Rice goes upland to North Coast

North Coast rice grower, Gary Woolley, in his mature 3.46 tonnes per hectare Upland Rice crop at Buckendoon in April this year.

New rice growing trials will be conducted on the NSW North Coast - 1500 kilometres from the State’s traditional Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area (MIA) rice growing region.

NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) researchers from Yanco in the Riverina will collaborate with North Coast pioneer rice grower Gary Woolley in the trials of rain-fed aerobic rice varieties, grown in the sub-tropics near Lismore.

The trials will commence later this year.

Mr Woolley is the only rice producer on the NSW North Coast but his yields reveal early signs that there may be potential for rice in the area, particularly where soybeans are too risky due to flooding.

"Upland" rice is more tolerant to fluctuations in water availability and temperature than rice grown under a flooded culture, but it lacks the high-yielding production.

Aerobic rice varieties represent a viable middle ground between high-yielding lowland production and the sturdiness of upland production.

"They offer potential to overcome the daunting global need for more rice off less water," Minister for Primary Industries Ian Macdonald said.

"The world is hungry for rice - and rain-fed aerobic rice varieties, grown in the sub-tropics where nature supplies the water, offer potential for growth.

"As Mr Woolley has shown in a flood prone area of East Coraki near Lismore, an aerobic production system is possible."

Gary Woolley grew his first commercial crop in 2006-07.

Last season he produced 27 tonnes from 7.8 hectares to average 3.46 tonnes a hectare.

This year’s crop of 24ha has survived four weeks under water.

The challenge is to select rice varieties that are adapted to the aerobic production system and have premium grain and cooking qualities.

The NSW DPI rice breeding program at Yanco has sourced aerobic rice varieties from China and the Philippines with support through market intelligence from Sunrice.

NSW DPI has developed rice varieties of six different cooking quality classes, many of which attract top premiums in domestic and global markets.

The rice variety trials will use some of these new varieties and assess the economics of growing premium rice varieties in an aerobic production system.

With rice stocks currently at low levels worldwide, and 70 per cent of the world eating rice as their staple diet, this is a case of NSW preparing for the increased demand.

Upland or "mountain" rice, as it was once named, was first grown on the Northern Rivers in 1891.

Some areas failed due to the dry season.

Best results were obtained at Ballina, Byron Bay, Cooper’s Creek, Grafton, Hickey’s Creek, Palmer’s Channel, Tintenbar, and on H.M. Scammell’s property, Tumbulgum.