About The Rice IndustryThere are three main players in the Australian rice industry:
- Rice Marketing Board for the State of NSW
- Ricegrowers’ Limited (SunRice)
- Ricegrowers’ Association of Australia (RGA)
A Rice Industry Co-ordination Committee co-ordinates industry policy when required.
The graphic below outlines the roles each organisation plays in managing, maintaining and promoting the industry.
The Australian rice industry has the capacity to produce more than 1 million tonnes of rice per year. Our growers play an important role in food security as rice sustains two-thirds of the world’s population.
Australian rice is milled, packed and branded in the Riverina by SunRice, which is the sole exporter of Australian rice products produced in New South Wales to world markets. It supplies more than 60 major international destinations.
Australia’s climate makes it ideal for the production of high quality medium grain rice and Australian growers produce more rice per hectare than anywhere else in the world. The Australian rice industry leads the world in water use efficiency. From paddock to plate, Australian grown rice uses 50% less water than the global average. Water use per hectare continues to decline because of the industry's commitment to developing high yielding rice varieties that use less water, and the use of world's best management practices.
History of rice in Australia
Rice seeds were brought to Australia by Chinese gold prospectors around 1850.
The first record of rice cultivation in South Eastern Australia was in 1906, when the Victorian Government allocated 200 acres of land on the Murray River to former Japanese Parliamentarian – Isaburo Takasuka. Despite floods and droughts, he managed to produce a crop for commercial sale in 1914.
The first commercial crops were grown in the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area in 1924 – 1925.
During World War II, rice was declared an essential commodity. In mid-1942, all Australian rice supplies were placed at the disposal of the Commonwealth Government. Practically no rice was available for Australian consumption. Even so, a huge shortfall in supplies to the Services and Allies was expected. With Asian rice producing areas paralysed by war, the Commonwealth urgently appealed to the NSW rice industry to produce 100,000 tonnes of rice. But the Burrinjuck Dam was still only half full and water did not exist to meet the Commonwealth’s request.
The RGA acknowledged that the MIA alone could not hope to meet Commonwealth requests and cooperated with the Government in forming a Rice Production Committee. This is when rice growing began in the Murray Valley.
The rice industry posted impressive growth through the 1950s. At the beginning of the decade there were some 368 rice growers in the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area. By 1955 there were 591 in the MIA and 310 in the Murray Valley. The industry contributed significantly to the local economy. By 1952/53 rice was contributing about one-third of total MIA production.
Today, there are around 1,500 farm businesses growing rice in the Murrumbidgee Valley of NSW and the Murray Valley of NSW and Victoria.
Dr Gary Lewis has published this e-book, The Growers' Paddy - Land, Water and Co-operation in the Australian Rice Industry to the 1990s.
Growing rice in Australia
Not just any farmer can grow rice
To grow rice, a farmer needs to gain approval from their irrigation infrastructure operator who is responsible for complying with a licence issued by the State Government and must follow the rice water use policies of the various irrigation corporations (Murrumbidgee Irrigation Limited, Murray Irrigation Limited and Coleambally Irrigation Cooperative Limited).
These policies seek to provide an even distribution of water over the landscape and balance hydraulic pressure on the water table which means rice is only able to be grown on approved soils and growers can only plant rice on around one-third of each farm.
Rice can only be grown on approved heavy, clay soil that minimises
seepage into water tables. Soil tests must show more than three metres of
heavy, continuous clay to allow for unrestricted rice growing.
Once a farm has been approved for rice production, many farmers opt to design a whole farm plan to assist in the management of natural resources and determine suitable crop rotations.
Laser levelling technology is often used to prepare the rice ground, ensuring water is distributed evenly and can be easily applied and removed. Rice is grown in bays which are surrounded by soil banks, creating a large, flat ‘bathtub’ effect.
Rice is a summer cereal crop in the Riverina, with planting in October. Farmers can use various methods to dry sow rice, with water applied after sowing, or crops can be aerial sown using pre-germinated seed into bays already containing water.
Crops are grown in 5 – 25cm of water, depending on the plant’s growth stage, which provides moisture for the plant and protects it from fluctuations in temperature. Using water to insulate the plant from cold overnight temperatures during January is particularly important for yield. High temperatures and the addition of nitrogen and phosphate fertilisers will improve growth.
As the grain begins to mature, the farmers 'lock up' the water on the bays. This means no water leaves the paddock; it is fully utilised by the rice plant. The soil then dries out in time for harvest to commence.
Large grain harvesters mechanically harvest rice from March to May. Once harvested, the rice is commonly named paddy rice. This is the name given to unmilled rice with its protective husk in place.
More crop per drop
Once Australian rice growers harvest their rice, they use the
subsoil moisture remaining in the soil to plant another crop; either a wheat
crop or pasture for animals. This form of rotation is the most efficient in
natural resource and agricultural terms.
Temperate varieties suit our climate
Our climate and heavy soils are uniquely suited to growing medium grain rice - a niche variety produced by only a handful of countries. Medium grain rice is not suited to tropical climates, but the Riverina’s dry hot summer provides ideal growing conditions.
Storage & Milling
Once rice has been harvested it’s transported by truck to a paddy storage facility where the grain is sorted according to variety. Rice storage bins fitted with computer-linked sensors monitor grain storage conditions and keep the rice at a suitable temperature and moisture level. The warm dry conditions in the region allow the use of ambient air for natural moisture reduction.
After the storage manager receives orders and transport instructions, the rice is trucked to one of the industry mills throughout the Riverina, where processing begins.
- Step 1: Removal of hard protective husk
The rice husk is the protective layer surrounding the grain. Once removed, the rice grain may be packaged as brown rice. Brown rice still contains the rice germ and outer bran layers – important for healthy body functions.
- Step 2: Removal of the germ and brown layers
Gentle milling removes the germ and bran layers from the grain to expose a white starch centre. The polished white starch centre is what we know as white rice.
Marketing & Export
The majority of rice grown in Australia is sold to Ricegrowers Limited and is successfully marketed under the SunRice brand. SunRice has been marketing rice to Australians for over 50 years and is one of Australia’s largest exporters of branded food products and one of the world’s largest rice food companies.
The rice industry typically generates around $800 million in revenue per year. It employs and supports thousands of people across regional Australia and plays an important role in the economic health of the irrigation regions of southern New South Wales.
SunRice supplies 60 major international destinations, including countries in the Middle East, North America and Asia. In a non-drought year, up to 80% of Australian rice is exported. That represents about 2 per cent of world trade, and 25% of medium grain trade.
The Australian rice industry operates without any production or export subsidies – unlike most of its major competitors. Australian rice competes on international markets against subsidised product and is prohibited from free entry into many countries because of trade barriers.
Rice is more than just a staple food – it’s a versatile ingredient used in many dishes and cultures across the world.
Rice is rich in energy-giving carbohydrates, very low in fat, contains no cholesterol, and is salt free, sugar free and gluten free.
In Australia, we grow many varieties of rice to suit the culinary expectations of our consumers. The different varieties each have their own texture, cooking ability and taste.
Visit the SunRice website for more information about the range of products produced from Australian rice.
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