North Coast "dryland" rice is standing tall this season despite a tricky start at sowing.
Most growers who view this part of the sub-tropical state from afar reasonably assume that its paddocks lie within a zone of so-called "reliable rain" but in fact, the seasons of late have been anything but.
After last year's floods, during which their crops lay submerged, this spring ended up too dry; the soil hard at Paul and Joe Fleming's Codrington farm near Coraki on the Richmond River.
"We planted Sherpa variety along with a fragrant long-grained Topaz in mid-November but it remained dry until January," said Paul Fleming.
"But we have made a decision that unless we could irrigate we wouldn't grow the crop. It would have looked pretty ordinary if we didn't irrigate. We have a lot of extremes in this climate."
Lifting from the Richmond River through a 150mm diameter pump, rows are flood irrigated using a flexible flume hose, which has proven easy to roll up and re-locate. As a result the crop has reached grain fill stage after two waterings.
"Even though we have sown "dryland" rice, the plant is shallow rooted and requires lots of water. Our rice consultant with The Natural Rice Co told us the crop could handle 100mm of irrigation every week after panicle initiation."
One year ago, just weeks before the big flood, their rice crop was looking terrific and the brothers continued to irrigate up until eight days before the deluge. At Codrington, unlike further downstream, the water was off the crop within a couple days. Before the second big flood the brothers had harvested a portion of their soybeans and the rice would have done well if it didn't stay wet and grey into winter.
"We harvested the majority of our rice but the grain was weather damaged and went for pet food," said Mr Fleming.
"This year rice was planted into good soil moisture but hot and dry conditions followed and emergence wasn't 100 per cent.
Nitrogen fertiliser applied in two lots, the first with potash and the second with sulphur - to get more efficiency out of the urea and ammonium sulfate. Nevertheless the brothers expect an early May harvest and are optimistic about their yield, with prices above $400 a tonne.
"We still like to plant rice. We think it's a useful crop in rotation and with the Natural Rice Co supporting farmers on the Northern Rivers we think it's a good industry to have here and we're happy to support them."
ABARES conducts review of review into rice vesting
Growers and crop consultants from the Richmond Valley rice industry met with representatives from ABARES last week near Lismore to discuss their proposal to be granted a separate export licence.
The NSW DPI last year concluded in their own report that a separate licence for Northern Rivers growers would create greater market opportunity while not posing a risk to the market stability of SunRice, in the Riverina district but the NSW Agricultural Minister did not act on that advice.
The Natural Rice Co's crop consultant Steve Rogers said the meeting was well attended and during a farm tour at Tuckurimba the ABARE's representatives were "blown away" by the pop-corn pungent aromatic smell of Jasmine variety rice "Topaz".
The Jasmine variety is one of several new varieties being grown this season in the Richmond Valley.
Mr Rogers said about 1250 hectares were under cultivation, with some growers trialling the new Australian-developed short-season variety Viand.
Continuing work is being carried out at Southern Cross University to develop a new medium grain coloured variety.
This year's district crop went in the ground later than usual for the most part - mid December - with summer rains beginning after Christmas and in-crop rain well down on normal.
"The late plant for the majority of growers was a good thing," said Mr Rogers.