By Ellen Walsh
represents a growing sector of family farmers adapting to the
demands of a specialty (higher quality) marketplace. The globalization
of the food market allows for customers in foreign, as well as
domestic markets, to custom grow rice with Lundberg that suits
the tastes of the market.
you sent all the rice grown in California for one year to Japan
and replaced their existing supply, an annual California crop
would be consumed in about 12 short weeks. Why then does Japan
look to specialty rice farms, like Lundberg Family Farms, to supply
them with organic rice? While the answer isn't obvious at first,
after spending a day in their rice fields, it became apparent.
on Images for Captions
a beautiful, sunny day in Richvale, California (about 20 miles
south of Chico) I accompanied Bryce Lundberg, a family farmer
of the renown Lundberg family, on a tour of their 10,000 acre
farm. I say this, because no day would be too beautiful if it
was steaming hot, as it is often apt to be in the 100 degree plus
days that are characteristic of this agricultural region. The
weather's been cooler than expected this summer, delaying the
harvest season by about two weeks. I fully expected to see the
wild rice harvest in progress, along with the long grain, medium
grain, short grain, aromatic grain, and their colorful exotic
grains. Unfortunately, I arrived just a couple of weeks before
the harvest was to begin.
cool temperatures this summer pushed the harvest off for, oh,
about a couple of weeks," explained Bryce. He added, "We're
ready to go, the minute it's ready to harvest."
OF SEED LINES
Lundberg Family Farm grows about 13 different
varieties of rice. Many varieties will remain whole grain brown
rice while others are milled down to white rice. While all Lundberg
Family Farms rice is grown using sustainable farming methods,
each variety is also grown organically as well. New varieties
are always under development in their nursery and in experimental
plots. They develop, breed and harvest their own seed and varieties
not only to ensure varietal survival (and supply) for generations
to come, but also in order to ensure the purity of the varieties.
continued, "Many of the varieties we grow are not grown anymore
by the California rice industry so we keep the varieties growing
ourselves. We propagate our own seed. The varieties I'm showing
you are currently in the seed development program at our farm.
We sow large seed paddies and we develop the seed that we use
we drove by seed plots of Wehani, Arborio, California Basmati,
California Jasmine, Black Japonica and many others, we came across
a variety I had never heard of before. "What is Hong Kong
Black?" I asked.
stopped the truck so we could get out to take a look. Hong Kong
Black, I found, is another variety currently under experimentation
on the Lundberg Farm. "This variety originates from Asia,"
he explained. "We do a lot of crossing. We take a variety
that is in our nursery and clip the seeds, collect the pollen,
and do a manual cross. Then we take the pollen, swap the seeds,
and grow them to see what kind of cross we get to accommodate
for the climatic differences that otherwise would make growing
the original variety unfeasible."
desire to create outstanding varieties of rice is an art form
treasured by the Lundberg family. Only natural methods involving
cross-pollination are used. "Here is a new variety of sweet
rice," Bryce indicated as he pointed to a small sized patch
to our left. "It's not new, it's from Japan, but it's a variety
that our customer from Japan wants, so we are doing some experiments
to see if it can grow here. This goes to a seed field next year,
and it will be ready to be planted for crop the year after that.
After this year, we will have a pretty good idea if it will come
to fruition or not."
is the focus here, and purity is always the goal. Unless we produce
a pure strain of seeds in advance, we'd end up with rice that
may have desirable characteristics, but wouldn't be pure. Seed
operations often strive for purity, but what is truly unusual
at Lundberg's is that a crop-producing farm would set aside acreage
to grow their own seed. "It's because we produce so many
varieties that are not grown commercially in California or anywhere,
that we need to maintain these varieties for the future. Our small
plots maintain our purity."
CONTROL STRATEGY FOR ORGANIC RICE
Organic farming represents about 60% of the acreage at Lundberg
Family Farms. "While we do eradicate the weeds by flooding
the paddy during the first phase, it does stress the rice. In
our second phase we dry up the fields so that the remaining water
hardy weeds are destroyed and hope the remaining rice is strong
enough to thrive," Bryce comments.
control strategy is a buzz term on this farm. Organic farming
results from a love for the environment and a desire to always
use natural methods to maintain the delicate balance of nature.
But with it comes an extra commitment to observation. The Lundberg's
keep a keen lookout to assure their current strategy maintains
effectiveness. Weeds are capable of adapting to extreme environmental
variances, so even though a natural weed control method works
now, there are no guarantees as to the duration of time a particular
method will remain effective ,so the Lundberg's are always working
on an innovative natural solution to replace those that aren't
doing the job. One method of stressing the weeds through flooding
then subsequently drying up is quite effective. The word of their
success practicing this method spread, and other organic farms
are trying their hand at this technique as well. It's challenging
most of the time.
CYCLE OF ORGANIC RICE
Early in the growing season, Lundberg Farms
uses deep water to drown the grasses. Weed control is the number
one challenge in growing organic rice. For every rice seed planted,
there, are potentially 50 weed plants that could grow around it,
choking it off. If you have a seedling at the beginning of the
year and you put water over the top of the soil, grass and weeds
start to grow at the same time. But weeds need to get through
the water and get a leaf on top in about 20 days. Rice has a window
of about 48 hours longer to get its leaf up. If it doesn't, then
the rice will drown as well. Different varieties have a tougher
time surviving. Akitokamachi, for example is really challenging.
Over time, total weed control is not possible. "We could
anticipate over time, that the weeds will become more adaptive
to whatever technique we are using, so we will devise another
natural control method," explained Bryce.
the second phase, the fields are drained of all water for sedge
control. This dry-up phase is another form of weed control to
eradicate the weeds and the weaker rice. Water management is always
a key issue involved in farming organic rice. During the third
phase, water is let back into the fields, so the crop can reach
Family Farms base acreage is roughly 3,500 acres, and they manage
another 7,500 acres through their loyal family of growers. As
we drove through the farm, I commented often on the natural ruggedness
and beauty of the terrain. On all the farmable land, they utilize
crop rotation as part of their strategy to build and maintain
healthy soil. Also, all acreage is routinely fallowed, that is,
given a periodic rests from planting to restore soil to its optimum
WILD RICE CROP
Nothing surpasses the beauty of a wild rice
crop. If you're inclined to marvel at nature's creations, then
you must include a stop to a wild rice field next August, just
before the harvest begins. Standing over 12 feet high, the beautiful
stalks of lavender, tan and golden plumes sway in the breeze to
create a rippling effect with nature's colors. As we got out of
the truck to get a closer look, I chose to stay on terra firma,
rather than schlock through the muck, because Bryce had the only
hip-high wading boots necessary to walk through the fields. So
dense was the field, the ground was not even visible. Bryce inspected
the stalks of the rice to see if they were ready to harvest. The
unexpected cool weather had slowed the maturation process down
so harvest was going to be delayed.
As we drove by the Akitakomachi, a Japanese
variety, I was amazed to notice it sported an almost auburn hue.
This paddy had just come out of the dry up cycle and the crop
had not finished greening up. Akitakomachi is treasured for its
beautiful round, pearl-like grain and delicate flavor. Typically
milled to a white rice, Akitakomachi is favored for used in Pacific
Rim dishes, sushi in particular. The Lundberg's successfully grow
and experiment with several varieties of rice originating from
Asian countries, making them the primary choice for Pacific Riclients
desiring their crops to be grown in California.
The popularity of Lundberg's delicious rice
cakes in Europe began with an American who relocated to Holland.
After several months of buying and importing his personal supply
of Lundberg rice cakes, this enterprising fellow became a European
Lundberg broker. He assumed if Europeans loved Lundberg's rice
cakes as much as he did, a great market potential could be realized.
As a result of this vision, Lundberg Family Farms is enjoying
an eager and growing market throughout Europe.
rice cakes are different than typical European rice cakes. Now
that the European markets tasted the thicker, crunchier, denser,
tastier cake, they really like them! Repeat business is steadily
increasing. "In the U.S. markets, most of the rice cakes
are about the same size, but ours have twice as much rice in each
cake," VP sales and marketing Tim O'Donnell explains. While
it hard to note the difference between Lundberg rice cakes and
conventional rice cakes while they are in the package, Lundberg's
are "deliciously dense". In the Euro market, traditional
rice cakes are even smaller, thinner, and even less crunchy. Basically
there is nothing like our rice cake in any other country. "
Lundberg rice cake package weighs about twice as much per package
as other American brands, with an even bigger difference in the
European brands. Repeat business stems from a crunchier, tastier,
more nutritious rice cake. Lundberg rice cakes can even be very
lightly toasted, an advantage that they maintain over all available
other brands. "The ability to toast the cake is clearly an
advantage," O Donnell explains with a smile. " The fragrance
is similar to baking bread."
Lundberg rice cake recipe is proprietary, of course. In the rice
cake popping facility, located at farm headquarters, they have
custom-designed and continuously improved their innovative system
of popping delicious rice cakes, and they add a delightfully diverse
range of all natural toppings and flavors to their 18 different
flavors. Representing a large percentage of the Lundberg's business,
rice cakes have been a favorite with their loyal American consumers
for many, many years.
want to know that they are eating a pure and healthy product.
If you start out with a great grain, you are going to end up with
a great rice cake. We will continue to support this product into
the European markets."IC