NSW rice grower compares global water use efficiency

By Rodney Woods

Making the most out of every drop of water is key to the survival and growth of the Australian rice industry and an urgent step-change is required for the industry to thrive into the future.

That’s a key research finding of NSW rice grower and 2017 Nuffield Scholar Mark Groat, who with support from AgriFutures Australia, travelled across the United States, South America, China and India drawing comparisons and insights for rice production back in Australia.

Mr Groat's report outlines that with lower water allocations and higher water prices posing major challenges for the rice industry, increasing water use efficiency both in terms of production per megalitre and return per megalitre must be a critical focus.

“It’s about gaining a greater return for the water used, whether that’s in terms of yield, quality, consumer demand, or company reputation,” he said.

Exploring the role of genetic enhancement of rice, the report looks at the successes of both short-season rice varieties and a system of stubble management implemented in north-west India.

“Shortening the season by developing 110-day rice varieties (instead of the conventional 140-day variety) enables planting to be delayed by a month, avoiding extreme heat during the mid-May to June period,” Mr Groat said.

“The added benefit of bringing planting closer to monsoonal rains of late June allows water use to be decreased by 35 per cent without compromising yield.

“Winter crop rotation and stubble management has also dramatically increased water use efficiency while enhancing soil characteristics in the region.

“As is the case in Australia, looking at the system as a whole, rather than the individual crop, is key.”

Mr Groat's report also features a series of comparative case studies from international rice growing regions with similar geographic and climatic traits as Australia, such as the Mississippi Delta in the US, Uruguay, north-east China and north-west India.

“We are world leaders in terms of rice yield per hectare, but I wanted to better understand how we compare to the rest of the world in terms of our water use efficiency,” he said.

Mr Groats is from Beelbangera, near Griffith.