LOCAL NEWS ARTICLES:
Massa Family Farm: Making Organic Work (pdf) Edible Shasta-Butte
Calif. Growers Fear Biotech Rice Threat Washington Post
CUESA: Massa Organics CUESA:The Center for Education About Sustainable Agriculture
CUESA: The Grain Gap CUESA:The Center for Education About Sustainable Agriculture
CUESA: Raising Rice CUESA:The Center for Education About Sustainable Agriculture
Valley Rice Farmers Take a Hard Line The Sacramento Bee
Face of the Farm: A Sense of Intimacy: From the Massa Farm to Market Chico Enterprise Record
Valley Rice Farmers Take a Hard Line
Published 12:00 am PST Tuesday, February 20, 2007
A splinter group of more than 200 Sacramento Valley rice farmers is claiming that even experimental plantings of genetically modified rice jeopardize key export markets.
The group, Rice Producers of California, plans to release today a market study that documents the powerful opposition to such technology in several key export destinations: Japan , Taiwan , South Korea and Turkey .
While the study generally reinforces conventional wisdom about these markets, the fact that the group saw fit to commission a study at all illustrates the anxiety that many export-dependent farmers continue to feel about genetically modified crops.
The DNA of such crops has been altered to yield traits such as herbicide resistance or enhanced nutritional content.
Greg Massa, who farms rice near Chico and is the group's co-chairman, said he wants a ban on any outdoor planting of genetically modified rice.
Due in large part to export concerns, transgenic rice, as it is known, has not been planted by commercial farmers in the United States or in most other countries in the world.
But it has been planted in experimental plots, and last summer traces of a rice variety containing the herbicide-tolerance "Liberty Link" gene were found to have contaminated commercial rice in several Southern states.
Futures prices for long-grain rice plunged as European importers reacted by demanding that each shipment be tested, and some other countries banned imports. Suits seeking classaction status have been filed on behalf of farmers against the German company that developed the rice, Bayer CropScience AG.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has yet to determine the source of that contamination. Bayer did not respond to a request for comment.
California farmers grow short- and medium-grain rice varieties, not long-grain, and were not affected by the Liberty Link incident. But the event reinforced for some farmers the fragility of export markets.
"We have customers that want a very specific product," said Placer County rice farmer Nick Greco. And, he said, the risk to that product presented by outdoor test plots of transgenic rice -- however small -- is unacceptable.
Only one small test plot of transgenic rice was planted statewide last year, said Kent McKenzie, who directs the grower-funded California Rice Experiment Station in Butte County and is on the state board that oversees the introduction of new rice varieties.
As much as 40 percent of California 's $200 million to $400 million rice harvest is sent overseas. Nearly all of the rice grows in the Sacramento Valley . Rice is the region's most widely planted crop.
Massa said his group commissioned the study being released today to bolster its position in a simmering dispute with the California Rice Commission over transgenic crop policies. "They have been too willing to be accommodating (to biotech crop interests), and not willing enough to protect the farmers," he said.
Massa's members are all farmers, while the rice commission represents both firms that mill and sell rice, as well as the state's roughly 1,000 rice farmers.
Tim Johnson, president of the California Rice Commission, said that his group is in the process of reviewing its policy on genetic engineering. That review, he said, would address the issue of contamination arising from test plantings.
Johnson also noted that the rice commission pushed state legislation in 2000 that created a board with the authority to regulate the introduction of new rice seed varieties, genetically modified or otherwise. No other crop in the state is subject to such state-level oversight.
"The California Rice Commission has been very proactive in addressing biotechnology and other issues in the industry," he said.
For the study, a consulting firm interviewed dozens of rice importers in the four countries that represent the leading markets for California rice. The conclusion: Buyers in Japan and South Korea would reject genetically modified rice, and buyers in Taiwan and Turkey have strong objections as well.
Last week, farmers and activists seeking more thorough federal review of any new genetically modified crop won a significant court victory.
A federal judge in San Francisco held that the U.S. Department of Agriculture had not properly considered the potential environmental and market impact of the introduction of a new variety of alfalfa developed by Monsanto Corp. The ruling could lead to a mandatory and far more exhaustive review of new genetically modified crops than has previously been required.
* The Bee's Jim Downing can be reached at (916) 321-1065 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Face of the Farm: A Sense of Intimacy: From the Massa Farm to Market
Article Launched: 01/21/2007 12:00:00 AM PST
When someone goes to the farmers' market, there is a sense of intimacy in knowing that the hands that take your dollar for a pound of zucchini are the same hands that turned the soil and planted the seeds in early spring.
Rice farmer Greg Massa said since he's turned some of his land to organic and began marketing the grain at farmers' markets, he has enjoyed that closeness to the consumer, knowing he's selling a healthful product that will be enjoyed by people he has seen face-to-face.
"A conventional rice farmer has no idea where his rice goes," Massa said. The grain could go into beer or be shipped to Japan . The trucks of rice from the Central Valley are commingled and milled, then shipped off throughout the world.
Massa, with his parents and wife Raquel, farm more than 700 acres or rice and recently made the decision to go organic with about 60 acres. It was both a business decision and a philosophical one, Massa said.
With rice commodity prices being fairly low, the thought was that turning organic would help them tap into an underdeveloped market for organic rice. That's meant marketing the brown rice directly to consumers.
He, with the help of his family, has been marketing the Massa Organics rice at farmers' markets including Saturdays in Chico , as well as in Davis , Santa Cruz and San Francisco . They also have bulk customers who use the rice in organic food production.
Locally the rice is available in 2- and 20-pound bags at S&S Produce, Maisie Jane's and Chico Natural Foods.
He's stuck with medium-grain Calrose because it's a variety well-suited for the Sacramento Valley . The brown rice, which is milled, is popular with health-conscious consumers.
Massa said it makes a difference for him when he gets to meet the people who will be eating his rice.
"I have direct contact with my customers, the people who eat my rice. They know who I am. They tell me they like my rice."
That face-to-face connection is a marketing point for him, in that when they see the product in the store, they think of the man behind the combine. Massa said there are a number of organic rices for people to choose from, and it can make a difference when a consumer has seen the person who grows it.
The feedback has been fun. Massa said he gets e-mails all the time about how consumers have liked his rice.
"That's even better than making money," he said. "That is really fun to have that connection to people who like your product."
Both Massa and his wife studied biology and feel a strong connection to the environment.
In 2001, they built a rice straw bale house near Ord Bend, where they are raising five children. Straw bale homes are known to conserve energy because rice straw is an excellent insulator.
The direct marketing has been a nice transition for him, he said. He really enjoys the interaction with people and knowing he is there to represent a product he is proud of.
While he and his parents still have the vast majority of their plantings in conventional rice, he's hoping to be able to transition more rice into organic over time.
"It's a whole new way to farm," he said. "It requires a lot more vigilance on keeping ahead of the weeds. It requires a whole different mindset."
Weeds, of course, are a problem.
"To keep yourself sane, you have to not think it's a disaster every time you look at the fields," Massa said.
It takes more diligence to be organic, which takes a three-year process and certification. Water is the main repellent. He carefully manages the water levels, monitoring the water levels so the rice seeds will sprout, but weeds will be deterred. The farming operation uses cow manure from Glenn County dairies as fertilizer.
"I monitor the fields about every other day to see what weeds are sprouting," he explained, wading out in wading boots or at times in hot weather in his shorts and water shoes.
During the growing season, it seems like he's almost killing his crop to suppress weeds, he said. He'll lower the water level to wait for the weeds to withdraw.
"It's like the desert out there, pushing the rice to its limit and hoping the rice will outlast the weeds. When you get to that fourth week of drought, you look out there and think you have killed your entire crop," he said.
But then the rice snaps back.
"I'm intrigued by this whole movement toward local food production," he said. "The farmers' market and connections between the consumer and farmer. That's really rewarding when people say they like your rice."
For more information, see massaorganics.com.
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