Rice Farmers Have Bigger Problems Than Uncle Ben’s Recall

Texas rice farmers have bigger problems to contend with this week than the Mars Foodservice’s voluntary recall of its Uncle Ben’s Mexican flavored rice. Several years of severe drought – and the ensuing competition for water – has farmers fearing for the future of rice production in the Lone Star state.

Ronald Gertson, of the Texas Rice Producers Legislative Group and a rice grower himself, summed up the situation, “Water issues are beginning to dominate the landscape in Texas.” Mars and Uncle Ben’s have always been based in Houston, where rice has been a cash crop since the 1880s. Rice farms once stretched for 100 miles both east and south along the Gulf Coast, where rainfall is typically plentiful.

Rising demand for Colorado River water, upstream around Austin, is a much bigger problem for Texas rice farmers than the Uncle Ben’s recall. Over the past three decades, Austin has become a hipster Mecca. In the heart of Texas, tourism and the population of Travis County are both booming. The number of people living in the city of Austin from 1980 to 2010 more than doubled, mushrooming from 346,000 to over 840,000. The increase has resulted in urban sprawl, much of which has occurred around several man-made reservoirs along the Colorado River known as the Highland Lakes.

Businesses around the lakes, many of which rely on tourism dollars, have an economic interest in maintaining the height of water levels. Sadly, several years of drought conditions have lowered water levels to the point that wooden docks, which were once boat parking for restaurant customers, sit bleakly in dry brown dirt — reminders of a wetter past.

Sparks are expected to fly between rice farmers and Highland Lakes residents at a meeting with Governor Rick Perry’s office on February 12th. Farmers down river have not used Colorado River water for two years, due to low levels. But an organization of lake residents known as the Central Texas Water Coalition (CTWC) has lobbied hard for higher lake water levels, which farmers fear could cripple rice agriculture.

Texas was once the second largest producer of rice in the nation, but with the loss of over 400,000 acres in farmland devoted to rice cultivation, it has fallen to fifth place. “In human terms,” said Gerton, “The amount of rice that would have been produced on that land could have provided 100 percent of the caloric needs for one year for about 840,000 people — the population of Austin.”

Lakes residents contend rice farmers are demanding more than their fair share of the water. Farmers, on the other hand, accuse CTWC of fear mongering for publishing a report stating that the state has not provided sufficient protection for drinking water supplies during times of drought. Having struggled without river water for irrigation two years in a row, growers fear the state will never give it back.

Acknowledging a connection between global climate change and the ongoing drought, Gertson said, “Climate change is a fact. Are we in an extended dry period? Maybe so, but it would be a shame for everybody to start hoarding, when we could get a flood any day that would turn things around.”

Uncle Ben’s recall problems are a temporary hiccup, compared to the bigger issue facing Texas farmers: will there be enough water to keep growing rice?

By Melissa Roddy

Texas Water Report
Central Texas Water Coalition
Your Houston News

We will read your comment immediately so leave a remark!

RSS Guardian Express

  • Iranian Messi a Target for European Elite: World Cup Preview [Video] April 20, 2014
    A number of Europe’s elite clubs are targeting a young forward dubbed the “Iranian Messi” before he is selected to represent his country at the 2014 World Cup. Rubin Kazan forward Sardar Azmoun is a rising star and he is tipped to win senior honors at the big event in Brazil. Premier League side Arsenal […]
    Robert Shepherd
  • Los Angeles Times Building Scare April 20, 2014
    A scare at the Los Angeles Times building resulted in a lockdown and search of the entire premises. Suspect, Matthew Lowes, was detained by police and taken without incident from the second floor of the building. The second floor of the Times building has space rented by VXI Global Solutions, which Lowes works for. Lowes […]
    Raul Hernandez
  • Indiana Pacers Struggles Continue April 20, 2014
    The Indiana Pacers’ late-season struggles continued as the team lost to the visiting Atlanta Hawks yesterday by a score of 101-93. When the team is playing its best, the offense features a balanced attack. In order for the offense to hum, the team needs balanced scoring from the inside and outside. Against the Hawks, Roy […]
    William Costolo
  • Influenza B Virus Making a Strong Spring Appearance April 20, 2014
    The Influenza strain B virus is making a strong appearance, although spring is not its usual time of year. This strain of the flu is not the same one that was making people sick mid-winter. This means that even if someone has already had the virus once this flu season, they can still get it […]
    Twanna Harps
  • Toronto Raptors Have Bitten Off More Than They Can Chew April 20, 2014
    If you look at the day the city of Toronto and their beloved Toronto Raptor’s had, it would be really easy to come to the conclusion that the  Toronto Raptors have bitten off more than they can chew. Toronto Sun Times readers were greeted with an incendiary cover , featuring a picture of Kevin Garnett […]
    Daryl McElveen

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 628 other subscribers