GROWER-owned food processor and marketer SunRice has gone all in with their plans to make North Queensland a major player in their rice growing operations.
This commitment to the North was cemented with the recent acquisition of the Burdekin-based Blue Ribbon Rice’s assets including the mill acting which will act as SunRice’s base of operations in the region.
The future of the local system, and SunRice’s intention to be part of the Northern sugar system by offering a high value complementary crop rotation option (rice) were the focal points of a field day held at the Burdekin on Monday.
Close to 90 growers, suppliers and members of the wider farming community were in attendance at on the day which began at the Brandon Tavern, Brandon, before attendants were bussed out to a visit one of Blue Ribbon Rice’s current trial sites at Vito Patane’s farm in Home Hill.
SunRice General Manager for Global Consumer Markets David Keldie said the aim of the day was to get as many interested growers and suppliers together under one roof, to explore the options they have regarding using rice as a rotation crop with sugarcane, pulses or legumes.
“The more growing options the farmer has, the more sustainable and flexible their business will be which will lead to a better bottom line for their operation,” Mr Keldie said.
“A rice crop will still be secondary to sugarcane, we aren’t trying to replace what is currently in place, we just want to help enhance off-harvest growing possibilities in the region,” he said.
SunRice purchased Blue Ribbon’s rice assets in July but according to Mr Keldie, the company has been looking at various locales for expansion into the north since 2007.
“We’ve invested over $1 million on Northern Australian rice research and development over the last four years. Over that time we explored many different areas, but when we saw the work Blue Ribbon Rice had done in the Burdekin area, and the facilities they already had in place in made it a simple choice as to where we would plant our Northern flag,” Mr Keldie said.
He said the North was also an attractive option for SunRice’s expansion plans due to the regions comparatively healthy natural water supply compared to that of the 60 year old Riverina-based operation in the South which continues to decline while consumer demand for rice increases.
Mr Keldie said SunRice is very serious about their commitment to growing rice in North Queensland.
The company has clear plans to export its clearly labelled Northern Queensland product to its 60-strong nation network.
He also made a commitment to those in attendance that as the volume of rice coming out of the North increases, manufacturing base expansions will take place, which will include the creation of jobs locally to support future growth.
“The Burdekin and surrounding Northern area is one of the most promising rice growing areas outside of the Riverina, and rice is a good fit for North Queensland farming activities.
According to data presented at the field day, SunRice’s realistic agronomic rice projections for the North equates to 34,400 paddy tonnes by 2018 growing to 100,000t by 2022.
“There is great potential for SunRice and farmers in the region to really bolster the export rice pool.”
He said client countries don’t just want any rice from anywhere, the demand is for clean and green Australian rice.
Manager of SunRice subsidiary Rice Research Australia Russell Ford provided some insight to the guests on the day about where rice fits in the local farming system.
He said North Queensland is the best spot in the nation to expand SunRice’s operations due to the reliability of the water supply, diversity of rice types that will flourish in the soil, and providence for fragrant rice types.
“A major advantage of the North is that quick changes between crop types can be successfully carried out, which [provides a lot of flexibility regarding break crop options,” Mr Ford said.
“The Northern climate is a perfect fit for fragrant rice varieties in particular, as the heat and moisture are much closer to the conditions in which these types would be naturally grown. You can easily smell the fragrances in the air out at the trial site, and it tastes great. We simply can’t mirror those growing conditions in the Riverina,” he said.
To view the gallery from the field day click on the photo below.
Steve Rogers formerly of Blue Ribbon Rice, who has now joined SunRice as their Northern operations manager said SunRice has the industry clout to expand on the work that Blue Ribbon began in the Burdekin.
“All the research and development that Blue Ribbon Rice has done in the region was self-funded; we’ve had no government support,” Mr Rogers said.
“It simply wasn’t feasible for Blue Ribbon to expand to the scale of operation that SunRice is capable of implementing,” he said.
Blue Ribbon developed Australia’s first commercial aerobic rice.
“Aerobic rice is grown with supplementary irrigation not in a paddy system.
“It’s a production system where rice is grown in well-drained, non-puddled, and non-saturated soils. Water requirements can be lowered by reducing water losses due to seepage, percolation, and evaporation.
“Aerobic rice can be easily installed in North Queensland farming operations with no more land modification needed than there is for current rotational crop options such as chick peas, mung beans or soy beans.
“The raised bed irrigation method is the most common practice used, and farmers in the region would only need to make a few adjustments to their pre-existing beds to allow for rice growing.
“Rainfed rice in the high rainfall areas have proven to grow just as well as an irrigated rice crop which opens up more crop opportunities for the farmers in these areas.”
Mr Rogers said that a rice rotation crop from planting to harvest would take about 115 days.
“This quick cycle underlines how effectively rice can be used in rotation with cane and other pulses to provide consistent cash flow for farming operations in the North year-round.
“A bonus advantage is that the silica and organic matter left behind after harvest is excellent for soil health.”
Mr Rogers said farmers could expect to see returns on average from $1000/ha to $3000/ha using rice as a rotational crop but that number could reach as high as $4000/ha based on using a rice/legume rotation.
“It’s a high value break crop option and in our trial sites we are currently achieving up to 10 tonnes per hectare with an average of 8t/h, but we believe that with a bit more refinement we can quite easily get that number up to around 12t/ha.”
Blue Ribbon built the facilities in the Burdekin in 2012, and it is still the only rice mill in Queensland.
“Blue Ribbon has done a great job of ‘getting the roots in the ground’ now it’s up to SunRice to get those roots to sprout to their full potential,” Mr Keldie said.