For farmers in parched California, it's water allocation time. An annual rite of spring, the state's water authority monitors winter storm runoff and sets water deliveries for customers. Those regional water allotments are cut into chunks and trickle down to small farmers like Mike DeWit, a second-generation rice farmer in Northern California. He proudly grows a medium-grain variety that once cooked is soft, sticky and holds its shape when molded—perfect for sushi rice.
If you like sushi, there's a good chance you've eaten rice grown by DeWit or his fellow farmers in the Sacramento Valley, the northern end of the Central Valley. About 97 percent of California's entire rice crop is produced in the Sacramento Valley, where the heavy clay-like soil and long warm summer days and nights nurture high-quality medium-grain rice.
Rice planting will begin in earnest in April. For now DeWit is waiting for his final water allocation numbers, but he knows they will be low. California is stepping into year four of a drought, and a second year of severe water restrictions for farmers. Residents can't use hoses to wash cars without shutoff nozzles. Restaurants can only serve water to customers who ask for it. Farmers are reducing acreage and installing more efficient irrigation systems to conserve water. Rice grows submerged in water so successful rice farming boils down to savvy water management.