Rice is more than pilaf or something thrown at weddings.

It is also more than the 25,000 jobs and the $1.8 billion it pumps through California’s economy each year.

While rice is all of that and more, it is probably best known as “the environmental crop.” Rice fields in California provide year-round habitat for more than 200 different species of wildlife, including about 10 million migratory birds that traverse the Pacific Flyway twice a year.

A drive through rice country proves this. Shorebirds, waterfowl and raptors line the fields or fly overhead as humans with cameras seek photos opportunities to capture avocets, great blue herons, bald eagles, various hawks, geese, ducks and other critters. There are private preserves and public wildlife refuges throughout rice country, where one-fifth of America’s rice crop is grown.

Environmental issues play a vital role in what the California Rice Commission (CRC) does.

So important is the environment to the CRC, the slogan “the environmental crop” is written on the organization’s letterhead.

“We’re not an ‘eat more’ organization,” said Jim Morris, communications manager for the California Rice Commission. “We’re helping maintain the viability of this industry.”

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The CRC works on a host of issues throughout the year. Critical to the rice industry is the practical nature of helping growers apply the various regulations they face. Whether related to pesticide issues or water, they all have a decisive environmental flavor to them.

George Soares, an attorney who represents various agricultural organizations in Sacramento, including the California Rice Commission, calls the CRC a true leader in agriculture for its efforts to find and foster connections between urban legislators, urban interests and the rural-based rice growers represented by the CRC.

“We made a tactical decision many years ago to connect the rice industry with people in a way that matters to them,” said CRC President and CEO Tim Johnson. “It may not be the message agriculture wants to hear, but you really need to be focused on the messages that matter to the people who ultimately make the decisions that impact your industry.”

To do that the CRC employs its own regulatory staff, along with representatives who handle issues within the State Capitol and Washington, D.C.