Rice and the Environment
The rice industry is one of the most proactive agricultural industries in the area of environmental management.
Our industry was the first to initiate a project to return water to the environment through the Living Murray initiative, delivering more than 12,000 megalitres to the river system. We were the first agricultural sector in Australia to develop a regional biodiversity strategy, and the first to develop a greenhouse reduction strategy for growers.
Our environmental strategy is based on the five key priority areas of water, air, soils, habitat and community in our rice industry environment policy.
The industry’s environmental aims are delivered through our world leading Environmental Champions Program (ECP), which promotes environmental improvements on farm.
The rice industry is currently doing a lot of work to help protect the endangered Australasian Bittern, which relies heavily on rice crops in the Riverina region for habitat and breeding. For more information,visit our ECP projects and events page.
In the Riverina, farmers grow annual crops such as rice only when enough water is available. This makes it perfectly suited to our variable climate.
Rice growers are allocated their water last – after the environment, towns, livestock and permanent plantings. Unlike permanent plantings, rice production can be switched on or off depending on water availability.
Being a scarce resource, water is valuable to growers and the environment. Rice growers are continually improving their water use efficiency to get more crop from every drop. They do this by adopting the world’s best management practices. This includes:
- Only growing rice on suitable heavy clay soils to avoid seepage
- Having access to continually improving rice varieties that need less water per kilogram of rice produced
- Improving the efficiency of irrigation layouts, including the ability to recycle all water when not used by the crop
- Adopting more efficient seeding and watering techniques
- Using residual moisture in the ground after a rice crop to grow high yielding grain crops
Over the past 20 years, rice growers have drastically improved their water use efficiency, using 50 per cent less water than the global average to produce each kilogram of rice.
Conservationists recognise the Australian rice industry is careful with water. They recommend our rice.
"When you buy Australian rice…you know that they’re careful with the water, you know they treat their labourers well. Who knows what happens overseas?"
Arlene Harriss-Buchan, Australian Conservation Foundation.
Australia’s rice growers were the first to get involved in an industry-led greenhouse reduction strategy. This provided important information for growers on known ways to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by adopting different practices on farm.
The industry is investing in much needed research to better understand how a range of different watering, fertiliser and stubble management practices can reduce greenhouse emissions from rice growing.
The rice industry is also at the cutting edge of chemical spray drift reduction technology. We developed the Bickley Boom method of aerially applying herbicides to rice crops, a technique leading to near total reduction in spray drift and the protection of nearby vegetation and waterways. Our environment policy aims to ensure all growers use best management practice when handling and applying chemicals on farm.
The RGA also runs a stubble management awareness campaign each year promoting alternatives to stubble burning and educating growers about responsible burning practices where it is necessary to do so.
The health of our soils is vitally important to the industry’s ability to grow high quality, profitable crops and leave our soils in better condition for future generations. To do this, we need to continually improve the structure, fertility and biota of the region’s soils.
Our growers are constantly looking to improve the health of their soil by adopting better practices in the following areas:
- Maintaining stubble to improve soil structure
- Understanding optimal crop rotations to include ‘green manure’ crops
- Better tillage management to minimise soil disturbance
- Adopting precision agriculture techniques to understand and remediate soil deficiencies
- Matching soil types to production systems
There is still much to be learnt about farming practices that can benefit soil health and this is a major priority for the rice industry when investing our research dollars. We have already made a significant investment in precision agriculture and stubble management projects that will help us better understand how the health of our irrigated soils can be improved by innovative new management techniques.
The farms where rice is grown host an enormous diversity of wildlife, including threatened or endangered species such as the Australasian Bittern and Southern Bell Frog. The rice industry understands the importance of biological diversity on farm, not only for the environmental benefit this brings, but for achieving better integrated pest management on farm.
As part of their commitment to environmental protection, our growers undertake a number of management practices on their farms to improve habitat and biodiversity. These include:
- Preserving and rehabilitating vegetation
- Managing wetlands and waterways within their farms
- Controlling pest species and protecting native species
- Planting wildlife corridors
The industry has also invested significantly in efforts to preserve the endangered Australasian Bittern by better understanding how they use rice crops as habitat. More information about this can be found here.
The strengths of our local communities are critical to ensuring our growers have the knowledge and skills to adopt the most environmentally friendly practices they can. The rice industry provides many opportunities for people in our region to experience learning opportunities, share knowledge and skills, build important local networks and partnerships, and take leadership roles. Community strength through spreading knowledge is essential for our industry to reach our environmental goals.