Positive signs for the future of the north Queensland rice growing industry were discussed during a SunRice-hosted field day held in Brandon.
Burdekin growers joined interested farmers from Tully, Ingham, Proserpine and Mackay for the information day held at the Brandon Tavern, with many of them later visiting the Ayr Research Station and Rob Stockham’s property in Giru, where they got a to see rice harvesting in action as well as a seeder display and demonstration.
During the day SunRice announced that in 2016 it will launch the first range of North Queensland grown and branded rice products, consolidating the emerging rice industry as an important value-added, branded food producer in the local region.
The product range includes 500 gram packages of Brown wholegrain rice and Jasmine fragrant rice featuring unique ‘Tully Grown Rain Fed Tropical North Queensland’ branding which will be available to Australian and Asian consumers by mid-2016.
From March, 10 and 20 kilogram packages of ‘North Queensland Koala’ branded long grain rice will be marketed in the Australian food service market, including restaurants and Asian grocers.
The packages will be produced at the SunRice Brandon Mill where a new packing line is in the process of being installed.
Sunrice operations and technical services manager Antony Vagg said the upcoming dry crop harvest which is expected to yield 4500 tonne’s will double what was produced last year and is indicative of the growing enthusiasm for using rice as a break crop option in cane among farmers in the region.
“It was a fantastic day with guests asking excellent questions regarding the benefits and challenges of growing rice in the north,” Mr Vagg said.
Those I spoke to said they got a lot out of the day, it was a really good result,” he said.
“The field trip also gave growers an excellent opportunity to have a look at rice before we start planting at the end of the month.
“They also got to see the results of a rice growing trial using drip irrigation as opposed to the more generally used flood irrigation technique, and the pros and cons of each form of irrigation were discussed.
Mr Vagg said at the Ayr Research Station growers were given details on four potential rice varieties for the north.
“We’re accelerating the breeding trials to incorporate north Queensland specific varieties into the program.
“The four medium grain and short grain trial varieties, will have characteristics that consumers will be able to identify as being specific to north Queensland.”
In anticipation of increased rice production across North Queensland, SunRice announced they’ll be expanding the rice storage capacity at the Brandon Mill, with the purchase of 40 hectares of land adjacent to the mill, where new storage facilities will be built to supplement the mill’s recently commissioned grain drying equipment.
The new facility will be built in time for the 2016 wet season crop harvest, and will include 18 new paddy drying silos with 4,000 tonne capacity to complement the Mill’s existing 1,500 tonnes of storage.
SunRice general manager, Grower Services Mike Hedditch said the expansion of the Brandon Mill will give SunRice the capacity to grow their operations in the region.
“We believe there is exciting potential in North Queensland and the opportunity to continue to increase production during the wet season and beyond,” Mr Hedditch said.
“Our short term target is to increase production to 20,000 tonne’s by 2017.”
The expansion follows a number of improvements that SunRice has implemented at the mill in the last financial year to improve the manufacturing productivity and quality of locally grown rice, including a new weighbridge and receival management system, and upgrades to existing drying facilities.
“We’ve had strong interest from growers in the region wanting to have a crack at growing rice, with many of them commenting on how it has been a good fit for their growing systems.
“The field day gave those already growing rice additional confidence that SunRice is here to stay in the north.
He said a lot of potential growers said if current water conditions were better they'd already be growing.
“The low water allocations means some people will unfortunately have to wait for an improved wet season to make a start on planting rice.”
SunRice has also recently established a ‘Growers Services’ office at the Brandon mill to strengthen the existing agronomic support the company provides to local growers. The new office includes a lab for testing rice samples.
“Being a high value crop, rice can diversify and increase on-farm earnings along with improving soil condition and breaking disease cycles through crop rotation.
“With its favourable climatic conditions, water supply and reliability, the Burdekin is regarded as one of the most promising rice-growing areas outside of the Riverina. It is particularly suited to growing popular long grain varieties and medium grain in the dry season crop.”
He said the level of investment SunRice is making in Human Resources Services for growers is also providing them with a lot of confidence going forward.
“New Business Development and Agronomy manager for SunRice Brandon, Rob Eccles was formally introduced to growers on the day.
“Rob assist growers with field service work; help them with contracts; assist with supply of seed for planting and helping with obtaining planting equipment.
“He’ll also work with the retail agronomy sector, who are critically important in providing the day to day advice that growers need to help them grow rice successfully.
“And he’ll coordinate R&D activities, and will be working closely with Farmacist on rice BMP projects in the region.”