• President and CEO, California Rice CommissionSacramento, California


Stephen Hesse’s
April 26 article, “Ignorance of ‘sustainability’ is not an option,” falls apart if one takes the time to do a little fact-checking. His assertion that the U.S. government spends hundreds of millions of dollars annually in California “to subsidize farmers who grow water-guzzling crops such as rice” doesn’t survive when all of the facts are on the table. Rice has been grown commercially in California for a century, and our family farmers pride themselves on being good stewards of their resources. The overwhelming amount of water used to grow rice in the Sacramento Valley, which is where more than 95 percent of the state’s crop is grown, is not subsidized. Our water source comes from dams and canals developed and paid for by farmers.

Water for rice is water for the environment. More than 220 wildlife species utilize California rice fields, which provide an estimated $1 billion in habitat value, supplying nearly 50 percent of the food for millions of wintering waterfowl in the Pacific Flyway. Support from the U.S. Farm Bill helps our farmers maintain these environmental benefits. Payments to farmers comprise a small fraction of the overall Farm Bill spending. Two-thirds of the funds head directly to consumers through food and nutrition programs.

Another misunderstanding involves the perception of rice being among the more water-intensive crops. Our fields are flooded to a depth of only 5 inches (12.5 cm). It takes about the same amount of water to grow a serving of rice as it does oranges or broccoli. The debate over the true meaning of sustainability will surely continue. It’s important when making this evaluation that one is working with the correct information.

tim johnson

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.