Nearly a century ago eight farmers from the Riverina planted the first commercial crop of rice.
The crop was grown from seed that travelled 14,464 kilometres from California to those farmers at Griffith and Leeton.
From those humble beginnings, the rice industry in NSW in 2020-2021 had an output valued at $196 million, with last year seeing a 452 per cent increase in productivity due to the break of the drought.
But that rice breeding relationship that started in 1928 between the sector at Yanco Agricultural Institute and the NSW Primary Industries will now finish at the end of June.
"It's been a very successful breeding program ...there has been a lot of people involved in its success and in the uptake of new varieties that have come from the breeding program," David Troldahl said, who is the DPI's leader of summer crops south at Yanco Agricultural Institute.
"The rice industry has decided they are in a situation to fulfil their own destiny moving forward and realistically they want to guide where it goes from now."
The industry began operating under statutory marketing arrangements in NSW, with the establishment of the Rice Marketing Board in 1928. Prior to that there were early experiments with Indian rice varieties in 1910 that were followed by trials of Japanese varieties in 1915 to 1916 at Swan Hill.
"It was driven by Chinese and Japanese diet, they would grow rice for family and friends," Mr Troldahl said.
The 1930s were particularly important in laying the foundation for the well-deserved reputation of the industry as an efficient producer of high-quality rice.
After a break during World War II, the rice improvement program operated continuously from 1959 at Yanco Agricultural Institute.
In the 1960s and 1970s Dr Don McDonald (plant breeder), Mr Ed Boerema (agronomist) and Mr David Swain (weeds research agronomist) were instrumental in developing much of the improved technology for which the rice industry became recognised. Important advances during this period were the introduction of aerial sowing; the early development of sod-seeding and the release of Calrose and the long grain varieties Bluebonnet 50 (1963), Kulu (1967) and Inga (1973).
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Following a review in 1979, support for the program was increased and this enabled recruitment of specialised staff for varietal improvement, and increased funding for grain quality and plant protection research. It was around this time that breeding took place.
With the start of irrigation, Mr Troldahl said rice was a known irrigated crop grown worldwide and with the price there was a market for it to help grow the industry. Rice then hit its strides and the industry started to pump with new varieties from California released.
"When rice hit its straps in the Murrumbidgee and Coleambally rice irrigation area, it was when water and land opened up and rice was the major crop in the development of it," he said.
In the 1980s, he said there was a turning point with new varieties that were bred by breeders at Yanco increasing from producing five to six tonnes average per hectare to eight to nine tonnes quickly.
"The new varieties had a semi dwarf gene that made rice shorter and didn't fall over," he said.
The biggest crop was recorded in the 1990s with 1.5 million tonnes harvested. Over the years as Australia's oldest and most prominent rice breeding program, the DPI has developed 18 rice varieties, constituting over 95pc of the country's rice crop. The latest release from the program, VO71, is being grown as part of this year's crop.
Since the 1970s, rice quality research has ensured that new Australian rice varieties meet target market requirements for both domestic and international markets.
Now Australia exports 80pc of what we grow and the Riverina is renowned for producing the highest quality rice in the world and bringing premium prices.
Rice researchers have worked in collaboration with the industry targeting research to make genetic gains in rice quality characteristics and improvements in agronomic traits (such as water use efficiency); as well as provide growers with management strategies for resilient, profitable and sustainable production of high-quality rice.
An extract from the book Yanco Agricultural Institute: Celebrating 100 years 1908 to 2008 says: "DPI's Yanco Agricultural Institute has enjoyed a symbiotic relationship with the rice industry".
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