Rice plan on the boil

North Queensland rice expansion calls amid national shortage

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Rice growers in the Herbert and Burdekin could increase production to 25,000 tonnes per year if a new storage facility was built in the region.

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STEAMING AHEAD: SunRice operations manager Peter McDonnell with rice processed and packed at the Brandon Mill, which is planning a $10 million expansion.

STEAMING AHEAD: SunRice operations manager Peter McDonnell with rice processed and packed at the Brandon Mill, which is planning a $10 million expansion.

RICE growers in the Herbert and Burdekin could increase production to 25,000 tonnes per year if a new storage facility was built in the region.

SunRice is calling for state government support to construct the $10 million storage facility at its rice processing mill in Brandon, which began operating in 2014.

The facility currently employs 10 full-time staff and processes up to 8000 tonnes of paddy rice each year, which is packaged into branded products and sold to restaurants and other food service customers in major eastern seaboard centres.

SunRice CEO Rob Gordon said the expansion would create jobs, grow the economy and assist farmers to diversify their crops.

"We currently have rice growers providing product from areas including the Burdekin and in the Hinchinbrook, and we would look to expand that production considerably," Mr Gordon said.

"This $10 million investment could lead to annual returns of close to $30 million in economic activity in North Queensland annually.

"It would open the door to our future plans - of taking the 25,000 tonne industry up to potentially a 100,000 tonne industry, which we believe could deliver some $85 million in economic benefits every year and create more than 130 full-time positions."

The call comes amid a looming national rice shortage as countries limit their exports during the global pandemic.

Michael Reinaudo and niece Mikaella Roggero harvested their first rice after successfully growing over 160ha this season.

Michael Reinaudo and niece Mikaella Roggero harvested their first rice after successfully growing over 160ha this season.

Ingham farmer Michael Reinaudo's family has been growing cane in the district for more than a century.

He farms over 2400 hectares across seven properties, from near Frosty Mango in the south, halfway to Abergowrie and out to Halifax, and this year diversified into rice crop production.

He first started planting the YRL39 variety in December, and had expected to have 10-20ha under rice in his first season.

But with favourable weather conditions, the trial exploded to 160ha and he harvested over 600 tonnes.

"Primarily we are cane growers and this has been a huge opportunity for our business," Mr Reinaudo said.

"We're always looking for alternative crops to plant into our fallows... we were looking to get income from fallow.

"We were waiting for the right dryland varieties of rice to be produced, which is why we've gone with it now."

Burdekin rice grower Allan Milan is one of the biggest producers in North Queensland and said the crop presented a huge opportunity for other growers.

"Diversifying into rice has allowed us to have more control over our business and we've been able to grow crops to support market demand," Mr Milan said.

Burdekin rice grower Allan Milan is one of the biggest producers in North Queensland.

Burdekin rice grower Allan Milan is one of the biggest producers in North Queensland.

"In the midst of the current pandemic in particular there is a huge need for global rice supply, and high-quality Australian rice.

"An expansion of the North Queensland rice industry would be a tremendous boost to farmers across regional Queensland.

"The Burdekin, with its irrigation systems and perfect growing climate is a great region because you can do a wet season crop and a dry season crop which creates a lot of certainty.

"Expansion of the rice industry would also be entirely complementary of the dominant cane farming system - rice is a perfect high-value crop to be planted in the fallow period of cane."

While both Labor and the LNP say they support agriculture, both parties fell short of committing $10 million for the Brandon expansion.

Burdekin MP Dale Last said he would fight for the project.

"The LNP has a bold vision to unleash agriculture and supercharge the regions to make Queensland the economic powerhouse of Australia once again," Mr Last said.

"In addition to reducing irrigation prices by 20 per cent for farmers I am committed to fighting for this project so that North Queensland's rice industry can develop and create more local jobs."

A Queensland government spokesman said the Palaszczuk government was the first in Australia to declare agriculture an essential industry during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We expect agriculture to play a key role as we implement Queensland's $8 billion for economic recovery and we will continue to support the growth of the industry," he said.

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