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Penning Family Farms
Sutter County, California
I was raised in the small town of Robbins, California — an ag community of 100 people in the Sutter Basin area of the Sacramento Valley. I am a fourth-generation farmer, whose family has been a part of the rice industry since the early 1900s. Today, my parents, my wife, our children, along with my brother and his wife, are all actively involved in the operation. We’ve been a family farm for quite some time.
Although we received about 6 inches of rain in October 2021, rice yield and quality were good, and the price of rice was great. Every year is unique. We collect a data set from every field each season. This information helps us make decisions for the next year.
We use all types of technology, including drones, satellite imagery, soil sampling, variable-rate applications and yield monitoring. We also look at plant density populations early in the season to determine where our weed pressure potentially could be.
As far as our labor situation, we try to do as much as we can ourselves. We have from six to eight full time employees — other than family — who work in the rice fields and walnut orchards. Our group of seasonal labor is what I call our “returners.” They show up in the spring to help plant and then return in the fall to assist with harvest.
We have our own spray rigs, which allow us to be more efficient in making fertilizer and herbicide applications on the amount of ground we have to get over. Also, the liquid herbicides have to be applied by ground, and we have temperature restrictions when the weather gets hot during the summertime.
We can start early in the morning with our ground rigs and shut down at 11 a.m. or noon if it gets too hot for the employees. We’ll just send everybody home and tell them we will start again at 4:30 or 5 in the morning. The window is only so big to do what you need to do. That’s why we have all this equipment.
Battling Weeds and Insects
We try to plan for potential weed issues we may face as the rice season unfolds. But we also must be ready to adapt to whatever conditions Mother Nature throws at us. California arrowhead, smallflower umbrella sedge and roughseed are some of the weeds we go after with our base herbicides. But the primary weeds we fight out here are small- and large-seeded watergrass. Sprangletop is also becoming more prevalent.
If we have watergrass and sprangletop on one of our ranches, we plan to apply RebelEX® CA herbicide by ground in those fields. The rice and the weeds have to be emerged because RebelEX CA is a contact herbicide. This means you have to watch the size of the rice plant. The warmer the weather, the faster the rice is going to grow.
If we just have watergrass, we can apply Granite® GR herbicide by air once the rice has reached the 2 ½ leaf stage.
Last year was a light armyworm year, but some years they invade the fields and start to get big real quickly. When that happens, we apply Intrepid® 2F insecticide by air to take them out. Armyworms can devastate a rice crop, but Intrepid has a Section 18 in California and is a good product to fight this pest.
We also watch for the armyworm monitoring bulletins that are posted by the University of California Cooperative Extension and Corteva Agriscience. These notifications help us keep up with potential armyworm peaks.
With our current water situation, we need to pray for rain but be willing to adapt to the conditions that come up.