California Dreamin’

Rice farmers reflect on family, wildlife and their love of the land

The California Rice Commission posts blogs on its Web site by California rice farmers and others associated with the industry. The first two blogs featured here are by Sandy Denn, who, along with her husband Wally, owns and operates Snow Goose Farms near Willows in Glenn County. The third one is by fourth-generation rice farmer Tom Butler, who farms with his father, Steve, in Sutter and Yolo Counties.

Family In California Rice Farming: 10/10/2012

The crop grows, and it leaves a legacy. People grow and leave a legacy. What am I talking about? Well, I got to thinking nostalgically this time of year. It’s a good time to reflect. And I reflect on times that I spent with my grandfather, and, now, here I am the third generation on this farm. I have a grown son who is fourth generation working with us on the farm, and he has sons who are very interested in staying in agriculture in some aspect.

There was a phase a few years back when I kind of despaired that the young people were leaving the farm to enter professions in such numbers that maybe agriculture was in a state of threat. I don’t think that anymore. I’ve seen too many fine young people go away from the farm, get their education and come back in a related profession that helps us in agriculture stay on the farm. They seem to take pride in their families’ legacy.

Winter Relections: 1/30/2013

Here we are out on the farm two months ahead of the season change. You know what? It’s just as much fun watching the week-to-week changes that occur on the farm this time of year. We’ve had, of course, the heavy influx of snow geese and pintails and speckled breast, and those now are kind of spreading out to other fields and are beginning to thin out in the waters that are here.

And while that happens, we then get the solitary birds, the hawks, the bald eagles, all the raptors start moving in. And it’s quite a thrill to look out your living room window and there sitting 500 feet away is a bald eagle sitting on a levee. We have had that experience for the last 10 days to two weeks now of having a visiting bald eagle. It’s a thrill I can’t describe.

The geese are wonderful and are exciting. The ducks are pretty and comical, but when you get the raptors in, it’s just something very, very special. Of course, the most special of all of those is the bald eagle. So we don’t have to wait for the change of seasons to see a real change on the farm.

Changing Farm History Of The Sutter Basin: 9/18/2012

This family farm that my dad and I run has about 4,000 acres of rice right now. That’s a pretty big change to what it used to be. When my grandfather started farming here in the late 1940s, this was actually a livestock farm, and half of the ranch was used to grow alfalfa to feed the mules and the livestock that were on it.

He segued into rice, but even when I was a kid in the 1980s and early ‘90s, there were only about 1,500 acres of rice grown here. There was a lot of rotation with row crop for processing tomatoes, sugar beets and melons.

Around the start of the 21st century, we decided to make a switch and reconfigure the ranch to grow rice exclusively. That took about 10 years. So here we are in 2012. Now we have completely flat and laser leveled rice paddies, and that’s a big difference from growing up when I used to see furrow beds, sugar beets and melon vines all over the place. I can’t predict what it will be in another 10 years.

Maybe we will rip it all up and grow corn, maybe it can go back to what it was. That’s the thing about this valley and this part of the Sutter Basin. You can grow anything on it. It’s great rice ground, but we are lucky that it has very diverse soils. We have a lot of options, but the options require planning and work.

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