Riverina rice prospects bright despite cold, ducks

Emma Alsop November 23, 2023

A drill sown paddock of rice near Moulamein. Photo: Scott Burger

ANOTHER bumper rice crop is expected from the Riverina, despite a run of below-average temperatures hitting plant numbers.

The industry is predicting the crop recently sown in the key irrigation district of southern New South Wales to yield 600,000-700,000t, in line with ABARES September Crop Report estimate of 656,000t.

This represent a 31 percent rise from the March-harvested crop, and is just below the 2021-harvested crop of 688,000t.

Rice Growers Association president Peter Herrmann said the industry “looks on track” for an above average crop.

He said this result was a welcome change for growers, many of whom were not able to plant last spring due to widespread flooding.

Based at Barham, in the western Riverina near the NSW-Victoria border, BR and C Agents agronomist Scott Burger said plentiful water boosted rice hectares in his region.

“In the western Murray Valley…it is probably the second biggest year since I became an agronomist,” Mr Burger said.

“We had an announcement of 100pc water in July which no one has ever seen before in my memory.

“It gave people a lot of confidence.”

Cool temperatures

While an improvement on last season, Mr Herrmann said a month of cool temperatures has hit early plant numbers across the Riverina.

“Much of the crop last year was planted outside of the seeding window, while this year the crop could be planted in the seeding window, albeit in a colder environment, so it hasn’t bounced out of the ground like we know it can.”

Mr Burger said the weather had been “out of control” this season.

“It’s the coldest and windiest October I have ever seen.

“We have had a good week but it’s going to rain and cool down to mid-20s again next week.

“If we can get a hot January and February, we can still get above-average crops, but if we get a cold January-February they may not be that good.”

Sefton Agronomics principle agronomist Greg Sefton said the weather conditions forced growers to irrigate more than usual.

“The cold and the wind dried the surface out pretty quickly and the farmers were forced to do another flush to get the plant numbers up,” Mr Sefton said.

“The plant numbers have been okay but well below the last three years.”

Mr Sefton said plant numbers have gone from the CY23 average of 180-220 per square metre to about 100 in his region.

“This year, we are well and truly back on plant numbers, but we are still on target with yield.”

Ducks move in

Mr Burger said large duck populations in his region have also cut plant numbers alongside the impacts from the cooler temperatures.

He said this had compelled most growers to resow.

“We had the flood last year and now there are ducks everywhere.

“I don’t think we have had one client who hasn’t had to resow because of ducks.

“It’s really bad; there are thousands of them.”

Increase in drill sowing

Mr Burger said growers were working overtime to keep ducks away from seedlings, and that more growers were drill sowing rather than aerial sowing because of the problem.

“In a normal year we would be 70pc aerial sown and 30pc drill sown.

“This year we are the other way around.”

In addition to reducing the impact from ducks, he said drill-sown rice was not impacted by snails and bloodworm.

“A lot of the things that will really affect your rice crop, if you drill sow you can get around them.”

Mr Burger said new chemicals have also made drill sowing a more attractive option for growers.

He said barnyard grass was the “biggest weed” for drill sown rice and could be traditionally controlled by aerial sowing a crop.

However, he said new chemicals have made it easier to combat this weed and still drill sow.

Pool range update

The prospect of an abundant CY24 crop comes as SunRice updates growers on the pool range for the CY23 harvest.

In a statement to the ASX this week, SunRice chairman Laurie Arthur said the pool range was now $410-$450 per tonne.

This is an increase in the lower end range which was $390/t as of February 24.

“The SunRice Group has been able to increase this lower end of the range in light of favourable circumstances in market and across the Rice Pool Business,” Mr Arthur said.

This will be welcome news to growers with SunRice Group CEO Rob Gordon previously warning of issues marketing the large crop to premium markets.

“Based on current favourable seasonal conditions, including water availability, we are expecting a fourth consecutive year of abundant Australian rice production in CY24,” Mr Gordon said at the SunRice AGM on August 23.

“The group is also expecting a large amount of the CY23 crop to be carried over at the end of the financial year.

“Coupled with the Northern Hemisphere markets returning from drought earlier than expected, particularly in the United States, these factors have the potential to moderate returns for the Australian Rice Pool Business given the finite opportunities for placing Australian medium grain rice into premium markets.

“The Group is exploring options for managing these complexities whilst maximising returns to growers.”


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