As fourth-generation rice farmers in Butte County, my brother, sister and all our spouses are proud to continue the tradition of our family’s heritage. In addition to growing rice, I operate a commercial ground application business as a separate entity. This business does the ground spraying on our family farm, which represents 20 percent of my total service area in Butte, Colusa, Glenn and Sutter counties.
Our most challenging weeds are watergrass, sprangletop, bulrush and smallflower umbrella sedge. Watergrass and particularly sprangletop are showing some level of resistance to certain herbicides. Because we’ve always been diligent about rotating chemistries, we are still able to manage these weeds and keep resistance to a minimum. We use all the chemistries available in California on some portion of our operation every year. Clincher, Granite SC, Granite GR and Grandstand herbicides have all performed well for us. We also apply thiobencarb and propanil and use Londax as a tankmix option to broaden the weed control spectrum.
To sustain the longevity of farming rice on the same land and help with resistance issues, we need access to more herbicides with new modes of action. For example, Dow AgroSciences has a broad-spectrum herbicide with Rinskor active ingredient that could be available to us in a few years. We as an industry will help bring these types of products to market as soon as possible.
Belt Tightening And Water Availability
Last year, California experienced a large drop in the price of rice. Although we are always watchful of our expenses, we have to keep our costs to a minimum this year to be profitable or at least minimize our losses. It’s a cycle, and I have experienced a number of them in the 25 years I have been farming.
We are fortunate that our farm is in an area with an incredibly strong water right. When we did receive a curtailment in 2015, we had to supplement about one-third of our crop’s irrigation with groundwater. This year, if we can figure out how to best use the water we have been blessed with, we will have ample opportunity to plant all of our rice acres. The only obstacle will be if this wet trend continues and prevents us from preparing all our ground in a timely manner. We would rather not plant beyond June 1. The risks associated with a late harvest are too high.
As California rice farmers, we face a lot of challenges today, but we will get through this cycle over time. That’s what I am counting on. We must remain vigilant and watch our costs to the best of our ability.
Sheppard Family Farms
Rice farmer and commercial ground applicator
- B.S. degrees in agribusiness and water science, Cal Poly State University, San Luis Obispo
- Grows rice and 200 acres of English walnuts
- Represents Butte County on the California Rice Commission Board of Directors and serves as chairman
of the Industry Affairs Committee
- Member of USA Rice Farmers, USA Rice Regulatory Affairs Committee and USA Rice Conservation Committee
- Member of Butte County Farm Bureau
- Married to wife, Kathryn (pictured above). Two children: daughter Claire, 16; and son Jack, 14
- Enjoys snowmobiling, traveling and water skiing with the family. Likes to hunt and fish with his son and attend
livestock shows with his daughter. Recently, he has developed a fondness for kiteboarding.