CANE farmer Graham Martin shows his first crop of rice.
CANE farmer Graham Martin shows his first crop of rice.

Rice alternative Tweed crop to cane

TWEED canegrower Graham Martin is used to looking out over fields of lush green sugar cane - but currently a number of his paddocks have a golden glow.

Mr Martin hopes that glow will transform into cash in the hand after his trial rice crop is harvested within the next few weeks and sent to a rice mill in the Riverina.

“In the afternoon sun it's a lovely golden colour,” said the long-term canegrower and president of the Tweed Canegrower's Association who decided to diversify late last year with just over six hectares of “dry land” rice on his Dulguigan farm outside Murwillumbah.

“It's in the process of changing from gold to a dull orange colour as it ripens up,” he added.

“We are just waiting for the moisture content to drop a bit, then we'll take if off.

“It's a matter of getting a few drying days.”

Mr Martin said the grain had to have less than 16.5 per cent moisture to avoid problems such as mould or spontaneous combustion once the rice is harvested and stored.

He planted the crop late in October and has been amazed at how well it has grown compared with other rice crops planted by farmers slightly to the south around Broadwater and Coraki where less rain has fallen.

“There's a lot being grown in a triangle between Broadwater, Coraki and Casino, but they've had a mini-drought,” Mr Martin said. “We've had about 40 inches of rain since I planted it.”

The variety is a “dry land” rice which is also grown on the Atherton Tableland and requires less water than the traditional “wet” types grown in the currently water-starved Riverina.

“Some of the experts have had a look at it and believed it will yield three tonnes per acre, about seven-and-a-half tonnes per hectare,” Mr Martin said.

“I've no idea how much it will yield.

“It's the first time I've ever grown it.”

Mr Martin was one of few Tweed canegrowers to get in early last year and buy supplies of seed to start a rice crop before limited supplies ran out.

With a huge demand for rice worldwide, farm-supply merchants ran out of seed early, and late last year warned no new supplies would be available until more of that variety was harvested this year.

Seventy tonnes of the "dry land" Japanese variety of rice called tachiminori was reportedly distributed to 40 NSW North Coast growers who began planting from mid-October.

Most saw rice as an addition to cane-soybean-corn rotations for low-lying paddocks that suffered big losses in the 2008 summer floods.

Last year some farmers said their cane was worth about four times more, but believed rice would provide a more secure crop for paddocks prone to flooding.

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