GPS, there is a lot of high-tech equipment being used. Can you comment about that? Mike DeWit: Yeah. It's a GPS scraper that we roll across the field, and it's just a scraper. What it does is, the GPS system tells the scraper itself when to cut ground, when to fill ground. It's all done by the GPS, and it just takes a good operator, and drive a straight line, and it happens. Jim Morris: But also airplanes use GPS, and I mean the technology has really changed over the decades, hasn't it? Mike DeWit: It's been incredible this GPS technology. It's allowed us to save money and fuel because the tractor drives a straighter line. It's allowed us to have precisely leveled fields with the scrapers. The airplanes, it's eliminated a lot of their labor force because they can do it without the flaggers at the end of the fields. It's been incredible, and again, there's so much more to it that I'm not in tuned with. I'm old school. I like doing things the old way, but I sure see the benefits, and I've reaped the benefits. I just got to learn it. Jim Morris: More rice for consumers, and also more efficient water use? Mike DeWit: Oh, absolutely. Yeah. It's cut our water use quite a bit with the precision leveling. We don't have the high spots that we need to cover. We can have the straight contours, and our checks make them perfect rectangles. It's just been a benefit to everybody involved. Jim Morris: This is a much different year than we've had in recent years. Tell me about the timeframe that you've seen so far, and how helpful that is. Mike DeWit: We're probably two-and-a-half, maybe close to three weeks ahead of where we were last year. I don't know what a normal year is anymore, but we're at least two weeks ahead. Jim Morris: You mentioned your workers, and we have a wide open area here in Sutter County. Tell me a little bit about your care for the workers, not only now, but in this COVID-19 era. Mike DeWit: We're well prepared. I appreciate these guys. I can't do it without them. I have one in particular, my foreman, Luis Beltran, he's like a brother to me. He's been with me for 12 years now, and has taken the COVID situation real seriously. He's got the Clorox wipes. He's got the nitrile gloves. He's got everything the guys need, and makes sure they're well supplied in the tractors. Jim Morris: Social distancing in the city and the country possibly look a little differently, particularly out here in rice country. Tell me what social distancing looks like here in Robbins. Mike DeWit: Well, if you had a camera right now, you could look around. I've got one guy on this tractor in a 300-acre field, and just to the east of him there's another guy on a tractor in a 300-acre field, so they're no closer than a half mile apart at any given time during the day. Jim Morris: What's the timeframe then once that crop is planted? Will you be harvesting, and are you optimistic based on the weather we've had at least to date? Mike DeWit: I'm very optimistic. The weather's been pretty good. We had little rain showers come through here a couple weeks ago, but we've gotten past that. Again, we're two, three weeks ahead. A May 10, May 15 planting date would mean about a October 1 beginning of the harvest. That's real encouraging. Jim Morris: We follow our farm visit with a second part of producing rice in California, a visit to a mill in the Sacramento Valley. I'm speaking with Jennifer Kalfsbeek, Senior Vice President and Chief Operations Officer at Sun Valley Rice in Colusa County. Jennifer, from a rice mill perspective, what are some of the new steps that are underway to help with employee safety in this era of COVID-19? Jennifer Kalfsbeek: Well, being a food manufacturing facility, we always have good manufacturing practices in place. However, we have stepped up our sanitation, we have people who now their sole purpose is to sanitize and disinfect all surfaces in the facility. We've actually put up some clear window barriers in places where truck drivers would be in contact with our employees. We have an adequate supply of personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies. We've expanded our supply vendors to meet our needs, so we have added additional sanitation pumps throughout the facility, and increased sanitizing our truck driver areas. Jim Morris: People who may not be familiar with a rice mill, they're a little different than perhaps some of the other food plants in California. There's a lot of mechanization, et cetera. I know there are a lot of people that work here, but is there some natural social distancing that often occurs here? Jennifer Kalfsbeek: Yes. In the rice mill we actually only have about four people. It's three stories, and so they're not close to one another. We've actually staggered a lot of the breaks and lunch times to help practice with these social distancing rules. Jim Morris: Something else that's unusual right now is, there is a lot less activity with restaurants and food service. There's a lot more activity, and a lot of demand with supermarkets. What kind of a challenge is that for a mill to try to meet that changing situation with consumers? Jennifer Kalfsbeek: There has been a decline in the restaurant business. However, with everybody cooking at home, there is a large demand on the retail side. Jim Morris: I think this is most likely short term. I know that we have the capability of shipping a lot of rice to market, so are you hopeful that in the near term there will be more rice available
10 minutes | 10 months ago
S1 E7: Ocean Bound
In less than a minute, a large group of young salmon were released into the Sacramento River, en route to the Pacific Ocean. These were no ordinary fish. Equipped with small transmitters, these baby salmon are part of a pilot project by the California Rice Commission and UC Davis. Grown in rice fields of Yolo County, scientists hope to find ways that the farm-raised fish will add to the dwindling wild salmon population. This is part of a larger effort to reconnect the Sacramento Valley flood plains; strategically adding water to the landscape to benefit our environment. “The flood plain is really core to the historical ecology of the Central Valley,” remarked Andrew Rypel, Associate Professor and Peter Moyle and California Trout Chair of Coldwater Fish at the Department of Wildlife, Fish and Conservation Biology at UC Davis. “Once upon a time, before people were over here, there was a lot of water up in the mountains. The snow would melt in the spring, it would come down and spread out across the central valley. The whole valley was once a huge flood plain. A huge wetland. Abundant Tule plants. Fish, Wildlife. That’s all gone now. But what we do have is we have a lot of rice field habitat, anywhere in the neighborhood of 500,000 acres. We need to figure out how we can use those habitats smartly, to help fish that have evolved using flood plain habitats historically to help boost the populations.” “As many know, fish and farms have often been pitted against each other in California,” Rypel said. “It turns out that they might be able to help each other in the long run.” If the research results are positive, it could eventually lead to many Sacramento Valley rice fields being used to grow salmon each winter. “Ultimately we would like to develop what we would call a conservation practice standard,” said Paul Buttner, Environmental Affairs Manager of the California Rice Commission. “We do this for bird habitat already, where we figure out what we want the growers to do to enhance their fields for habitat. Then we develop a practice that comes with a cost share payment for those that choose to participate.” Here’s a link to find out more about our salmon project, including the sponsors that provide vital support for the research. Episode Transcript Jim Morris: This is an interesting spot for a field trip. I'm in Knights Landing. To my right is the Sacramento River and to my left are rice fields at River Garden Farms. And there's something unusual this year. There are enclosures raising juvenile salmon. This is year two of our pilot project. Hopefully, the results here will help California’s salmon population in the future. Jim Morris: Welcome to Ingrained, the California Rice Podcast. I'm your host, Jim Morris. At the time of this recording, our world is struggling with COVID-19. My thoughts are with all and my hope is that something positive will come on this front very soon. We're following up on our previous episode, helping salmon. This is year two of the California Rice Commission's Pilot Salmon Project. And today is a big day as salmon raised on this farm are being readied for their journey to the ocean. I'm speaking with Andrew Rypel, who is associate professor and Peter Moyle and California Trout Chair of Coldwater Fish at the Department of Wildlife, Fish and Conservation Biology at UC Davis. So Andrew, it's kind of a big day today in this project. What's happening? Andrew Rypel: We're seeing kind of a culmination of a lot of fieldwork that's happened over the winter here. We've been rearing baby salmon on rice fields for over a month now and they're now finally of size. We're putting transmitters in them and we're tracking them as they make their journey out to the ocean. Jim Morris: And transmitters, I mean, technology has come a long way. So how accurate are they and how much can you learn from these transmitters? Andrew Rypel: They're very accurate. So we're using acoustic transmitters, which means they transmit sound information. I wish we could use GPS tags like they do on turtles and wolves and things like that. But unfortunately, that signal doesn't penetrate water. So we have to use something called acoustic telemetry technology, that's we're putting in these, they're really the smallest available tags on the market and we're putting them in salmon as small as 72 millimeters in length. They transmit sound out into the river and we have an array of receivers deployed in the river, run by NOAA. And the detections are picked up on that array as they make their way out to the ocean. Jim Morris: And how far of a journey is it in terms of length or time? Andrew Rypel: Well, it's out to the Golden Gate and it usually takes them, well it depends on the water year, but anywhere between a few weeks to a couple of months. Usually, in years where it's wet and there's a lot of water in the river, they tend to hold and they don't go out as fast. In years that are a little bit dryer like this one, they tend to get out quicker. Jim Morris: There is not a 100 percent survival rate at a farm or in the wild. And can you talk a little bit about that? There are a lot of challenges if you're a salmon in California. Andrew Rypel: Yeah, that is the crux of the issue here. Survival of juvenile salmon. Out migration, survival into the ocean is low in California. It typically runs anywhere between three to six percent. So that's a lot of death on their way to the ocean. And it's a big reason why salmon populations are struggling in California. There's good information out there. For example, from the Columbia River that suggests that the smolt to adult return rate needs to be around two percent to have a good stable population. And we typically see smolt to adult return ratios in California below one percent. so the amount of survivorship that occurs during this critical part of salmon's life history can really make a difference in having a growing salmon population or a declining salmon population. Andrew Rypel: So what we think is that by rearing salmon on managed floodplain habitat and that's what we're calling rice fields here, they can grow bigger, faster, get out in the river earlier and have increased survivorship that might increase that percentage up a good bit. Jim Morris: Moving forward, there's a lot of effort to reconnect that floodplain. And can you explain what that means? Andrew Rypel: The floodplain is really core to the historical ecology of the Central Valley. Once upon a time, before people were over here, there was a lot of water up in the mountains, the snow would melt in the spring. It would come down and spread out across the Central Valley. And really the whole valley was once a huge flood plain, a huge wetland, abundant Tule plants, fish, wildlife. That's all gone now. But what we do have is we have a lot of rice field habitat, anywhere in the neighborhood of 500,000 acres. So what we really needed to figure out is how we can use those habitats smartly to help fish that have evolved using floodplain habitats historically to help boost the populations. And I love the story because, as many know, fish and farms have often pitted against each other in California and it turns out they might actually be able to help each other in the long run. Jim Morris: But the key for this aspect of it would be rice. Rice is a different crop than others and it works best for this application, is that correct? Andrew Rypel: Rice is basically an agricultural floodplain. It's shallow, it's productive. We're just not using it for fish and wildlife the way we could yet. Jim Morris: So once the tags are done and in and the fish are released, then there's a lot of monitoring. How long does all that take? Andrew Rypel: Well, we'll know some information right away. There are telemetry receiver stations called real time stations that transmit data in real time right to your computer. And you get that just within a week, two weeks, as soon as the fish pass by those receivers. So we'll know some information right away. And then there are what are called autonomous receivers where researchers have to go out in boats, physically get the receivers, download the data from them, and that will take months towards the end of the summer. So we'll know some quick information that's really valuable right away, and then it'll take us a while to learn the whole picture. Jim Morris: And does this speak to the value of the salmon runs? Because this is an incredible effort. Andrew Rypel: I think it does. It is amazing how much research occurs around salmon on the West Coast and particularly in California. And the fact that... It's not just us, there are all sorts of researchers around the Central Valley that are doing salmon telemetry work. And I think that shows how important those survival rates are. We all want to understand why rates are low and what we can do to boost those rates up. Jim Morris: And year one, a lot of storms, year two, not so much and it got warm, but such is life in California, are you still optimistic that there can be something of a success out of all this? Andrew Rypel: I'm very optimistic. This year's work has gone quite well. We've been able to grow the fish like we wanted in the fields we wanted without them flooding and having problems. And what we've seen so far is that the salmon in at River Garden Farms here and then also at Knaggs Ranch, where we're also raising some fish, they've had incredible growth rates. Just like previous research has shown, they've grown super-fast and super-quick. So we're tagging fish right here today that are between 72 and 90 millimeters in length. And then we have a set of fish that we're keeping at the lab that we're going to study later on. Those fish are only measuring in the 50s. So we're talking about just tremendously higher rates of growth in rice field habitat and we're getting t
12 minutes | a year ago
S1 E5: Hard Work, Done Right
California rice has been grown for more than a century, and is known worldwide for consistently high quality and steady production. A lot of factors contribute to that reputation, including many people working hard behind the scenes. Gustavo Mendieta arrived in the Sacramento Valley with his family from Mexico in the 1970s, seeking opportunity. They found it, first working on a tomato farm in Colusa. Since that time, Gustavo has logged 42 years working on rice farms, most recently at Montna Farms in Sutter County. Gustavo helps maintain the dryer at Montna Farms, which requires a lot of attention to make sure the grain is properly stored. He said people are surprised to learn that harvested rice still has a protective hull on it, which is then removed by mills before eventually heading to restaurants and supermarkets. His hard work and dedication have brought ample rewards. Gustavo said his salary has provided well for his family, including higher education and a great career path for his children. “My oldest daughter works for Gridley High School,” Gustavo remarked. “My oldest son is a correctional officer in Vacaville. My daughter Karen is getting a Master’s Degree to become a social worker. And Alex, my youngest son, is in his last year in high school, and would like to become a highway patrol officer.” Gustavo said, if he had to do it all over again, he would take the same path. “I think I did the right thing all of the time,” he said. “I found a place in the last two years like the one I worked before for 40 years. I’m happy to work with these really, really good people.” Episode Transcript Jim Morris: Grown on a half million acres in the Sacramento Valley. More than 4 billion pounds produced each year, providing 25,000 jobs and $5 billion to our economy annually. Habitat for 230 wildlife species, providing 61 percent of the fall and winter diet for millions of ducks and geese. Some of the facts and figures of how rice benefits California. As with any business, hardworking people are critical to success. Time to visit with someone who's devoted much of his life to rice, doing his job with professionalism, and a smile. Welcome to Ingrained, the California Rice Podcast. I'm your host, Jim Morris. I've been working with farmers and ranchers for nearly 30 years, and I'm very passionate about those who produce our food. I'm in Gridley, one of my favorite towns in the Sacramento Valley. It's off of Highway 99. A little while ago I saw sunset along the Feather River, and now I'm visiting with Gustavo Mendieta of Montna farms. Thank you so much Gustavo, for having me in your home. How long have you lived in Gridley, and what do you like about the community? Gustavo Mendieta: I’ve been here for 42 years in this town, and I like it because this town is really quiet and really good people around, you know. Jim Morris: And, how long have you worked in rice, and what are some of the jobs that you did at an early stage? Gustavo Mendieta: When we early here in this country, we lived in Colusa County and we working on growing tomatoes. So, two, three years later, we come to Gridley, and then soon we get here, I started working for a rice company in Marysville. So, I've been there for 40 years. Jim Morris: What have you seen over the decades about the hard work that it takes to get that food produced? Gustavo Mendieta: Yeah, it's a long process, you know, to grow the rice, and a really hard job because everything is sometimes under the water, sometimes long hours, because you have to watch all the time and take care of it, the crop, the production. To have it okay all the time until it goes to the mill. Jim Morris: You are going to be busy soon, once the tractors get in the fields and start to work the next crop. So, how do things change, and when do they change? When does the calendar get really busy? Gustavo Mendieta: April and May is the time when everybody start to grow, to start planting the rice in the fields. You know, you saw those airplanes you see, flying on top, doing the fertilizer and seeding the fields. Jim Morris: What area do you work in, and what are some of your responsibilities currently at Montna Farms? Gustavo Mendieta: My area is in the rice dryer. And, what we do there is receiving all the rice coming from the fields and the storage there for the whole year. So, the rice coming from the field is coming around 23 percent, 24 percent of the moisture. So, we have to run through the dryer six or seven passes to make it 18 percent to storage the whole year. Not really the whole year, but it has to be there until we shipping everything out to the mills. Jim Morris: So, when rice is harvested, it is rough rice, it has a protective hull on it, it can be stored, if properly, for a very long period of time. And then as the mill needs that rice, it is then trucked to the mill and it's milled and then it goes off to supermarkets, restaurants, et cetera. And, what kind of responsibility do you have, do you feel, when you are protecting that investment that took a lot of energy to get? Gustavo Mendieta: Well, the problem is, all depend on weather. If the weather is too wet, like raining a lot, it's hard to run the fans to keep the rice cold and safe. So, you have to watch all the time the weather. When is a real good time to run the fans? Why? Because it's too foggy, you bring moisture to inside and you lose the rice. If the north wind blowing, you dry too much the rice and the mills don't like it. So that you can lose the quality of the rice. So, you have to watch the whole place 24 hours all the time. Jim Morris: So it's not a nine to five job. So, have you had times at night when you're worried about something and you're thinking about ... Or maybe even having to take action to protect the crop? Gustavo Mendieta: Yeah. Sometimes, when I was working in another company for forty years, the weather made me wake up one o'clock in the morning and drive all the way down there and make sure everything close, everything safe, because the hard wind blow the roof off the storage bins. So, you have to make sure soon after the hard wind or the hard rain, you want to make sure everything closed. But, you find something getting wet and before you get there, right away you have to start to run that storage bin to different bin to keeping the rice safe. Otherwise you lose the whole bin. A lot of money invested there. Jim Morris: Wow. So, something to think about before you have your next a sushi roll or rice bowl. There's a lot of work behind the scenes. And, tell me a little bit about before you came to California, where were you born? Where did you grow up? And tell me a little bit about that location. Gustavo Mendieta: So, I was born 1963, and my mother take us, you know, the whole family to United States in 1976. Yeah. So, we come in and live in Colusa County before, and then we moved to Gridley. Jim Morris: You've spent your entire professional life working on rice farms. How has that impacted your family? Gustavo Mendieta: Ah, really good, you know. Because, when I barely start on the rice, you getting paid good money because you work long hours. So, you can get paid for the extra hours. You use that extra money to have a good education for the kids, you know. Like, my older daughter, she worked for the Gridley education place in high school. And my older son, he works for Vacaville. He's a correctional officer. And Karen, my daughter, she's getting the master degree for social work. And Alex, my son, he's in high school, the last year in high school. He would like to become a CHP. So, the opportunity to work on rice production, I got enough money to give a really good education to all my kids. So, everybody's really good now. Jim Morris: I love it. And how proud, how excited are you going to be when those graduations happen? Gustavo Mendieta: You know, I'm going to be very happy because there's only one more. The other three already graduated. So, one more. And I want to feel like the best in this world. Jim Morris: Well, I say congratulations to you. So, if you had to rewind and start it all again, would you do it the same way? Gustavo Mendieta: Oh yeah. Yeah. I start the same. You know, I think I do the right thing all the time. The last two years I thought I can find another place like the one I work for forty years better than that. And I have it. So, for the last two years, I find another place where I be happy to work for. And it's really, really, really good people there. Jim Morris: A lot of people like rice, but they've never been to a rice farm. So, what are a few things that might surprise people about rice? Gustavo Mendieta: Well, the surprise of the people, they don't know we have around 20 to 30 varieties, different kinds, short grain, long grain, medium grain. You know, they call 401, Calhikari, all kinds of, you know, varieties. Everybody thinks when they hear the name of rice, they think the rice is only one thing. No. It's a lot of varieties. And also, when the people stop to see how we're working on the dryer, they like to see the rice white already, ready to eat. And no, it still has a long process to have on the stores. Jim Morris: So, you're around rice all the time. Do you still eat rice? Gustavo Mendieta: Oh yeah. Yeah. You know, I love the rice because give me the opportunity to do a lot of good things for my family. Plus, my wife cooks the rice really good, so I love it. They call Mexican rice, so they cook with tomatoes and juice to put some water there and turn the color like jello. It is the same kind of rice everybody eats in the restaurants. So, really good taste. Jim Morris: How long do you feel you'll be working before you retire? Gustavo Mendieta: I like to be there forever. If I were, you know, with good health for 10, 15 years is going to be okay. Jim Morris: And, with people lik
10 minutes | a year ago
S1 E4: Ducks Love Rice
They are one of the world’s iconic birds. They quack and waddle on land, which is a sharp contrast to their grace in the water and air. The Sacramento Valley is home to millions of ducks, and rice fields play a vital role in their lives. Helping ducks has been the passionate pursuit of Virginia Getz for 20-years. Virginia manages conservation programs for Ducks Unlimited’s Western Region (DU), including California. Keeping rice farming strong is critical to maintaining a healthy Pacific Flyway duck population. “Ninety-five percent of the wetland habitat that historically occurred in the Central Valley has been lost, and waterfowl populations are now heavily dependent on agricultural lands, primarily rice,” according to Getz. Sacramento Valley rice fields provide more than 60 percent of the fall and winter diet for the millions of ducks and geese in the Central Valley. DU works with the Rice Commission and growers to help keep rice strong, which, in turn, maintains vital wildlife habitat. California Natural Resources Secretary Wade Crowfoot recently visited Butte County and had positive remarks about the Sacramento Valley ecosystem and the vital role rice plays for wildlife habitat. “We are seeing these flooded up rice fields teeming with birds on the Pacific Flyway,” Crowfoot said. “It always reminds me that we can find paths forward in California that protect water for people and nature.” Ducks are inspirational to many, including artist René C. Reyes. “Ducks are an appealing subject because they are a great mix of awkwardness and beauty. On land, ducks waddle and they quack, but in the air, they are quite amazing. In water, where they are in their element, that’s when their beauty comes out and, in my art, that’s what I try to capture.” Here's a link to where you can find learn more about waterbirds in the Sacramento Valley and how you can support conservation. Episode Transcript René Reyes: When I see thousands or millions of birds flying overhead during their migration, which they've been doing for thousands of years, I see a glimpse of our past. Jim Morris: Artist, René Reyes, captures incredible detail in his wildlife paintings, including ducks, one of the most popular and beloved birds in the world. René Reyes: They are a great mix of awkwardness and beauty. On land ducks waddle, and they quack. But in the air, they're quite amazing. They're a sight to see. But in water, where they are in their element, that's when their beauty comes out. And in my art, that's what I try to capture. Jim Morris: The Sacramento Valley offers vital habitat for ducks. California has changed a lot since its early days, and there's a challenging balance between managing our environment, cities, and farms. Fortunately, with cooperation and creativity, there is a way to make it all work. [Music Intro] Jim Morris: Welcome to Ingrained, the California Rice podcast. I'm your host, Jim Morris. I'm at the DeWit Rice Farm in Sutter County, one of the places where ducks thrive. With me is Virginia Getz of Ducks Unlimited and one of my colleagues at the California Rice Commission, Luke Matthews, wildlife programs manager. Virginia, you cover the Western region for Ducks Unlimited. What area do you cover? Virginia Getz: Yes, I'm the manager of conservation programs for DU's Western regional office. I oversee our group of biologists that are responsible for developing and delivering our on the ground conservation work in a four-state area, which includes California, Nevada, Hawaii, and Arizona. Jim Morris: So when you look at California, specifically, in the effort to preserve the duck population for future generations, what are some of the challenges that are specific here in California? Virginia Getz: Well, increased competition for water is the major issue that we face and it's growing in importance daily. And a particular concern is the risk of reduction or loss of water for rice straw decomposition. Ninety-five percent of the wetland habitat that historically occurred in the Central Valley has been lost and waterfowl populations are now heavily dependent on agricultural lands, primarily rice. The economics of growing rice has been good and that's kept a large land base in rice production, but that could change. Population growth and urban encroachment are continued threats, and we also are seeing a conversion of ricelands to trees and vines, crops which are not waterfowl friendly. Jim Morris: So what can DU do to try to maintain that rice habitat and a healthy duck population here in the Central Valley? Virginia Getz: DU has an excellent working relationship with the rice industry and rice farmers in the Sacramento Valley. Ricelands are essential for supporting wintering waterfowl populations and therefore we work closely with rice interests on policy, outreach, and funding programs to help maintain a large rice base in the region. We provided an incentive program for farmers to implement winter flooding as an alternative to burning, to decompose their rice straw, and that helped establish flooding as a standard practice for straw decomposition. DU also hold 12 conservation easements that permanently protect about five thousand acres of ricelands in key areas in the Sacramento Valley. Jim Morris: So Luke Matthews, what are some ways that you work with Ducks Unlimited and other conservation groups to maximize this duck habitat? Luke Matthews: So, what we do is we apply for federal grants with Ducks Unlimited and many of our other partners to get more funding to provide habitat on the landscape, in these agricultural fields, that's beneficial for waterfowl, but also for shorebirds and many other waterbirds that use these rice fields in the Sacramento Valley. Some of them need deeper water, shallower water, versus earlier water and later water. So, a lot of the work we do is providing water on the landscape, but at the right time and at the right depths. Jim Morris: So Virginia, looking back at ducks here in the Central Valley, can you give me a few numbers about how large the population is here? Virginia Getz: Yeah, the Central Valley is one of the three most significant areas for wintering waterfowl in North America. And therefore, it's one of our highest priority areas for conservation. The Central Valley is truly the heart of the Pacific Flyway. It's the single most important area for wintering waterfowl in the entire Flyway, and it supports sixty percent of the migrating and wintering waterfowl in the Flyway. Now in an average year, that translates to more than five million ducks and more than two and a half million geese. Jim Morris: If you take rice out of the equation, or if you dramatically reduced the rice acreage, what happens to the duck population? Virginia Getz: Well, ninety-five percent of the wetland habitat that historically occurred in the Valley's been lost. Currently, about sixty-eight percent of the nutritional needs of wintering waterfowl in the Central Valley are being met by agricultural lands, primarily rice. The dependency of waterfowl and agricultural lands varies by basin. And both the Sutter and American basins, where wetlands are extremely limited, agricultural lands provide more than ninety percent of the nutritional needs of wintering waterfowl. If we were to lose about fifty percent of the rice acreage that's out there now, we would be able to support one million less waterfowl in the winter. Jim Morris: When you look at hunting season in the Sacramento Valley, how much does this actually contribute to conservation? Virginia Getz: There are currently about 205,000 acres of managed wetlands that remain in the Valley. And two-thirds of those are in private ownership. Most of those wetlands are being managed for waterfowl hunting. We're going to continue to count on private wetlands to meet the needs of wintering waterfowl. Waterfowl hunters are very passionate about waterfowl wetlands and the waterfowling tradition, and they have a long history of habitat conservation. Waterfowl hunters purchase both state and federal duck stamps, which provide funding for wetland habitat protection, restoration enhancement, and they contribute significantly to the local economies of the areas in which they hunt. Jim Morris: You've been at Ducks Unlimited now for 20 years and when did your passion for wildlife start and how ideal is the job you have right now? Virginia Getz: I'm a wildlife biologist by training and I knew I wanted to be a wildlife biologist when I was very young. I've always had a love for the outdoors and wildlife. and habitat. And wildlife conservation is at the heart of my personal values. But back in 2000, DU had an opening for a regional biologist in the Intermountain West. And that region included portions of Northeast California and Southern Oregon, areas in which I had hunted waterfowl and spent time recreating and I really loved that landscape. So, this was an opportunity to work for the resource, to focus on waterfowl and wetlands and what more could biologist ask for? So, I took that job. Jim Morris: What are the absolute keys, Virginia, to maintaining this duck population for future generations to enjoy? Virginia Getz: We need to maintain the wetland base that we have and we need to increase the acreage of wetlands on the landscape. And we need to maintain a large rice base here in the Valley and ensure that we have sufficient waters to support both the wetlands and the ricelands. The way we got to where we are with wetlands and ricelands is through cooperation. We have a strong history of partnering here in the Valley. And that way of working together cooperatively to accomplish conservation is the key to the future. Jim Morris: That's where telling the story of the rich environment of the Sacramento Valley is so important. The greater the understanding of how special this reg
10 minutes | a year ago
S1 E3: Life is a Flyway
If you think your nearest highway packs a lot of traffic, it probably doesn’t hold a candle to the air traffic in the Sacramento Valley each fall and winter. This is the time of year for the massive and masterful Pacific Flyway Migration, where millions of birds travel thousands of miles. Fresh from harvest, Sacramento Valley rice fields are a key rest and refuel stop for ducks, geese, and shorebirds. Combined with nearby wetlands, this part of Northern California provides an invaluable habitat to many a weary winged traveler. Rice growers work with conservationists to ensure their fields are bird-friendly, including Avian Ecologist Kristin Sesser with Point Blue Conservation Science. Kristin and her colleagues have a multi-faceted approach to wildlife conservation. They are part of a great collaboration between farmers and conservation organizations. “There’s no way we could succeed in our work without our amazing conservation partners. They make the work more enjoyable to engage in, the science stronger, and the programs and practices more enduring,” she remarked. “These partners include the California Rice Commission and the rice farmers themselves, as well as NRCS, The Nature Conservancy and Audubon California. We all work together to enhance the rice landscape for waterbirds.” Hopefully, working together, waterbirds will continue to flourish in the Central Valley for future generations to enjoy. Episode Transcript Charley Mathews Jr.: Living out in rice country is special to me. There are people in the world that like to live near an ocean, near a river, near a creek, just for that comforting background noise. It's that type of white noise that's comforting. Out here, it's a different type of white noise. We have white swans, white geese, white shorebirds, all very noisy. But it's also something that's very comforting. For me, it's part of my childhood. It's something that I always remember. Jim Morris: Rice grower, Charley Mathews Jr. commenting on this remarkable time of the year in the Sacramento Valley. Charley lives in Marysville, which is a very popular wildlife stopover, and one bird, in particular, attracts a lot of attention year after year. Charley Mathews Jr.: The White Tundra Swan is probably the largest of the migrating birds. It mixes in well with the migrating ducks and geese. It's a huge bird. It's got a particularly loud sound. Its wings flap and hit the water when they take off, and it's become very popular. They're also very helpful to the rice farmer because, what they're doing with their extra-large web feet, is they're helping incorporate that rice straw, and soil, together to get it to decompose. And it's kind of like having free labor. Jim Morris: A few inches of water in those same fields that produce America's sushi rice, now provide a vital habitat for millions of birds. The environment has taken center stage in rice country, and it's time for the Pacific Flyway migration. Welcome to Ingrained, the California Rice Podcast, episode three. I'm your host Jim Morris. I've worked with farmers and ranchers for nearly 30 years, and I'm a passionate supporter. Rice farmers in particular, deliver two major benefits to our state: growing food and nurturing wildlife. And it's time to get back on the road so we can visit with a key conservation partner. Not too far from Charley Mathews Jr. and Marysville, and all of the Tundra swans, and geese, and ducks, is Montna Farms, near Yuba City. And there are Tundra swans, geese, ducks, and shorebirds out here, as well as Kristin Sesser, of Point Blue Conservation Science. Jim Morris: Kristin, some people spend their nine to five in an office. You and I once in a while, get out and get to see this beauty. What does it all mean to you when you're out here? Kristin Sesser: I really love being in the rice fields in the Sacramento Valley. I've been watching birds since I was a kid. And in these rice fields, we are just surrounded by birds. There's something to look at everywhere. Jim Morris: Absolutely true. And especially this time of the year, with it being the Pacific Flyway migration. So for those who don't really understand what the Pacific Flyway is, can you explain? Kristin Sesser: Well, I think of the Pacific Flyway, as something of a highway in the sky. And so there are a lot of birds that nest in Alaska and Canada, and then they move to more Southern climes for the winter, and they come through along the Pacific Flyway. And some of them are heading down as far south as Chile and Argentina. Other birds actually stay, and winter here in the ricelands, and the managed wetlands of the Sacramento Valley. Jim Morris: How much variety of wildlife do we have coming on this big journey? Kristin Sesser: Well, we have birds as small as a Rufous Hummingbird, which you can see at feeders here in the Sacramento Valley. And then birds like the small, little, Least Sandpiper, which are here out in the ricelands, and I can even see some now. Then anywhere from birds as fast as the Peregrine Falcon, and as big and majestic as these Tundra Swans that we're surrounded by. Jim Morris: When these millions of birds make their trek, how important are rice fields in the Central Valley, for that part of the equation? Kristin Sesser: Well for waterbirds, the ricelands, and then the managed wetlands that the ricelands surround, are critically important. Many of these birds get quite a bit of their nutrition throughout the winter from rice. And it's an important place for them to rest and refuel, and they basically spend their whole winters here. Jim Morris: And how does Point Blue, help this process in rice country to make sure the habitat is the best it can be? Kristin Sesser: We do quite a bit of science to support the conservation efforts. And we also work with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, NRCS, to work on and develop practices that enhance ricelands for waterbirds. And some of that science, it can vary from using telemetry to track birds, to using satellites to understand... To track the water, and understand where the water is moving, and when it becomes available and when it's not. Jim Morris: And telemetry, that caught my ear. So what does that mean? Kristin Sesser: So telemetry is, we put these transmitters on the birds. They wear it like a backpack, and then we can use antennas to track where they go. And so, we have in the past, put transmitters on Dunlin, which is a small-medium-ish shorebird, and then also Long-billed Dowitchers. And so the Dunlin was kind of an interesting case. And that's where some of the Dunlin, we actually tracked them day and night. There were Dunlin, individual Dunlin, that would spend both the nights, they would sleep in the rice fields, and then they would actually forage in the rice fields the next day. And then there were some Dunlin that would spend the nights in the rice fields, but then go to managed wetlands during the day. And so, it just really showed us how important having both flooded rice, and managed wetlands are for these Dunlin. Jim Morris: That's cool because you would not have known otherwise except for that very high tech research that was done. So, unfortunately, over the decades, the worldwide bird population is down. What can you draw from that in terms of trying to maintain what we have here in rice country? Kristin Sesser: It's true that especially shorebirds have declined quite a bit over the last 50 years. And we think one opportunity is... I would like to point out that one of the bright spots was waterfowl populations. Many of them are actually doing much better, than some of the other birds. And if we can expand some of this wonderful habitat for waterfowl, to include a bit more shorebird habitat, which tends to be on the shallower side, I think we can really make a difference for shorebirds. Jim Morris: And when you say shallower, so the water depth is critical, right? Some birds love it, really shallow other birds, like a few more inches in the field. So, that would be very helpful. And I think you were destined to be out here because, in college at Humboldt State, you actually worked on a project involving a rice bird. Can you explain? Kristin Sesser: Sure. So I did my thesis at Humboldt State University, on Long-billed Curlews. So, Long-billed Curlew is the largest shorebird in North America. They have a very long bill, hence the name. And I studied a group of about 10 birds. They nested in Oregon and Nevada, and they came to the Central Valley. And they spend about nine months of their lives in the Central Valley, and only go up to Oregon and Nevada, for those three months, to attempt nesting. And for a set of those birds, they spent almost their entire winters in the ricelands, and the wetlands of the Sacramento Valley. And so, it was a fun place. I spent a lot of time, even before I started work at Point Blue, traveling the rice roads, and looking for my Curlews. Jim Morris: That's awesome. And for those of you who like the 49ers, there's a little bit of history, that actually does somewhat involve a Curlew. Because the curlew is also called the candlestick bird. And that's where Candlestick Point and Candlestick Park, got their name. Do you know what a group of Curlew is called? Kristin Sesser: [Laughs] I don’t. I think it's just a flock. Jim Morris: Okay, well, people have fun names for bird groups. I've read that a group of Curlew is called, a curfew. Kristin Sesser: Oh my goodness, that's great. Jim Morris: So we've established how gorgeous of an area this is, worth protecting, hopefully for generations to come. So, Kristin, what is a perfect day in the field look like to you? Kristin Sesser: Oh, that's a good question. I would have to say, it would include sunrise. So a lot of the work we do is, we try and get out in different times of the day, because the birds move around at dif
16 minutes | a year ago
S1 E2: Snow Goose Farms
Fall in the Sacramento Valley means the rice harvest and the return of welcome guests from far away. Millions of birds are now arriving in rice fields and wildlife refuges, as part of their epic annual journey along the Pacific Flyway. One of the most striking of these visitors is the snow goose; the sights and sounds of which aren’t soon forgotten. It was a sighting of these beautiful and boisterous birds that prompted Sandy and Wally Denn to name their rice farm Snow Goose Farms. Find out more about snow geese in our valley and a ‘mom and pop’ family business where wildlife and farming thrive.
10 minutes | a year ago
S1 E1: The Starting Point of Your Sushi Roll
It’s harvest time in the rice fields of the Sacramento Valley, where virtually all of America’s sushi rice is grown. Join us as we go on a harvester ride with grower Brian McKenzie in Sutter County, to find out just how much of a hi-tech experience rice farming has become. We also visit with Taro Arai, Chief Dreaming Officer of Mikuni, a fantastic sushi chef with a passion for local rice. Mikuni uses 20 tons of California rice each month!
8 minutes | a year ago
Season 1 Pilot: Armstrong & Getty
Our first-ever episode includes a discussion with radio hosts Jack Armstrong & Joe Getty. Topics include the vital role of California rice for our economy and environment, as well as how rice farming largely flies under the radar in terms of public understanding. Show Transcript Jim Morris: Thanks for listening to Ingrain, the pilot episode of the California Rice podcast. I'm Jim Morris, your host. A little bit of background about what you can expect with this program. We want to go in-depth about why rice matters. For most people, rice is simply that starchy side dish you have once or twice a week, but for much of the world, rice is part of culture. It's what billions of people eat multiple times every day. We have a great story to tell here in California. A question I get a lot is, "I didn't know we even grew rice." Well, we grow a half-million acres of it. It is premium, world-class quality, and there are tremendous stories in terms of the people involved, the innovation, and an environmental story that's second to none. I'm Jim Morris, I'll be your host. I've been in agricultural communications for 30 years. I've met thousands of farmers. I don't mind admitting that I am a homer for agriculture. It is a fundamental thing. Very hardworking, interesting people. I've been with the Rice Commission since 2007, and I've learned a lot about rice, and I can't wait to share it with you. Our first guests, Jack Armstrong and Joe Getty. First of all, guys, congratulations, 21st anniversary of your program. Awesome. Joe Getty: Thanks, Jim. It's good to be employed, frankly. Jack Armstrong: That's a long time. Joe Getty: Yeah, it is. Jim Morris: Well, and speaking of a long time, we are blessed to have been working with you for, this'll be our ninth year now. Joe Getty: That's astounding. Jim Morris: Yeah, it's been a lot of fun. I remember the very first thing that we did in the field, I think we did it right, because we plied you guys with a lot of pizza right off the bat. Jack Armstrong: That's a good plan. Jim Morris: Yeah. So you've been to the rice harvest. We've seen wildlife together. We've had sushi. What are your thoughts when I mention the word rice? Joe Getty: Gosh, I don't know. Jack, you want to jump in on that one? Jack Armstrong: We regularly remark, I guess we say this in our commercials a lot when we're talking about California rice is, how has this flown under the radar to the extent that it has? I don't understand why everybody in the world doesn't immediately know that this area is where sushi rice comes from, in the way that we know Wisconsin is the dairy state, or whatever. I mean, because it's so dominant. It's absolutely amazing to me. Jim Morris: It's interesting, too, that you'll have rice fields 15 minutes from the state capital. Jack Armstrong: Right. Jim Morris: But it's just something that people don't really think of, but we're all about to change that. The thing that the people see more than anything when it comes to rice is that aerial view when you go into the Sac International Airport. Joe Getty: Yep, which I did only days ago. Jack Armstrong: Then you think, what is all that water down there? Is that a lake? What is that? Then, yeah. Jim Morris: And, of course, we'll talk with them too about that water depth and water efficiency, which is really key for rice. How about you, Joe, when you think about rice what are some things that come to mind? Joe Getty: Well, aside from being a sushi freak, you know, I'm kind of used to that idea, and that it's grown here, and that's really, really cool. But I've always prided myself on being a realist, whether we're talking about politics, or climate change and the environment, and the rest of it. I know that a lot of the wild areas of California have been developed in one way or another. God, where I live, they're throwing up houses with astonishing speed. But the part of the California Rice story that I think is so cool is that those rice fields duplicate so much of what the historic wetlands did for the birds, the millions of birds that use rice fields as home, hundreds of species, as we talked about. Also, I've long been a fisherman and I enjoy the outdoors. My favorite spot in the world is to be next to a river, and I like fly fishing and the rest of it. The experiments that California Rice is doing with salmon, whether it's raising the little fry in the fields or raising the tiny little bugs that salmon eat, I think that's such a incredible win-win. It's amazing that it's really happening, that you could have this industry that's so important, all these family farms, and they're doing that much good for the birds and the salmon and the rest. It's just fantastic. Jim Morris: Oh, yeah. It's awesome and it's great to share that, and that's not always the case in agriculture, but for rice in particular, you have that 360 degrees of not only producing food, but doing it in harmony with the environment. Thanks for mentioning that, and it's a great source of pride, and I hope that we as an industry can continue to move forward and do even more. Joe Getty: Yeah. I grew up in corn country and I'm used to the farmers shooting at birds, trying to get the crows out of the cornfields, the rest of it. Not welcoming them and saying how cool it is. Jim Morris: Well, we do that, and we love all the birds that are there, and actually, prime nesting season in the spring, and then the amazing migration in the fall and winter, and we'll be dealing with those subjects and many more on this podcast, Ingrained. Jim Morris: So let's talk about podcast. Our family loves One More Thing. My son in particular loves the intro and the guy with the amazingly deep voice. Joe Getty: The Armstrong and Getty podcast-only segment that we do after the radio show, yeah. Jim Morris: Yeah, it is excellent, excellent job there. So as you guys do this podcast, what are some of the keys, either for your podcast or for others that you hear, that you think are important to make them as engaging as they can be? Joe Getty: Oh, man. It's kind of an instinct. You either have it or you don't. Am I being entertaining? Is this compelling to other people? Am I finding a way to make it compelling? It's an art, I guess. Jack Armstrong: There's that. It's got to be interesting on some level, whether it's funny or information. I get the sense this is going to be information-based, your podcast, a lot. But filling a niche that nobody's filling. You might be filling a niche nobody is filling in this conversation. I mean, you might really have struck upon something nobody else is doing. Jim Morris: Well, we hope to, and we want to be real. That's one of the things that I appreciate, that you guys have done so well over the years, is when you have an interview, you're not afraid to ask a question beyond, "Give me your 15 second soundbite." How important is that in the process of getting the real story, because everybody's spinning and we need to dig a little deeper. We're willing to do that with rice. We have a great story to tell. You guys do that all the time. How important do you feel that is, and how much of a lost art is that with the media today? Jack Armstrong: Well, it's completely gone- Jim Morris: Well, there you go. Jack Armstrong: ... as an art with the rest of the media. But I think listeners can tell if you're leaving something out on purpose. They can smell it. They can tell. So you want to give the whole story to the best of your ability. People can pick up on that. Joe Getty: Yeah, and the whole mile wide and inch deep thing that you're describing in the media, just, people are worn out by it. It's just everywhere, omnipresent. You can tell ... You've got somebody who's speaking about something really complicated, you've got some scientist, for instance. And, "We asked him about a meteor hitting the earth," and then you can tell it's edited up to him starting to talk, then he says, "That's why I think it's unlikely," then there is a quick edit out. You're thinking, wait a minute, you have one of the world's leading scientists talking about us being obliterated by a meteor, and you just gave him five seconds? I mean, there's got to be more to it. So if a podcast is good and you connect with the audience who wants to know about what you're talking about, yeah, it can be really way more satisfying than the usual media coverage these days. Jim Morris: Well, really appreciate that feedback, and thanks. Thank you for our relationship, and I can't believe we're getting close to a decade. It's a pleasure to work with both of you fellows. Thank you for your perspective, too. That's what we're going to do. We're going to dig deeper on this with our webpage as well, podcast.calrice.org. We welcome your questions and we'll work to answer them. We appreciate you tuning in. Our next episode, our first full episode will cover a great time of the year and that'll be harvest, so you can look for that coming in early October. Until then, thanks for listening.
Terms of Service
Do Not Sell My Personal Information
© Stitcher 2020