Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Water hogs

"From its beginnings feeding newly arrived Chinese miners and railroad workers, California's rice-growing industry evolved into a powerful and much-maligned part of the state's agricultural economy.

Rice farmers were criticized as water hogs for relying on millions of dollars in federal subsidies to grow a low-value, water-intensive crop. In autumn, they choked the air around the state capital with smoke from burning piles of harvest debris and made Sacramento's drinking water taste funny.

Today, about 2 million tons are produced each year in the Sacramento Valley, making California the nation's No. 2 rice producer behind Arkansas. California rice winds up in sushi, Budweiser beer, breakfast cereal and pet food.

About 60 percent of the state's crop is used domestically. The rest is exported to Japan, Canada, Turkey, Jordan, Liberia and other countries.

The industry is propped up by federal farm subsidies, more than any other crop in California. The government paid $1.5 billion to California rice growers over the past seven years, according to the Environmental Working Group." (Thanks Leila)

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