Quality defies water and heat

SunRice predicts smallest rice crop in years due to low water allocations


Cropping
Tom McConnell, Belmont, Barham, checks Viand organic rice sown mid November and currently being harvested by the McDonald brothers, Barham. Photo by RACHEL WEBB.

Tom McConnell, Belmont, Barham, checks Viand organic rice sown mid November and currently being harvested by the McDonald brothers, Barham. Photo by RACHEL WEBB.

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It may be a small crop, but it's a mighty one.

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This year's rice harvest is underway and it's set to be a meagre one.

SunRice has predicted the 2019 Riverina rice crop will be close to 50,000 paddy tonnes, the region's second smallest since the start of the millennium drought and just a fraction of last year's 625,000 tonne crop.

The reason is simple. Rice needs on average 12 megalitres of water a hectare and water is not something a lot of irrigators currently have.

Water allocations for the Murrumbidgee were at seven per cent, while Murray irrigators were on zero.

Rice Growers Association president, Jeremy Morton, said there was an obvious correlation between the allocations and how much rice was grown.

"I think of the 50,000t that's likely to be harvested, only 5000t will be coming out of the Murray Valley," Mr Morton said.

SunRice's general manager of global agribusiness and sustainability, Tom Howard, said Sunrice had done what it could to give growers security in the context of a precarious water situation.

"For Riverina rice harvested in 2019, SunRice offered fixed price per hectare based contracts of $500/t for medium grain Reiziq and up to $650/t for the specialty variety Koshihikari," Mr Howard said.

Mr Howard said SunRice was appreciative of the support from growers who grew rice this year, despite a lack of water.

Barham rice grower, Andrew McConnell, along with his brother David and son Tom took the chance.

The McConnells planted a 24 hectare organic rice crop, down on their 160ha crop last year, but still a risk due to what they had to spend on water.

"There were a lot of sleepless nights over it because you know water's gone to $400/ML so we had to do all those calculations all the time on when is it going to mature, how much more water do we need and how much more money are we going to shovel into this," Mr McConnell said.

"If temperatures had dropped below 15 degrees one night we could have had a significant reduction in yield."

But luckily for the McConnells no cold nights came and the crop managed to yield well for an organic variety, at about 7.4t/ha.

Mr Howard said growers across the region were recording impressive yields.

"The hot summer helped to achieve some exceptional yields, with a confirmed 15.3t/ha Reiziq crop (medium grain)," he said.

Mr Howard said in anticipation of the small crop, SunRice had carried over a significant volume of paddy and finished product from last season to serve its markets into the next financial year.

  • Turn to page 31 for more on this season's rice crop. 
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