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Annual Rice Field Day draws crowd
An international crowd descended on the California Rice Research Foundation's Experiment Station on Wednesday for its annual Rice Field Day near Biggs.
They toured its outdoor rice nurseries by flatbed truck, watched videos on the station's programs and dined on rice dishes for lunch or a snack of sushi.
The station celebrates its centennial this year, having been established in 1912.
An estimated 600 visitors attended the event and were treated to old photos, artwork and posters outlining the station's history.
A booklet on the station indicated rice production in California was proposed in the mid-1800s but did not get going until 1908 with a successful crop on 40 acres of the Crane Ranch southwest of Biggs.
The experiment was the work of soil specialist W.W. Mackie with the USDA's Bureau of Soils Survey.
It also led to the assignment of C.E. Chambliss from the Bureau of Plant industry to take charge of the rice industry in California, officials said.
He worked with farmers from 1908 to 1911 in planting rice in the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys and eventually created a permanent "cereal" station.
It was served by an association of growers as well called the Sacramento Valley Grain Association.
As the years went by, the facility expanded with the re-birth of the grain association into a nonprofit called the California Cooperative Rice Research Foundation that could raise funds for the program and take donations.
Today, it has about 500 acres and continues to flourish in cooperation with the University of California, USDA and other sources.
Those attending the field day included not only farmers but individuals associated with other areas of the industry along with people who were not into farming.
Clyde and Rebecca Corbin took the rice nursery tour after coming to Biggs from Oroville.
Mrs. Corbin had stuffed the gift bags on the part of the Omega Nu Sorority.
"I've seen it growing in the field," she said, but she had not seen rice close up.
Gage Houser and Steve Wilkes said they had been to the field day four to six times.
The men handle financial issues for the Rice Research Trust, they said.
"Last year, they put canopies on top which is huge," Houser said, of the tarps over the flatbeds. "The first time I came it was 103 degrees and people were passing out."
Butte College instructor Tip Wilmarth was happy to attend.
"I'm enjoying it," he said. "There is always something new to learn."
Wilmarth added understanding the necessity of rice to the world's caloric intake for humans is important.
Also discovering the amount of research that goes into producing it "to get to our tables" is needed, he said, since many people do not realize what goes into it.
Station Director Kent McKenzie said "This was a different type of field day as it was more about our history than our research."
He said 100 years ago some local people thought they could grow rice here and worked with the US Department of Agriculture to get it going.
It worked out quite well and McKenzie said he hopes it will keep working.
Presentations focused on genetic research, weed control, the types of rice farming done around the world and the fact old rice varieties like Caloro and Calrose are still being used.
McKenzie said current projects include interest in weed control, which is always challenging to farmers, since it is costly and can be difficult to achieve.
They also are interested in new types of rice like a new Calrose type and another Japanese style short-grain variety for premium rice consumers.
Researchers want to see how well these rice varieties do, he said.