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Spring 2015

Rice Shine


While rice is traditionally associated with Asia, which commits 90 per cent of its agricultural land to growing the crop and consumes 90 per cent of global production, Australia plays an important role in the international rice industry. Through global food business SunRice, Australia provides enough rice to feed over 20 million people in more than 60 countries across the Middle East, North America, Asia and more every day. In a non-drought year, Australia is able to export about 80 per cent of the rice it produces, which represents around two per cent of the world trade and an impressive 25 per cent of the medium grain trade.

Commercial production of rice in Australia began in the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area (MIA) of Southern New South Wales in 1924 to 1925. In 1930 the Australian Rice Growers Association (RGA) was formed to protect local growers’ interests and secure the future prosperity of the rice industry. An important focus of RGA was to build infrastructure that would enable members to mill and market their own rice, which saw the formation of Ricegrowers’ Cooperative in 1950 – now commonly known as SunRice, which operates under a company structure. Today, SunRice is one of the world’s largest rice food companies with operations and staff in Papua New Guinea, the Solomons, Japan, the Middle East and the United States, as well as in Australia.

In the late 1940s, as a result of a severe world-wide shortage in rice production during the Second World War years, Australian rice growing areas expanded to include parts of the NSW and Victoria Murray Valley. The industry continued to grow, and the number of farm businesses growing rice in the MIA and Murray Valley combined has grown from around 900 in 1955 to over 1,500 today. These growers hold the impressive records of using 50 per cent less water in their rice production, from paddock to plate, and produce more high quality product per hectare than the global average.

The Australian rice industry is a leader among agricultural industries when it comes to environmental management, known for its work in proactively adopting a range of air, soil, and wildlife practices. Antony Vagg is a man who knows the industry well, as a fourth generation rice grower who currently also serves as the Operations and Technical Services Manager of Rice Research Australia, a subsidiary of SunRice. Antony spends a significant amount of his time in Queensland, as SunRice is currently offering sugarcane farmers from Central QLD to Tully the opportunity to grow rice during their fallow land periods. Crop rotation is widely practiced by Australian rice growers, as it includes a number of benefits both for the crops (e.g. natural pest control) and the soil, taking about 115 days from planting to harvest. Queensland farmers can grow these rice rotation crops either during the wet season (planting in December to January and harvest in April to May) or the dry season (planting from June and harvest in November to December), depending on location.

SunRice is firmly committed to expanding the rice industry in Queensland, having last year acquired the Blue Ribbon Rice Mill in the Burdekin and recently purchasing a rice planter for growers in the Mackay and Proserpine area to increase their planting capacity while saving them significant outlay costs. The three-metre John Deere planter is a popular choice amongst rice growers due to their excellent seed placement precision. To Antony’s pleasure the planter was quickly procured through the Vanderfield Mackay team with ‘excellent service and backup’.

SunRice has expanded its operations to Central and North Queensland to complement its existing supply of rice from the Riverina region, so it can meet demand for the annual 1.15 million tonnes of rice it has markets secured for. Because of its favourable climatic condition, water supply and reliability, North Queensland is regarded as one of the most promising rice-growing areas outside of the Riverina.

While many rice growing regions around the world grow rice in flooded ‘paddy’ bays, in Central and North Queensland it is mainly being grown in an aerobic system, using raised bed furrow irrigation and sprinkler irrigation. These irrigation methods have been trialled by SunRice for the past eight years in the Central and North Queensland regions, with results close to traditional paddy irrigation systems. As these methods don’t require laser levelling or earthworks to build a paddy system, it means rice can easily fit into existing cropping systems. With its short, four-month growing period, aerobically grown rice also adds security for farmers as it enables them to grow two crops in one year if they wish.

Aerobic rice is well suited to the northern climate, where a few different types of rice aimed at a niche, high-value market can be grown, including some medium grain varieties of rice and a number of specialty long grain varieties, including a jasmine fragrant rice.

The expansion of the rice industry into Queensland is an exciting opportunity for Central and Northern based famers, as rice offers the opportunity to enhance their off-harvest growing options. Crop rotation with rice as a secondary crop will benefit growers not only by improving the bottom line of their operation, but by enhancing soil health and decreasing disease breakouts with reduced chemical usage, while only having to do a few adjustments to pre-existing beds. For more information, or to explore this option further, expressions of interest are welcomed through Antony Vagg on 0437 862 428. For any enquiries on planters, all your John Deere and VNET needs, or to service your HINO truck, contact the Mackay team on 4966 3300 or ring 1300 VANDER for your nearest Vanderfield team.

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