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California Seedsmen

Father and son team raise seed rice for local growers

By Carroll Smith
Editor
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In the California rice industry, 1912 is particularly significant because it marks the state’s first commercial rice production in Butte County. In 1914, the Butte County Rice Growers Association (BUCRA) was founded in Richvale and has since grown to several hundred farmer members. Its three lines of business include seed, supplies and drying and storage.

Jim Sligar, who farms with his son Eric about three miles west of Biggs in Butte County, is very familiar with the seed side. The California producer began farming rice in 1973, following in the footsteps of his father who also farmed for many years. Today, Jim and Eric have about 75 percent of their 1,000-acre operation in seed rice – M-205 and M-206.

As seedsmen, the Sligars have to plant registered seed instead of certified seed, and everything related to growing seed rice is inspected by the California Crop Improvement Association (CCIA). Right before the seed is flown on, the plane is inspected. Fields, combines and dryers are inspected prior to harvest, and once the seed rice is harvested, it is identity preserved.

“All of the CCIA inspections are done to ensure quality,” Jim says. “It’s a voluntary quality assurance program, and, as seed growers, we are members and have to meet certain protocols.”

Centers Cut, Seed Air-Dried

At harvest time, the Sligars cut the edges of the fields and send that rice in for paddy rice. When the centers – the very best part, Jim says – reach a riper stage, they are cut for seed rice at a drier moisture.

“We do this to prevent any contamination from the borders or from weeds,” he explains.

The Sligars rent bins that store about 40 percent of their production, which is all air-dried.

“It takes longer to dry the rice without using heat,” Jim says, “but it’s better for the seed because it dries down slower.”

The remainder of their seed rice production is stored, air-dried and identity preserved at Larrabee Farms and Van Dyke’s Rice Dryer – a privately owned operation in Pleasant Grove. The Sligars market their seed rice in the two different locations for the convenience of their customers.

“We market our rice to individuals in bulk and deliver it to the dryer where they place their order and pick it up,” Jim says. “The average farmer takes from 1,000 to 1,500 sacks (hundredweights). Some of our customers take more, some less. Also, the facility soaks the rice for them. We only soak our own rice.”

Bleach Away Bakane

1999 was another milestone year for the California rice industry, but not in such a good way – bakane disease in rice was discovered, and by 2002 had spread throughout the state’s rice-growing areas. Because this is primarily a seed-borne disease, seedsmen like the Sligars treat their seed rice with Ultra Clorox 2, which is registered as a seed treatment for use on rice.

“We treat our seed rice here at our facility at a heavier rate than rice that is grown for paddy is treated,” Jim says. “If we discover a field contaminated with bakane, we wouldn’t sell it, and we don’t have a lot of back-up fields for some of our varieties. That’s why we are super careful up front.”

According to the Rice Experiment Station, “Control of seed-borne diseases is best accomplished by using clean seed as determined by monitoring seed fields (six to eight weeks after planting), testing seed lots and using a seed treatment. Without a seed treatment, the disease can increase six to 60 times from one year to the next.”

Jim says about 330 gallons of Ultra Clorox 2 will treat 1,000 acres of seed rice.

M-105’s Commercial Debut

In addition to taking care of his regular responsibilities that go along with the family business, Eric also planted about 55 acres of M-105 foundation seed in 2011. M-105 is a newly released variety that was developed at the Rice Research Station in Biggs. It is a very early to early maturing, semi-dwarf, smooth-hulled, Calrose quality medium grain cultivar.

According to M-105 Rice: Description and Management Guidelines, “M-105 is a very early selection with parentage from S-103, M- 204, M-104 and closely related to M-206, currently the predominant medium grain cultivar in California. A primary breeding objective in this cross was to recover the high, stable milling yield found in M-206 in a very early maturing rice.”

Last season, Eric planted the M-105 one day later than he planted a field to M-206.

“From a production standpoint, I managed it the same way I managed the M-206,” he says. “It stayed fairly consistent with the 206 as far as size and tillering. However, at heading, I started to notice a difference. The M-105 headed out about seven to eight days earlier than the 206.”

Because the combine has to be cleaned when moving from one variety to the next, Eric says he harvested the 105 a little later than he had expected to.

“The rice had dried down to the low teens,” he says. “However, it graded 60/72 on its heading total, which is very good quality for rice that is that dry. The 105 yielded about 94 sacks per acre, same as the M-206.”

The state average yield last year was 78 sacks per acre, but Butte County generally pulls the state average up quite a bit.

“Farmers in Butte County typically budget their operations at about 80 sacks per acre, anticipating harvesting from 85 to 92 sacks,” he explains. “Anytime you break 90 sacks per acre, you are doing something right.”

Another positive attribute of 105 is that it is a bigger plant, but stands well – even after weathering a few storms last year – which makes harvesting it much easier.

The Sligars sold out of 105 seed rice this year because many farmers are anxious to plant this early variety that has shown to have excellent quality. He and his dad are going to plant about 90 acres of 105 for seed rice in 2012, almost doubling what they planted last year.

“If we get another cool year and it produces well, and if farmers are happy with it in a less-than-adequate growing year,” Eric says, “then M-105 is poised to make a jump as one of the major rice varieties in California.”

Contact Carroll Smith at (901) 767-4020 or csmith@onegrower.com.

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