SunRice | Water Efficiency | Environment | Sustainability | SunRice
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Did you know? Australian grown rice uses 50% less water than the global average

Australian rice growers only grow rice when there is water available. When there are drought conditions, our farmers can’t and don’t grow as much rice. Rice is an annual crop which means, unlike permanent tree plantings, rice production can be switched on or off depending on water availability. Most rice is grown using general water security allocation. When available this is allocated after the environment, towns, stock, domestic and high security allocations.

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As a direct result of our research and development investment and partnerships, Australian grown rice uses 50% less water than the global average and we achieve amongst the highest yields in the world. Recommendations from SunRice's research and extension teams, on direct drilling and delayed permanent water, has led to this great result on water use efficiency. When coupled with flush irrigation techniques, direct drilling can produce two and half times less methane emissions from rice production than aerial seeding.

Direct drilling is a method of planting rice that involves directly placing the seed into dry ground before then flushing the paddock with water. The seed is protected in the soil and the flushing allows the seed to germinate and shoot into a seedling. Aerial sowing is another planting method that involves soaking the rice in water to germinate the seeds prior to being spread out over the paddock using an aeroplane. The paddock already has water in it to protect the seeds from weather and to ensure they are able to keep growing into seedlings.

Direct drilling has become a widely adopted method of planting in the industry as it allows the rice farmer to use less water than the aerial sowing method.

The Australian rice industry is a world leader in production efficiency, water use efficiency and environmental management.

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SunRice is well placed to respond to a variable environment

Our Riverina rice farmers and rural communities are excellent at adapting to variations in climate and remain resilient during periods of drought and low water availability for irrigating. In years when water is available for rice growing, our farmers use the natural resource responsibly, efficiently and sustainably which has been accomplished through years of experience and research both on farm and across the wider industry.

In exceptional times, when Australian grown rice is limited, SunRice’s diversified supply chain allows us to select alternative rice sources for our products which is internationally grown but meets our rigorous Australian quality standards. This ensures that the Co-operative continues to remain viable so that when rain finally arrives and water allocations in the Riverina increase, more of our farmers are able to grow rice again.

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Should rice be grown in Australia given water scarcity?

In Australia, we grow varieties of rice that suit our temperate climate. Our rice is of the highest quality and suits an environment close to that of the Mediterranean and California, where similar varieties are grown. More than half of the world's population relies on rice as a staple food in their diet. The rice industry uses water to produce this important staple food to feed tens of millions of people each day. The allocation of water to grow a staple food like rice in a time of increasing global food scarcity is a relevant and important use of this resource.

Many farmers still see the benefit of growing rice as it suits their farming system and provides opportunities for them to sell their rice into premium rice markets through the Rice Marketing Board of NSW.

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Is irrigating rice a wasteful use of water?

Irrigation is a common practice used across many farm systems in the Murray-Darling Basin to grow crops. Specifically, irrigating a rice crop requires flooding of the paddock to enable the rice grains to germinate.

Rice is a semi aquatic plant which requires varying levels of water during its life cycle. Increasing the depth of water during the early pollen microspore stage of growth, while the panicle is in the stem below the water level, allows it to be protected from night temperatures. If the plant is exposed to temperatures below 15 degrees celsius, it could result in sterility of the grain and low yields.

Australian rice growers are efficient and sophisticated producers of rice. Due to their processes, they use less water than other countries – 50% less than the global average, yet achieve high yields and operate under strict environmental controls. They are also rapid adopters of new technology.

Australian growers are committed to sustainable farm practices – growers recycle their water and use the moisture left in the soil after harvest to plant another crop.

Research and development is continually improving Australian rice varieties and irrigation techniques so that they require less water, less chemicals and produce a higher yield while retaining nutrition levels and flavour.

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How much water does rice use?

Each year, State Governments assess the available water resources in dams in the upper reaches of the catchments and determine allocations for different users based on hierarchy. Most rice is grown by general security irrigators who receive their water last in this hierarchy of allocations. They are also the first to have allocations reduced in times of water shortages.

Due to continual research and development, Australian rice growers on average have increased their water use efficiency from 0.5 tonnes of rice produced per magalitre back in 1991 to close to 1 tonne per megalitre in recent years. This equates to 1000L for every 1kg of paddy rice produced.

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