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June 24, 2024

End of NSW rice monopoly welcomed by Northern Rivers farmers

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Photo www.naturalriceco.com.au

Rice is a vital part of food security globally, but irrigated rice also produces a lot of methane producer because of the bacteria generated through irrigation.

In NSW rice vesting arrangements were established in response to grower preferences around the marketing of their rice in the 1920s. However, changes in availability of water, particularly in southern NSW due to climate change, environmental water recovery policies in the Murray-Darling Basin (MDB) and greater demand (primarily due to increased irrigation of increased horticulture and cotton production in the southern MDB) has reduced the volume of water available for rice production the recent Independent report into NSW Rice Vesting Arrangements stated. 

Responding to the report the NSW government’s announced that they will end rice vesting for the Northern Rivers Rice Growers on 1 September 2024 and the whole of NSW from 1 July 2025.

As well as being an environmental lawyer, Sue Higgins is also a Northern Rivers rice farmer. Photo supplied.

Opportunity for innovation

Greens MP and spokesperson for agriculture Sue Higginson said ‘The end of rice vesting in NSW is a critical step forward in tackling controlling corporate interests in one of our most important food crops.’

‘The rice vesting model has benefitted a single group of growers associated with a multinational corporation and had led to perverse practices of established interests that rely on the irrigation waters of the Murray Darling Basin squashing innovation and environmentally conscious changes to the industry, including climate adaptive dryland rice growing in the Northern Rivers region.

‘With the end of this monopoly, there is new opportunity for ethical, sensitive and competitive products to move this vital agricultural sector into the future and ensure that rice production in NSW is not strangled by a corporate monopoly.

‘This is a long awaited positive step forward by the NSW government. Rice growers from the Northern Rivers region have been calling for this for many years, but the former coalition government did not listen. The NSW government has acted, demonstrating an understanding that agriculture must be able to keep pace with our changing knowledge, environment and climate,’ Ms Higginson said.

Natural Rice Growers Kyogle Facility. Photo www.naturalriceco.com.au

Gowing industry

There are currently between 30 to 40 rice growers in the Northern Rivers and Ms Higginson, who is also a dry rice grower, said there are real opportunities for the the emerging industry here both in growth and innovation.

The Natural Rice Company (NRC) has invested in the Kyogle Grain Facility with significant upgrades and it is now a modern receiving and storage facility. Two other major growers in the region are Nimbin Rice and Oz rice who both work with and NRC. 

‘Local dry rice growers are partnering with Southern Cross University and agronomists from DPI looking at innovation opportunities because we are the ones who have been looking into the genetics of the dry land species,’ Ms Higginson told The Echo

‘There is real innovation with our genetics trials in this region. 

‘Personally, we grow a variety of ancient Japanese rice that is resilient to blast and dry periods, we are looking at how we can breed up these genetics and create food security into the future. 

‘This government has genuinely engaged with the rice vesting issue with a clean plate and said “yes, let’s look at this”. They see this as really important as a growth sector. I’m not saying it will be easy but  we know when we do get a good crop in the Northern Rivers goes gang busters.’

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