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Living The Legacy
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Living The Legacy
Third generation California farmer plans for the future

By Carroll Smith
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After working in the oil fields in the San Joaquin Valley (SJV), James “Vince” Doherty traveled to northern California in the 1920s to work as a tenant farmer for the vast Browning Ranch, located on the west side of Sutter Buttes. Little did he know at the time that this was the beginning of a legacy that he would ultimately pass down to his children and, later, to his grandchildren.

Eventually, Vince owned his own operation, J.V. Doherty Company. When he passed away in 1962, his son Mike inherited a portion of the land, which was mainly rice ground. Through the years, he continued to acquire additional acres, which he later turned over to his sons – Michael, Sean and Tim – to farm.

Not his first rodeo
After 2008, the brothers agreed to branch off on their own, and Sean Doherty, who had always been in charge of the rice production, now farms about 3,200 acres of rice, bales up to 1,450 acres of alfalfa per cutting, along with growing corn, wheat, edible beans and sunflowers. Recently, he and his longtime friend, Seth Williams, bought a 470-acre ranch on which they will grow rice and sunflowers.

“I am really excited about acquiring the ground because it was my grandfather’s,” Doherty says.

Although 2010 marks the second year that he will farm “on his own,” the young California farmer quickly points out that this is not his first rodeo.

“I graduated from college in 1996, but I had been actively farming for several years before that,” he explains.

The vast majority of Doherty’s operation is in medium grain Calrose rice seed production – something his father Mike also had been involved in for many years. This season, Doherty is growing M-104, M-202, M-205, M-206 and M-401, as well as a few acres of Calmochi 101 sweet rice.

From the 1920s to 2010:
Three generations of California rice farmers

• James “Vince” Doherty, right, left the SJV and came to California rice country during the 1920s.

• In 1962, Vince’s son Mike, left, continued to farm after his father’s death.

• Mike’s children, including Sean Doherty, joined the family operation when they came of age.

• In 2008, Sean began a two-year stint as a member of the Rice Leadership Development program.

• In 2009, Sean farmed alone for the first time after he and his brothers branched off on their own.

• Last year, as part of his plan to employ a team of motivated personnel, Sean hired agronomist Nathan Williams.

• In 2010, Sean continues to search for ways to reduce costs while increasing production.

Dry-seeded rice
Doherty readily admits that he sets a lot of goals, which includes employing a team of motivated personnel to try to reduce costs while at the same time increase production, like every other farmer. For example, last year he hired Nathan Williams, an agronomist who formerly was with Wilbur-Ellis. One project that Doherty and Williams are working on involves dry-seeding rice, which is not as common in California. The rest of his rice acres are water-seeded.

“There are benefits to each, but in certain situations, I do like the dry-seeding system,” Doherty says. “The soil type comes into play as well as the weed spectrum. We also use a specific herbicide – Harbinger – on the dry-seeded acres.”

The active ingredient (ai) in Harbinger is pendimethalin, the same ai found in Prowl herbicide. Williams describes how they use Harbinger to control as many of the shallow-rooted, shallow-seeded grass weeds as possible.

“After dry-seeding the rice, we apply Harbinger by ground, then flush the field to activate the herbicide,” Williams says. “By the time the rice gets through the soil, it will have more roots than your typical water-seeded rice, which enables us to go in a little earlier with a follow-up herbicide. Dry-seeded rice is a very strong-rooted plant by the time it gets going, and there’s not as much lodging at harvest because the stalk is so big.”

Another efficiency that Doherty has implemented on his California farm is replacing several combines with just three larger rice harvesters with 25-foot MacDon draper platforms.

“The larger combines work well in California because we have heavier straw loads than in other rice-growing areas,” Doherty explains. “The higher horsepower of the larger combines helps increase productivity and reduce fuel and time. However, the 25-foot draper platforms are all these harvesters will handle.”

Much praise for the Rice Leadership program
In addition to creating an efficient rice production system, Doherty is interested in learning about and participating in other aspects of the U.S. rice industry. In December 2007 during the USA Rice Outlook Conference in Orlando, Fla., he had the opportunity to pursue this goal when he was chosen to be a member of the 2008 Rice Leadership Development class.

“Over the years, this program has done a world of good for the industry, and for me personally,” Doherty says. “I have met a lot of great people from other parts of the country and made some really good friends, including Chuck Wilson, who does a fantastic job of managing the leadership program.

“During the past two years, I have expanded my horizons tremendously by being a member of the class,” he adds. “I stood in the middle of a Texas rice field for the first time, have traveled from Little Rock to New Orleans to Dallas, seen the industry from the viewpoint of both warehousemen and seed distributors and visited Washington, D.C., to learn about the politics of agriculture. I was able to walk on the floor of the Chicago Board of Trade and tour the John Deere harvester works in Moline, Ill. We also took speech classes and received media training.”

After graduating in February 2010, Doherty now realizes that seeing the industry on a larger scale is something you just can’t get by staying on your farm and not venturing out.
“This program really helped me connect a lot of dots,” he says.

And, today, Sean Doherty continues to “connect the dots.” In the way he manages his farming operation to his eagerness to expand his horizons within the industry, this California rice farmer truly is living the legacy that was begun by his grandfather in the 1920s as he walked away from the oil fields and looked north toward the rice country of the Sacramento Valley.

Contact Carroll Smith at (901) 767-4020 or

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