This year’s Riverina rice harvest is in full swing and is tipped to easily surpass last year’s intake.
With a forecast yield of 800,000 tonnes it is the biggest for three years.
SunRice general manager grower services and agronomic development Tom Howard said the crop last year was small at 245,000 tonnes.
Favourable growing conditions of warmer days and warmer nights from mid-December to mid-February played a key role in the increase while Mr Howard also attributed spring rain, 100 per cent water allocations across the Murray and Murrumbidgee Valleys and reduced water prices across the valleys for the higher tonnage this season.
“It’s been exciting to see so many growers return to rice this year, cementing it as the summer crop of choice across the Riverina,” Mr Howard said.
“Having an ideal planting window up to a month after mainstream varieties opens up the opportunity to plant a rice crop after a winter crop.”
Research and development has seen new shorter season varieties being commercially trialled for the first time this year – YRM70, a medium grain type and YRK5, a short grain type.
These new varieties provided flexibility with planting as they can be sown three to four weeks after mainstream varieties, enabling growers to turn their late start or late water allocation into a planting opportunity.
The new varieties also increase double cropping options, together with achieving greater water use efficiency, which has the potential for growers to significantly increase returns.
Mr Howard said the new varieties encouraged growers to see the potential for rice to play a bigger role in their irrigation program.
Riverina growers have harvested canola, oats, barley, hay and even wheat, and have planted a rice crop into the same paddock within a few days.
James Salvestro and his son Anthony are growing 50 hectares of the new YRM70 variety, alongside 108 hectares of Topaz and 32 hectares of Sherpa.
He said the new variety was a “game changer” for his property in the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area south of Griffith.
“After a very cold and late start we’re really pleased with the way all our rice is looking,” Mr Salvestro said.
“In addition to our usual program we were able to take advantage of late water allocations and increase our rice area by planting short season rice (YRM70) after our canola,” he said.
“It’s looking great and we’re now confident to grow any winter crop, including wheat, and know we can follow it with rice,” he said.
The harvest is expected to be complete in May while sowing of the winter crops in dryland areas was underway. Most growers were on track to meet the traditional Anzac Day sowing deadline.