Report Synopsis

The Future of Australian Rice Production. A focus on water use efficiency in the Australian temperate rice system

Mark Groat

Australian rice growers can justifiably call themselves some of the world’s most efficient producers. As an industry, it grows more top quality rice with less water than anywhere else in the world.

Australia’s southern irrigation areas of the Murrumbidgee and Murray Valleys (where over 99% of Australia’s rice is grown) is a system where water supply is sourced from reservoirs that rely on annual runoff. Supply is variable and there is now less water available for agricultural use since the implementation of the 2012 Murray Darling Basin Plan (see footnote).

Water is also an annually tradable commodity. Huge variability of rice production exists each year, not only due to variations in water availability but commodity prices of a whole range of crops competing for the same water. This has become more acute in recent years with the increase in cotton plantings in the Murrumbidgee Valley, and rapid expansion of nut plantations. This production variability poses major challenges, not only to the farmer but also industry as a whole.

The future survival and growth of the Australian rice industry depends on making the most of every drop of water. An urgent step-change is required for rice to remain competitive and continue to thrive as an industry.

This report compares Australia’s rice industry to those in other temperate regions of the world, mostly in terms of production but also where water lies in social consciousness and government policy. This gives a frame of reference to focus on and identifies opportunities for Australia.

It explores the role of genetics and industry’s reliance on genetic improvement to provide the ‘silver bullet’ for water use efficiency (WUE).

It also identifies the role that industry must play to enhance farm systems; what it can learn from not only looking elsewhere but the opportunities that exist from looking within.

It analyses current rice production practices and explores potential step changes for the ‘rice system’ to increase WUE and profitability, as well as enhance industry’s reputation and international marketability.

This is an extremely challenging time for the Australian rice industry but also a time of immense opportunity. Decisions made today will decide if the industry over the next decade is surviving from one year to the next, or is an example and inspiration of what Australian producers, and an Australian commodity industry, can achieve.