Proud to be a ricegrower in the Riverina, Tim Strong is looking over a field of Rezig rice, which is a medium grain variety currently attracting around $20 tonne premium.

Proud to grow rice at Deni

Southern Riverina ricegrower Tim Strong continues to include rice in his cropping rotation as it reduces his business risk, but there is also the satisfaction of growing food for people.

Southern Riverina ricegrower Tim Strong continues to include rice in his cropping rotation as it reduces his business risk, but there is also the satisfaction of growing food for people. 

Standing near the irrigated fields where his rice crops are enjoying the heat and look like yielding close to their maximum potential, Mr Strong said he is proud to be a farmer, and it hurts him to think too many consumers take his and all farmer’s enterprise for granted.

“Where do they think their food is going to come from if the water with which we grow our rice crops is taken away from us?” he said.

Mr Strong is a first-generation ricegrower and in partnership with his brother Warwick, has planted 280ha this season on the 1200ha aggregation based at “Willow Park”, Deniliquin.

The family came to the Riverina from having had a dairy farm on the central coast, looking to expand their farming operations and have been growing rice for the past twenty years.

“The only variety we are growing this year is Rezig which is a medium grain variety currently attracting around $20 premium,” Mr Strong said.

“We have also planted some fields for Rezig seed for next year’s crops, and there is a bonus for the few hectares of seed rice.”

The area sown for seed is contracted to SunRice and is pooled with the seed grown by other growers in the irrigation area, to be available for the 2019 paddy rice season.

“With SunRice you put in an application at the start of the season and we are allocated a certain area for seed,” he said.

“We usually put in a bit more than that, just in case ours or other crops don’t yield as well as expected.”

All the next season paddy rice is grown from seed produced by farmers like Mr Strong, who in turn is supplied is new seed from specialist farmers who grow the foundation seed. 

Mr Strong’s rice crops were aerial sown with pre-germinated seed starting on the 15th October, and the fields were all pre-drilled with urea.

“Any of our fields which are being sown following a previous year’s wheat crop will get 250kg/ha Urea and 125kg DAP; if it was rice following rice we would probably sow 300kg Urea,” he said.

“We don’t do a lot of rice on rice unless we are pushed for acres, but we try to avoid as much as possible because it encourages weeds like couch and cumbungii which are then hard to get rid of.”

When discussing his cropping rotation, Mr Strong pointed out the current rice crops will be harvested next April, the stubble will probably be burnt and the fields cultivated.

They are then left fallow during the winter until sown to wheat in the following year.

“We think it better to fallow the fields for a season and store the residual water plus rainfall in preparation for the wheat season,” Mr Strong said.

“Sometimes we have to pre-irrigate, but more often we grow a pretty reasonable crop of wheat on a rice fallow.”

Water supply has been an issue for many years, and Mr Strong is only one farmer among many who are not happy with their current water allocation.

“We would say we have never got a decent water allocation; the last few years I guess they just feed you your allocation in dribs and drabs,” Mr Strong said.

“By August or September you could never make up your mind … we have never had enough water to say we could grow say 400ha of rice even with a reasonable allocation.”

Mr Strong said the uncertainty around water allocation is making it difficult to plan for the forthcoming season, and that uncertainty impacts upon the viability of his farming enterprise.

“You have to almost, like a lot of people do these days, ‘toss the coin in the air’ or say ‘I think’,” he said.

“Often you take the punt … and nine years out of ten you make the right decision to grow rice.”

Mr Strong said their allocation is still going up but with the current price of water still over $100/mg he said the pressure on farmer’s growing costs is great.

“If you have to buy all of your water on the open market to grow a crop of rice, $80/mg would pull you up,” he said.

“That is what you could pay for water and not expect to make a loss on you rice crop.”

The season thus far has been very good for ricegrowers with very warm conditions ideal for PI (Panicle Initiation) setting up crops for a potential high yield.

“Two years ago we only grew about 100ha but they were ideal conditions for growing rice,” Mr Strong said.

“We had a beautiful October, warm weather and with not many weeds we did manage to get over 12tn/ha and when you get it once you think you can get it twice.”

Nevertheless, at this stage Mr Strong is optimistic his crops will yield somewhere close to that benchmark when the header goes in late autumn. 

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