Early indications are that yields will hold up and may even be better than projected.

"From the few growers I have talked to, they seem to be pretty happy with early season short grains," said R.G. "Cass" Mutters, Butte County University of California Cooperative Extension farm advisor.

Cooler weather during August head-filling weather is the most often cited reason for the good yields.

Preserving the return from those yields has never been more important because of low prices. That is being made more challenging by the higher drying and handling costs because of higher energy costs.

Mutters said one drying operation in his area increased fees by 11 percent this season.

In a study of harvest conditions over the past years, Mutters and University of California energy specialist James Thompson determined that with increased energy costs, the optimum harvest moisture may be lower than the general recommendation of 24 percent for medium grain rice.

"Total yield increases slightly at lower moisture and drying costs are lower for drier rice," reports Mutters. "If net grower return -- USDA loan value minus handling and receiving charges — is considered rather than head yield, then the optimum harvest moisture is 21 percent."

Not very sensitive

In studying the past four seasons, Mutters and Thompson determined that harvest return is "not very sensitive to moisture content" and that there is no more than a 1 percent in revenue harvesting at moistures ranging from 18 to 24 percent. An 11 percent increase in drying charge reduced grower return by only three to four cents per hundredweight at harvest moistures of 18 to 24 percent.

The risk of poor returns begins to increase below 18 percent and harvesting above 24 percent increases the risk of off-odor development.

Drying costs nullify the financial value of harvesting at moistures high enough to obtain maximum head rice quality. Mutters points out this is true for only medium grain varieties.

"A preliminary analysis of premium medium grain (M401) shows that there is a financial advantage to harvesting at higher moisture. M401 has highest heat yields at higher moistures than regular medium grain varieties and is paid a premium for head rice.

If drying charges are increased by 50 percent, the maximum return is obtained at 20 percent moisture and "drops off rapidly above 22 percent."

Fortunately, Mutters said weather has been warm during the early stages of this year’s harvest and that is facilitating rice dry down in the fields.