Ag & Food Policy Summit Showcases Conservation Efforts in California Rice Country

Small fish held in human hand above blue net and container of water
Baby salmon get a boost being raised in California rice fields
Sep 15, 2020
WASHINGTON, DC -- Sustainability and conservation were the focus last week at the Agri-Pulse Ag & Food Policy Summit West, and rice was the star of the show.  This year, the annual event focused on California agriculture and was held virtually due to COVID-19, but the speakers did not let the pandemic get in the way of discussing topics ranging from food waste to cell-based food technology.  Speakers highlighted the importance of partnerships forged between farmers and environmental organizations.

“The wonderful thing about working with agriculture is that there are a lot of innovative farmers who want to be part of the solution, and we have found that we have a lot to learn from farmers,” said Ashley Boren, executive director of Sustainable Conservation.  “We have also found that when you bring diverse interests together, you can really foster innovation.  By working on the ground and really understanding how things play out there, we can use that knowledge to help inform policy at the government level to support the kinds of things we’d love to see.”

Among the topics discussed were the great strides in water usage reduction, and water and air quality that California farmers have made in the Sacramento Valley over the last several decades.

“Farmers care about the land they farm, and they care about conservation,” said Dan Cameron, farmer and chair of the California State Board of Food and Agriculture.  “It’s a natural fit.”

Paul Buttner, manager of environmental affairs at the California Rice Commission, talked about the California rice industry’s partnerships with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) and Ducks Unlimited to provide half a million acres of habitat for shore birds, migratory birds, and ducks, as well as ground-dwelling creatures like garter snakes.  

Buttner also reported on the innovative two-year, $1.4 million project to raise baby fingerling salmon in winter-flooded California rice fields.

“Baby salmon grow very rapidly in rice fields, because it’s full of exactly what they need to grow big and fast,” said Buttner.  “We want to not only grow the fish in the fields but then demonstrate what their survivability is.”

The NRCS-funded program implants tiny transmitters into young salmon to determine how many of the fish raised in rice fields survive the full trip out to the Pacific Ocean.
“California rice’s next journey is to take all of the wealth of experience working with our farmers to provide world class water-bird habitat, like we’ve been doing for the last couple of decades, and turn our attention to doing the same thing for salmon,” said Buttner.  “We have additional work to do and I’m very excited to see what the future holds in this area.”