Rice production expected to improve in 2020-21

By Rodney Woods

Australia's rice crop is expected to increase by more than four times in 2020-21, with a return to average seasonal conditions and a fall in water prices expected in the next 12 months.

With SunRice chairman Laurie Arthur admitting in May the country would run out of Australian-grown rice by December, the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences’ rice markets report will provide some good news for growers, who could only manage 57 000 tonnes in 2019-20.

The ABARES report said the forecasted 266 000 tonnes in 2020-21 was still well below the 10-year average to 2018-19, which sits at 629 000 tonnes.

“Most of the forecast production in 2020-21 (around 257 000 tonnes) is forecast to be grown in the southern Murray-Darling Basin, where a very wet year would be needed for production to return to over 400 000 tonnes,” the report said.

With rice harvests done for another year and with Mr Arthur's comments in mind, Australia will have to rely on imports more than ever.

“Australia relies on rice imports every year, reflecting prices and consumer preferences for varieties of rice that are not grown in Australia,” the report said.

“Annual rice imports between 2009-10 and 2018-19 averaged 173 000 tonnes.

“ABARES estimates that at April 1, rice stocks in Australia were 140 000 tonnes.

“This includes importers’ stocks and Sunrice's domestic stocks.”

Despite a shortage of rice over the past few years domestically and the report saying Australians are estimated to consume about 300 000 tonnes of rice every year, the country still exports most of the rice it produces.

“Australia exported an average of 350 000 tonnes per year of rice between 2010-11 and 2019-20, with significant year-to-year variability as production varied,” the report said.

“In recent years, around 74 per cent of the crop was exported.”