GROUNDBREAKING research is about to commence into the North’s rice industry in what has been hailed as a potential game-changer for the crop in the tropics.
It will be the first time that dedicated researchers will investigate which varieties may best prosper in Queensland’s unique tropical environment.
Rice is currently grown successfully alongside sugarcane in the Burdekin and Ingham areas, with growers recently expanding into Tully and Gordonvale.
But it is hoped that with the use of a $4 million Federal Government grant, the industry will gain a greater foothold in the North.
SunRice General Manager AGS, Grower Services and Agronomic Development Tom Howard said the new research and development program would focus on breeding and selecting rice varieties specifically for tropical conditions.
“North Queensland has the ideal environment for growing rice as a rotational high value crop that complements the sugarcane farming system,” Mr Howard said.
“It can assist growers to improve their cash flow by utilising fallow land and generating significant profits for their farm business, along with potentially improving soil condition and breaking disease cycles through crop rotation.
“We’ve had a good recent harvest and ongoing research and development projects are designed to improve on productivity.”
Mr Howard said North Queensland was an ideal location to develop alternative sources of domestic supply to target premium markets.
”We are committed to building a sustainable rice industry in North Queensland to benefit local growers and their communities.”
Giru grower Allan Milan said he hoped the research would help overcome challenges faced in the North.
“We're growing rice and we're growing successfully and it's all happening but we're probably 90 per cent of the way,” Mr Milan said.
“There's this 10 per cent and we won't be able to jump through that next hoop without that help and this funding.”
Mr Milan said the Doongara variety currently planted in the Burdekin was bred for southern climates and while growers were doing well, there was room for improvement.
He said the tropics had vastly different growing environment nad conditions, with no specific research, until now.
“Everything is slightly different, from planting to harvest,” Mr Milan said.
”But we’re doing it, we’ve just come off a really good harvest where all of the growers had consistently good yields.
“It depends on what varieties we end up growing but with the current variety we’d like to see those figures go up to double digits, around 10 tonne plus.
”Here we’re trying to grow those niche varieties to attract premium prices and go to premium markets.
”A lot will depend on the outcomes that are achieved with this $4 million three year program.
Mr Milan foresees great potential for the Wet Tropics areas including Tully, Gordonvale, and Proserpine and Mackay.
“There's plenty of spare land up there over the wet season with sugar cane farmers.
“As far as industry goes, it's going, we're moving along... for a lot of growers the industry is actually in the best position to date since SunRice came on board four years ago.
”If they can get a handle into some of those sorts of areas and get some fallow ground, the potential is there to create a substantial industry that would possibly create jobs.
”We’re actually in a better situation as we have ever been.
“We’ve got these blokes on board, the funding's happening, and growers are turning out good results.”
The Federal Government has committed $4 million for the three year program under the Rural R&D for Profit program.
It will be delivered in partnership with AgriFutures, the University of Queensland, the University of Southern Queensland, the NSW Department of Primary Industries and SunRice subsidiary Rice Research Australia.