The organization representing one of this region’s most important industries – rice- has received the green light to continue its work.

The organization representing one of this region’s most important industries – rice- has received the green light to continue its work.

The State Department of Food and Agriculture last week completed tabulating ballots for the California Rice Commission referendum, reporting that the commission was reauthorized by an overwhelming margin.

The Department said that nearly 84 of the rice growers and close to 86 percent of the handlers who voted cast their ballots did so in favor of continuing the commission for at least five more years.

“This is positive news,” said Gridley grower Ralph Cassady. “The California Rice Commission has continually proven itself as an excellent representative for our industry.”

The commission began operations in 1999.  The first referendum of the organization five years ago also passed by an overwhelming majority of growers and handlers.

Cassady said he expected that the commission’s work would take even greater importance in the coming years. He said critical future issues included air and water quality regulations, the debate over diesel rules; pesticide regulation and the helping the industry deal with potentially tight water supplies from the state’s third straight year of drought.

“Rice growers face many challenges,” Cassady said. “We need the commission’s work to help ensure that we have the right climate to have the opportunity to prosper.”

Cassady cited special agricultural provisions in the recent diesel regulation as one recent victory the commission was instrumental in achieving.

“What the commission did as part of a coalition of agricultural groups provided immense value,” he said. “The estimated $40 million in savings for rice growers over the next decade from an extension in new truck exhaust rules will be a tremendous boost to our financial outlook.”

Rice growers and handlers face a second vote in late February, deciding a major amendment for the rice commission.  The vote will determine if the maximum assessment cap for the commission is increased from 10 cents per hundred pounds of rice produced to 15 cents, split equally among growers and handlers. If the amendment passes, it does not ensure that the assessment will rise. It does, however, provide the group financial flexibility in moving forward.  The commission budget is set annually and committees must approve all program areas.

“I encourage all rice growers and handlers to vote on the amendment, “ Cassady said. “I am for it, as it will provide the organization the tools necessary to best represent our interests.”

Rice spans more than 100,000 acres in Butte County each year. The crop returned some $130 million to area farmers in 2007.

California’s rice crop covers more than 500,000 acres, the overwhelming majority of which can be found in the Sacramento Valley.  California is the nation’s second largest rice producer in the U.S., with annual production averaging about four billion pounds.