A win for water-wise rice growers

Jerilderie and Yenda rice growers recognised at rice industry awards

Cropping
Renee and Peter Burke, Jerilderie have been named the 2019 SunRice Growers of the Year. The Burkes said a diverse water portfolio has given them options in dry years. Photo supplied.

Renee and Peter Burke, Jerilderie have been named the 2019 SunRice Growers of the Year. The Burkes said a diverse water portfolio has given them options in dry years. Photo supplied.

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Former dryland farmers grow a 15.4t/ha rice crop.

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Renee and Peter Burke from Jerilderie have been named the 2019 SunRice Growers of the Year.

It was the Burkes' diversified water portfolio, water efficiency practices, industry-leading workplace health and safety and impressive production results that made the couple stand out to the panel of judges.

The Burkes achieved an average yield of 13 tonnes per hectare for their C19 rice crop, 33 per cent above the Murray Valley five year industry average.

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Mr Burke said his interest in the water market had allowed them to create a diversified water portfolio, giving them options for irrigation even in a dry year.

"Water is my passion, I live and breathe it but obviously it can be a challenge," Mr Burke said.

"We do a lot in leasing entitlements (high security and high reliance out of Victoria) and forward purchase from other years to make sure we have water availability going into a drought.

"If you can go into the first two to three years of a drought with water, you have options in front of you.

"It can be risky, but for us it's just part of a risk assessment we do every year."

The Burkes have also adopted water efficiency measures such as direct drilling.

Mr Burke said this had led to a saving of around three megalitres a hectare.

Double cropping also maximised their production.

Mr Burke said in a standard rotation they would sow rice, harvest it for hay and then direct drill oats back into the stubble.

"It's not just rice you're growing, you're getting potentially 13t/ha of rice and 10t/ha of straw, followed by 5t/ha oats and another 4t/ha straw," Mr Burke said.

The Burkes are proud adopters of Safe Ag Systems, an investment in their on-farm work health and safety.

Mrs Burke said they encouraged others to do the same.

"We're in the process of rolling it out and are currently about 80 per cent of the way through," Mrs Burke said.

"It's a changing landscape and there are programs out there where you can safeguard your business and your most important asset, yourself and your workers."

Despite the Burkes' success growing rice they are pragmatic when it comes to deciding whether to put a crop in this coming season.

"We are set up water wise but it comes down to economics," Mr Burke said.

"If the price is high enough to justify the water usage we'll grow rice.

"But the rice industry has always been an important part of our lives and will continue to be going forward."

Former dryland farmers achieve highest rice yield

Brett and Louise Turner, Yenda took out the 2019 Rice Extension award for Highest Yield. Their Reiziq crop averaged 15.4t/ha.

Brett and Louise Turner, Yenda took out the 2019 Rice Extension award for Highest Yield. Their Reiziq crop averaged 15.4t/ha.

In 2013 Brett and Louise Turner made the switch from dryland farming at Lake Cargelligo to irrigating at Yenda.

Just six years later they have taken out the 2019 Rice Extension Highest Yield award.

The Turners' 39 hectares of Reiziq rice had an average yield of 15.4 tonnes per hectare, which was 31 per cent above the five year industry average for the Murrumbidgee and the highest yield overall for the C19 season.

Mr Turner said all the stars lined up for their C19 crop and it was their best average yield result for rice so far.

"I think it was fair drinkum just luck," Mr Turner said.

"As well as good agronomy and making sure all the little things are done right and on time."

He said the shift from dryland cropping to irrigating involved a shift in thinking when it came to timings.

"With dryland we timed by the clouds, it's the rain that runs your clock but coming to irrigation you can go off your calendar, if you want to start watering you just lift the door," Mr Turner said.

In drier times, the Turners mulch and bale their rice stubble before planting a winter cereal.

Mr Turner said this enabled them to utilise the moisture left behind by the rice crop.

The Turners' high-yielding rice crop at Yenda. The couple switched from dryland to irrigation farming six years ago. Photo supplied.

The Turners' high-yielding rice crop at Yenda. The couple switched from dryland to irrigation farming six years ago. Photo supplied.

He said water levels on their rice crop also had an impact.

"We tried to keep it shallow at the start and then after Christmas when it becomes more intolerant to cold we made sure it had a foot of water covering it," he said.

He said they usually grow 75-100ha of rice depending on paddock rotation but last season's low general security water allocation forced them to cut back to 39ha.

Mr Turner said next season wasn't looking any brighter.

"We're on zero per cent allocation," Mr Turner said.

"But I'll have a paddock or two ready to go if the water comes through."

A special mention at the awards also went to Robert and April Andreazza's Doongara crop, which yielded 14t/ha, the highest Doongara yield on record.

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