Effects of drought, freeze on the minds of Colusa County farmers

A harvester cuts down a rice field in Colusa County.

Continuing drought conditions and the aftermath of a severe freeze continue to be prominent issues on the minds of Colusa County farmers. 

Water levels can greatly affect a farmer’s ability to water their crops and local agronomy research officials report that, on average, about five acre feet/acre of irritation water is applied to rice fields during the growing season. 

Water management techniques such as irrigation can be used to help alleviate water shortages but all farmers still need access to a fresh water supply to maintain their crops. 

“It always seems that it is a fight for them to get the water needed to grow the world’s food,” said Anastacia Allen, Colusa County agricultural commissioner. 

According to University of California Cooperative Extension officials, Colusa County has a landmass of 1,150 square miles, with only six miles of water. The current drought and newly implemented restrictions on water use have made it increasingly difficult for local farmers to continue to produce their crops at the levels that have been maintained in the past. 

“As the top producer of rice in the Sacramento Valley, Colusa County historically produces more than 150,000 acres of rice in a normal year,” said Colusa County officials. “In April 2022, the water districts serving Colusa County were given their final allocation for the 2022 growing season – 0.4-acre feet per acre. This allocation is not enough to support rice production, and estimates show that the Sacramento Valley will fallow 370,000 of 450,000 acres in the Sacramento River Settlement Contractors service area, primarily in Colusa and Glenn counties. Currently, less than 7,000 acres are estimated to be planted in Colusa County, resulting in a direct financial loss to growers in excess of $270 million.”

In 2020, 125,504 acres of rice were harvested at a value of $432 per unit and 23,886 acres, with rice crop values totaling more than $2.8 million. 

Franz Niederholzer, University of California Cooperative Extension farm advisor for Colusa, Sutter and Yuba counties and UCCE County director for Colusa County, said the record cold experienced in the region on Feb. 24 and surrounding days caused potentially widespread damage to area almond crops, also severely affecting crop production within Colusa County. 

Colusa County officials said this freeze ultimately resulted in a 74% loss of local almond crops, with an estimated direct financial loss to growers of nearly $210 million. Downstream impacts from this decrease are also felt by dryers and processors, leading growers to be concerned about future labor shortages, said officials. 

The almond crop took the top spot as Colusa County’s highest producing commodity in 2020, making up 33% of the county’s total crop value that year. In total, 68,604 acres of almonds were harvested in 2020 with a value per unit of $3,900. 

Colusa County’s top exports in 2020 were rice and almonds, with 3.1 million pounds of rice sent to the United Kingdom, 27.4 million pounds sent to Japan, 3.1 million pounds sent to Mexico, 1.5 million pounds sent to Australia and 1.1 million pounds sent to New Zealand. A total of 28.7 million pounds of almonds were exported to India as well. 

Data from the 2022 rice and walnut crop seasons has yet to be released.

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