It had rain on the Friday night which meant the soil was too slippery and vegetation too moist to harvest on Saturday. Because of the weather conditions, we couldn’t see any of the farm hands or farming machinery in action.
Saturday’s group communicated with remorse that they were sorry to have only booked a three-hour tour; on the weekend too. The timing of the tour on a weekend meant John Collins was unable to show a food processing operation. So, we looked instead at the basic mechanics of operating a farm in preparation for harvest. The tour was an overall success and a good time was had by all.
We thought we’d share some of the basic properties of rice farming in this post, to show you what you may observe firsthand during a tour hosted by John Collins at Agricultural Tours Riverina.
Where is Rice Grown in Australia?
The Riverina region in Southwest New South Wales produces on average 750,000 tonnes of rice each year. Even though the 2020 harvest was well below average the Riverina remains by far the largest rice production region in Australia. There are several types of rice grown by the Australian rice industry in this region, the different varieties developed to meet climatic and market conditions.
Stage 1: Sowing
The Riverina is renowned for its temperate climate, clean environment and beautiful soils. It’s these factors of the ecosystem that make the region so good for growing rice. Sowing of white rice and brown rice usually happens in October-November.
The best paddocks are selected and rice seeds are planted by direct drilling methods at a depth of 30mm. Water is applied in December. Australian rice plants are grown using 50% less water than the rest of the world. Irrigation water is supplied from the Murray Darling Basin.
Stage 2: Growing
In summer, following Spring rain, rice crops begin to grow really well as stalks and leaves develop. The plants put all their energy into growing leaves and roots. Panicle initiation then occurs – a stage in growth where vegetative development stops and the reproductive cycle begins. The leaves stop growing, and the seed head develops and is filled with grains of nutritious rice at this time.
During the growth stage of the rice growing season, samples are sent to a laboratory to check how much nutrients are needed by the plants before harvest. At this stage, the rice has about 5cm of water around it, so nitrogen fertilisers are dropped on the plants from a plane after test results come back. For the rest of the growing season, the water level is increased to 25-30cm to insulate the plants from cold weather.
Stage 3: Harvest
Sparkling clean harvesters roam rice fields collecting the rice grains contained in the heads of the plant. These heads are collected by the machine which separates grain from the stalk.
The harvest cycle takes about three weeks, while the moisture content in the plants is at an optimum 18-22%. Most rice is packaged and prepared for export, while some is stored by rice growers for use as seed for next season’s crop.
Stage 4: Milling Process
Following harvest, select grains of rice are analysed in another lab to make sure they pass national standards. Test results are used to segment grains that differ in quality for sale in different segments of the Australian market. Rice is tracked from the moment it enters the factory to the time it is delivered in-store in Australia or overseas. Australian rice is exported to Japan, Southeast Asia, the Middle East and America.
Agricultural Tours Riverina offers agricultural tours across the Riverina region – and beyond. We’ll arrange for you to see farming processes in action, take part in lessons about farming culture, business and sustainability and meet the people responsible for putting the food you eat every day on your plate. Our bespoke tours operate over all eastern Australia . Contact John Collins to talk about a bespoke tour booking at Agricultural Tours Riverina.