On the last week in March, ten Bay State Milling employees set out on the first of two trips through the heart of northern California rice territory. We spent time with our colleagues at Bay State Milling, Woodland, CA who educated the group on the local agricultural landscape, having built strong relationships in the rice growing and processing community as a cornerstone of the company’s supply chain. Our goal for this first trip was to expand our knowledge about rice, the growing requirements and learn how the growing season impacts rice quality.
Who better to learn from than our rice growers and millers? Our large group set out on a road trip. One highlight along the way was the rice fields in every direction. The fields were being prepared for seeding, which would happen in a few weeks. Rice fields are laser leveled, to help conserve water, and then flooded before seeding. Conventional rice fields are flooded with about four inches of water, whereas organic fields require double the water at about eight inches in an attempt to minimize weed growth. Seeding occurs via plane guided by a global positioning system. The grains are soaked to begin the process of germination and to weight them down so they sink upon impact to begin the growing process underwater. Water is maintained on the field throughout the growing season with the monitoring role of field staff crucial for a healthy rice field.
During our road trip, we stopped at the scenic Lake Oroville Dam and recreational area, which was a beautiful overlook of water that is naturally warmed by the sun before being used to flood the rice fields. Water is in high demand, and the inches of rainfall can drastically impact the quality of a rice crop. Droughts and poor growing conditions can cause a rice kernel to stop growth and then start again when conditions are more favorable. This stop/start cycle in the growth of a rice kernel can create tiny cracks, which become weak points during processing. These weak points increase the quantity of “brokens” and decrease the amount of high quality head rice (table rice), leading to what growers call a bad crop season.
March and April represent rice planting season in California. Medium grain rice and some short grain rice are the major varieties grown here, due to northern California’s specific climate and soil type. These two varieties of rice thrive on hot temperatures (105°F is perfect) during the day, cooler nights, and low humidity (less than 30%). California’s soil is mostly clay in this area, which retains water, making it ideal for rice growing. California only has one rice-growing season, running from March to October, so a good yield of high quality rice is crucial for farmers.
Rice grown in California has many uses and one application catching a lot of press right now is baby food. Recently, an article released by Food Safety News focused on concern over the levels of inorganic arsenic found in rice, a primary ingredient in baby foods. The article can be found here: FDA seeks comments on inorganic arsenic in infant rice cereal. Historically, California rice has tested very low to nil levels of inorganic arsenic, making it a safer choice as a baby food ingredient, when compared to rice grown in the Delta region of the US.
We extend our thanks to those who participated and guided us on this eye-opening road trip. We look forward to reporting on our second trip to observe the rice harvest process. Please stay tuned for updates after the trip in October and feel free to reach out to Bay State Milling for further questions on everything rice!