Jerilderie farmers named rice growers of the year

By Rodney Woods

Jerilderie rice growers Peter and Renee Burke have taken out the 2019 SunRice Grower of the Year award at the Ricegrowers’ Association conference and gala dinner held in Corowa on August 1 and 2.

The SunRice Grower of the Year Award recognises innovation, new technology and latest research outcomes adopted in the rice industry.

The recipient of the award must showcase high yields and high water use efficiency for rice grown in a sustainable way with successful adoption of new technology and innovation.

Mr Burke said precision agriculture had underpinned a big jump in water efficiency and productivity, something that was important with water so scarce and prices so high.

``Our laser-levelled bankless channel irrigation layout with Padman Stops ensures high flow rates of water when irrigating cereals and drill-sown rice crops,'' he said.

``Precision agriculture has improved our equipment efficiency and provided data to help make management decisions.

``We regularly grade our paddocks to remove variation and ensure uniformity of crop development and irrigation which helps with management.

``Water has made it hard.

``We've been buying water from previous years when it's cheaper, through forward purchasing and leasing, to remain viable.''

The couple was one of five finalists in the running for the award.

``We were nominated by our agronomist and we had to answer a series of questions, which took two to three hours to complete,'' Mr Burke said.

``We sent it (the application) in and Rice Extension looked at the applicants and brought it down to five.

``They appointed a judging panel of three and they came out on-farm and we had an interview and showed them our set-up as well.''

The Burkes admitted they were caught off-guard when the crop yield was mentioned.

``We were extremely surprised,'' Mrs Burke said.

``We didn't prepare a speech at all,'' Mr Burke said.

``While we regard our practices as pretty good, we are always thinking someone is better than us.

``We were thinking, 'it's not us' and then they read out the yield and that’s when we went `oh my, that’s us'.''

Now it has sunk in, the Burkes, who produced an average 2018-19 rice yield of 13tonnes/ha, a figure which is 33 per cent above the Murray Valley five-year industry average, said it was ``very nice'' to be recognised for 22 years of hard work.

The Burkes, who run a 1280ha irrigation farm, said a possible reason for their success was their main business strength, which was making sure their agronomist, bank manager, insurer, accountant and water broker all worked together.

The couple grew 220ha of Reziq rice this season, down from 700ha the previous year.

They used 12.7Ml of water per hectare to produce 2860 dry tonnes of rice and also used the water to grow straw bales and grain by growing oats on the same paddock.