You could say the story starts here, at Mount Shasta, about 150 miles north of the rice fields of the Sacramento Valley. Spring rains and Shasta’s melting snowpack feed Shasta Lake, the reservoir that collects the water of California’s largest river – the Sacramento – so the flow can be regulated.
As spring unfolds, Nomura’s rice growers in the Valley take to their tractors and begin their work. First up is the tilling, to spread nutrients and aerate the soil. Laser and GPS technologies allow precision-leveling of the fields, which can then be fertilized.
This is commercial-scale growing at its best.
But there’s more to this story than the heavy equipment. There’s an art to this farming that springs from years of accumulated wisdom. The growers know their land and they know rice.
Now that the soil is ready,
it’s time to bring on the water.
The Sacramento Valley is interlaced with an extensive irrigation system, carefully engineered and monitored for conservation. When the time is right the irrigation ditches are filled and the individual rice fields are flooded to a depth of 5 to 7 inches.
If you want to see daredevil flying, visit the Valley at the beginning of May when aerial seeding is at its peak. Bright yellow planes bank and wheel in the blue sky, then skim over the gleaming fields. There’s a rushing sound like driving rain as the rice hits the water, 185 pounds of seed per acre. The seed is pre-soaked so it immediately sinks and disappears, leaving only the rippling water to tell the tale.
Every run happens at full speed… and so do the takeoffs, landings, and the refills.
Although it often looks like old-school barnstorming, there’s a lot of tech in this flying. GPS guidance removes the guesswork and the planes are specially designed for maneuverability. But it’s still a high-risk undertaking. And everything is subject to the weather. An unanticipated wind can ground the planes and double the workload for the next day.
Meanwhile, at Nomura’s Rice Researchers Inc., there’s a whole different kind of spring planting going on. Our research program relies on classical plant breeding techniques and small-scale farming under controlled conditions. Much of our planting is done by hand, in test plots that have been carefully selected by our researchers to profile different growing environments.
The most recent addition to our program is a seed drill that gives us even more control over our development of better rice.
Using the drill we can sow dozens of test varieties quickly and with consistency. The same task, when done by hand, required five days of painstaking labor.
As we move into the heart of spring, green shoots of rice will begin to show in our fields. Water, seeds, and soil have come together… and now the Californian sun can work its magic.