ECP projects and events

As part of the industry’s commitment to environmental best practice, the ECP has been given funding assistance to collaborate with our local partners on a number of projects that improve the industry’s environmental performance.

For more information about any of these projects, please contact our Environmental Projects Co-ordinator, Neil Bull:
Tel: 02 6953 0433 or 0428 603 557 Email: rga@rga.org.au

Bitterns in rice project

The Bitterns in Rice Project began in 2010 when a Mayrung district rice grower photographed a pair of Australasian Bitterns in his rice crop. Knowing little about these elusive birds he sent the photo to Birdlife Australia, who contacted the Environmental Champions Program to investigate how we could work together to learn more about this endangered bird.

The ECP obtained funding from a range of organisations to establish population estimates and study these birds’ use of rice crops as surrogate habitat. A steering committee was formed and Wildlife Ecologist Matt Herring was engaged to lead the field work. Funding partners in this project include Riverina LLS, Murray LLS (previously as CMA’s), RIRDC, the Norman Wettenhall Foundation, Coleambally Irrigation and Coleambally Landcare. Significant in-kind support has been received from Coleambally, Murray & Murrumbidgee Irrigation, Murrumbidgee Field Naturalists Club, NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, Murrumbidgee & Holbrook Landcare networks and ECP members.

We found:

  • A significant population of Australasian Bitterns use Riverina rice crops as habitat during the growing season.
  • Birds were found in the Murray, Murrumbidgee and Coleambally irrigation areas, with the highest population in Coleambally rice crops.
  • Australasian Bitterns nest and raise their chicks in our rice crops.

Further field studies this season will focus on bird populations and breeding outcomes in the regions rice crops, with additional surveys of local natural and man-made wetlands.  The majority of this work will be carried out in the Coleambally and Murrumbidgee Irrigation areas thanks to funding support from Riverina LLS.

 

Habitat value under different agronomic practices

Rice crop management practices have been recorded for all crops formally surveyed for Bitterns.  Initial findings highlight this bird’s preference for aerially sown crops, which we believe is due to the earlier flooding of the fields when compared with drill sown rice. The review of these practices has been used to prepare the first version of “Bittern Frendly Rice Growing Tips” 

 

Bittern Friendly Rice Growing Trial

Thanks to the goodwill and generosity of Coleambally rice growers Bernard and Samantha Star, the first ever bittern friendly rice growing trials are underway!

They have donated a total of 15 ha in 5 bays. One will be pesticide free, while two will only receive minor treatment for bloodworm and barnyard grass in the early part of the season. These three aerially sown bays are adjacent to two other bays that will be managed as normal. 

We’ll be monitoring the frog and waterbird populations, as well as any bittern activity, throughout the season. It will be very interesting to see what differences there are. After harvest, we’ll be able to compare the all important yield data. In the future, with the necessary replication of different treatments, we’ll be able to fully test and update our bittern friendly rice growing tips.

Special thanks are due to SunRice Grower Services for donating the seed and to Coleambally Irrigation for their general assistance in making the trial happen.

 

Pozible campaign

During October 2014, the Bitterns in Rice project team successfully raised in excess of $50,000 as a participant in the Landcare NSW-Pozible Environment Collection crowd funding campaign. These funds will be used to satellite track at least seven Australasian Bitterns during 2015 and 2016. The project will hopefully answer many questions including, “where do the Bitterns go outside the rice season?”

For the most up to date information on the project please check out the Bitterns in Rice project Facebook page here.

 

  

Biodiversity in the house paddock

The Biodiversity in the House Paddock project has been funded through the RGA ECP’s Collaboration Agreement with the Murray LLS. The aim of the project is to demonstrate how to strategically plant locally native plants within the house paddocks to provide habitat for a range of native bird, reptile and insect species.  A planting guide titled “Beyond the Garden” has been produced as part of this project. This booklet is available for a small fee by contacting the RGA office or Neil Bull on the details above.

Stubble management

Every year following the rice harvest, the ECP runs a stubble management awareness program to ensure that growers are aware of alternatives to stubble burning and how to burn responsibly where it is necessary to do so.

A range of information about responsible stubble burning for RGA members can be found here

You can listen to the advertisements about stubble burning we run on local radio stations here

With the support of funding from the Commonwealth Government’s Caring for Country program, the ECP is also investigating a range of innovative stubble management practices through a demonstration trial project being conducted at a range of sites across the Riverina.

The trials include:

  • Composting of rice straw
  • Stubble incorporation techniques
  • Rice bio char processing and use
  • Crop planting trials into standing stubble using the Happy Seeder

The results of these trials will be communicated to growers at the conclusion of the trial in 2015. For more information contact Neil Bull on the details above.

Greenhouse gas emissions

A priority for the rice industry is to better understand greenhouse gas emissions produced from rice growing in Australia. Although some work has been done on this topic overseas, little is known about what is occurring in Australian conditions, and what management practices might be effective to reduce our emissions profile.

With the support of funding from the Commonwealth Government’s Action on the Ground program, we have engaged scientists to investigate the extent of our emissions under different management practices. This three year project should give us a clear indication about what effect varying irrigation timing, fertiliser regimes and stubble loads has on emissions from rice in Australia.

The project will be completed in 2016.