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Nice rice price buoys Butte County growersNice rice price buoys Butte County growers

County’s crop values in ‘22 topped $692 million, a five-year high.

Todd Fitchette

September 18, 2023

2 Min Read
California rice
Butte County rice growers harvested over 410,000 tons of predominantly medium-grain rice in 2022. Growers saw higher yields and prices compared to the previous year.Todd Fitchette

Improved rice prices helped buoy the Butte County, Calif., crop report in 2022, amidst a catastrophic year for rice plantings across much of the Sacramento Valley growing region.

Butte County rice farmers were able to plant much of their land to rice that year, while their neighbors on the west side of the valley left most of their land fallow due to an unprecedented cut in surface irrigation deliveries from the Central Valley Project.

Crop values in Butte County topped $692 million last year, of which nearly 47% of that value came because of rice production. Rice prices 61% higher than the previous year helped bolster the annual crop statistics figure on a year that saw dismal prices drag down tree nut values. This is the highest gross agricultural value in the county since 2017, and well off the 2013 record value of over $869 million.

“Butte County rice farmers were fortunate to have the water they did in 2022,” said Colleen Cecil, executive director, Butte County Farm Bureau.

Water available

The year was marred by zero-percent surface water allocations to farmers on the west side of the Sacramento Valley. Because Butte County sits on the east side of the valley, and had better access to surface water from Lake Oroville, Butte County’s growers were able to plant nearly all their rice acres in 2022.

Rice acreage last year totaled more than 85,000. Harvested acreage has varied across the county since 2013 from about 85,000 to just over 98,000, according to county crop statistics.

Rice tonnage was up on the year to over 410,000, according to the annual crop report. Yields were up almost 30% to 4.8 tons per acre, on average. Seed production from rice came from over 6,300 acres of farmland. More than 62 million pounds of rice seed was produced.

Though diversified in its crop portfolio, rice production helped carry what could have otherwise been a dismal year for Butte County agriculture. Almonds and walnuts, which ranked No. 2 and 3, respectively, in gross value, had dismal years on grower pricing that ranged from an average of $1.50 per pound for almonds to 40 cents per pound for walnut growers.

“Forty-cent walnuts were a gift to some growers,” Cecil said, noting that not all walnut farmers were paid as well that year.

Because those prices haven’t changed, Cecil says some growers will opt out of harvesting a walnut crop this year because the low prices won’t cover the cost of harvesting and processing.

On a more positive note, prune tonnage and prices were up in 2022. Prune growers harvested over 17,000 tons of fruit from 6,954 acres, producing an average of 5,000 pounds per acre, a 19% improvement from the previous year.

Prune prices were up 21% on the year to the grower.

About the Author(s)

Todd Fitchette

Associate Editor, Western Farm Press

Todd Fitchette, associate editor with Western Farm Press, spent much of his journalism career covering agriculture in California and the western United States. Aside from reporting about issues related to farm production, environmental regulations and legislative matters, he has extensive experience covering the dairy industry, western water issues and politics. His journalistic experience includes local daily and weekly newspapers, where he was recognized early in his career as an award-winning news photographer.

Fitchette is US Army veteran and a graduate of California State University, Chico. 

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