Rice shortage gives farmers growing pains

TWEED canefarmers hoping to diversify by planting rice, which is highly in demand due to a world shortage, have been dealt a temporary blow.

Farm supply merchants have run out of seed and none will be available until more of that variety is harvested.

While some canefarmers south of Ballina who were able to buy seed have been left waiting for suitable rain, Tweed farmers say a good weekend soaking of rain here would have allowed them to plant, if only they had the seed.

President of the Tweed Canegrowers Association Graham Martin said suppliers apparently only had "very limited seed".

"I believe the seed was exhausted some months ago," he said. "There will be no more until the current crop matures and they keep some more seed."

Mr Martin said the rice proposed for planting on the North Coast was a "dryland" variety, different to that grown in the Riverina district.

Weekend rainfall on the Tweed, amounting to about 43mm or more than one-and-a-half inches had soaked the soil making it ideal for planting.

"A lot of us have low flat country susceptible to flooding which damages the cane," he said. "We will be very interested in finding something to grow there."

Meanwhile, Mr Martin said this year's cane harvest was proceeding slowly, dogged by teething problems with new equipment at the Condong Mill and wet weather.

The cane harvest is now likely to wind up in mid-December.

Across the North Coast 700 hectares of rice are expected to be planted this summer as the region's sugar and grain growers help meet a shortfall in Australia's rice industry created by water shortages in the Murray-Darling basin. Seventy tonnes of the "dryland" Japanese variety Tachiminori has reportedly been distributed to 40 growers who are due to plant it from mid-October. Most see rice as an addition to cane-soybean-corn rotations for low-lying paddocks that suffered big losses in last summer's floods. Some say their cane is worth about four times more but rice provides a more secure crop for paddocks prone to flood.

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