When you have California rice on the menu, your customers are enjoying a truly sustainable food.
Our family farmers are committed to improving their natural surroundings, wise use of water and reducing their impacts on the environment and it shows. Our family rice farms understand that the more they work to enhance their environment, the greater opportunity they have to sustain this century-old farming tradition and the small communities where they live.
Water and air quality practices carried out by California rice farmers are models for the state and nation.
For more than 20 years, California rice farmers have been at the forefront of efforts to improve water quality. Water from our fields is actively monitored to ensure we provide no negative environmental impacts. Over the last three decades we have developed and put in place management practices that ensure that water that flows back to the river for other uses, including drinking water for our urban neighbors, is clean and safe.
Rice farmers' commitment to clean air is another success story. Smoke and soot from burning rice straw have been reduced by approximately 75 percent over the past 15 years. Year after year, this eliminates an estimated 9,700 tons of air pollution from the Sacramento Valley and substantially contributes to regional clean air goals. The small amount of remaining burning is done for disease control in fields, and happens only under strict management to minimize smoke impacts on neighboring communities.
Probably the biggest sustainability benefit stems from rice fields contribution to wildlife. Rice fields provide food and shelter for scores of wildlife species. In fact, California ricelands provide habitat to 230 wildlife species, including more than 30 that have been designated as special status by state or federal biologists, indicating their populations have declined to a level of concern. Ricelands provide more than half of the food for seven million wintering waterfowl in the Sacramento Valley. Our cropland is so valuable to wildlife that the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences designated more than 500,000 acres of Sacramento Valley ricelands as a Shorebird Site of International Significance; the second largest site of its kind in North America.
The environmental benefits from California rice also includes the way the crop is grown. Water utilized in rice fields is an important factor in maintaining at least 35,000 acres of California's managed wetlands.
As rice crops have flourished in this region for generations, so have small towns like Colusa, Richvale and Biggs, which rely on this grain as the staple of their economy. All told, California rice provides in excess of $1.3 billion to the state's economy each year.
All of these benefits are essentially free to all Californians and are a result of maintaining the state's small family rice farms.
Another surprising fact of California rice involves water use efficiency. Thanks to improved rice varieties that produce more grain with shorter plants, laser leveling of fields and a shift to growing rice in heavy clay soils, our farms have made continual progress in maximizing how we utilize this precious resource. Contrary to what it appears at first glance, the average depth of water in a rice field is only five inches. As a result of our highly efficient growing methods, ricelands produce more than 11 calories of food value per gallon of water. In comparison, some crops are produced at approximately one percent of this efficiency level. In addition, our farmers have launched a ten-year water use efficiency initiative, as part of our ongoing commitment to environmental stewardship.
What's more, we are looking to the future evaluating our industry's greenhouse gas emissions, looking for ways to be even more water efficient and understanding whether the nutrients we apply to our fields impact water quality.
Those involved in California rice take great pride in producing such a sustainable food. Whether it's solar power running several of our mills, drying and storage facilities or growers adopting new, more environmentally-friendly farming practices, this industry stands ready to do its part to make an even more sustainable contribution to the state.
California rice is an original sustainable food. Grown on family farms, we care for the environment providing clean air and water in return for a food that not only is staple for humanity but also provides food and valuable habitat for millions of waterfowl and shorebirds. All of this is made possible in the small towns and rural communities of Northern California.