Drones and the California Rice Industry November 3, 2016

The most rewarding part of Image In Flight is the variety of companies we get to meet. Most recently I flew for the USA Rice Federation in Colusa, California. After I captured the footage of the rice harvest this October I got a brief lesson in the history of the commercial rice industry here in California.

When you think about rice the first thing that pops into your head are the rice fields over in Asia, but did you know that there is a huge rice industry here in the United States?

In fact the second largest producer of U.S. rice is California.

Image In Flight - California Rice combine

History of California Rice

California saw it first major jump into rice production around the time of the California gold rush. Since then California has steadily grown its commercial rice production and as of 2006 it is the second largest producer of rice in the United States.

California rice is so prominent that almost every piece of Sushi in the U.S. is made with California rice.  

The commercial rice industry is also responsible for about 25,000 jobs in the state of California.

So how is this tiny yet powerful grain grown?

How rice is harvested

Step 1 – Preparing the fields

Farmers start to prepare their fields in March every year. They begin by leveling the fields. The more precisely the fields are leveled the more water can be conserved. Many farmers use GPS and lasers to precisely level their fields. Once the fields are leveled fertilizer is added. Many farmers rotate the crops each year so the correct nutrients must be added using fertilizers. Once the correct amount of fertilizer is added small furrows are dug into the fields.

Step 2 – Flooding and Seeding

As soon as the field is prepared around April, farmers flood the fields. Water is added at a depth of about 5 inches. This precise amount of water causes the rice plants to get the right amount of nutrients and sunlight while simultaneously choking out weeds. This means less pesticides are used for weed control.

After the field is flooded planes loaded with soaked rice seeds fly at 100 MPH and drop the seeds which sink into the furrows.

Step 3 – Growing the Plants

It takes around 4 to 5 months for rice plants to mature. While the rice is growing farmers are careful to keep the depth of the water at 5 in.

Towards the end of the summer the grain begins to show at the top of the plant.

By September the rice plants have reached their full height at 3 ft and the grain is mature and ready to be harvested.

One field of rice will produce around 8,000 pounds of rice.

Step 4 – Harvesting the Rice

Water must be drained from all of the fields before the harvest can begin. Once the fields are dry, machine harvesters enter the fields and collect the grains.

Bankout wagons drive alongside the harvesters to collect the rice. This allows the harvesters to continue harvesting without stopping.

USA Rice Instagram 2 from Image In Flight on Vimeo.

Step 5 – Cleaning and Storage

Once the rice is collected it is dried out and stored. Once it is dried it is milled. Brown rice is rice with the hull removed, while white rice is rice with the bran removed so that just the white center is left.

USA Rice Instagram from Image In Flight on Vimeo.

California Rice

California will not be slowing down their commercial rice production any time soon. And while there have been concerns about producing rice while there are droughts throughout the state, new irrigation practices have lead to a 40% increase in water efficiency.

Image In Flight travels all over California helping businesses like USA Rice capture what they do. If you are interested in finding out how Image In Flight can capture your business contact us now for a consultation.

Heather Emerson-Smith


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