Why choose rice?

By Shelley Scoullar

Originally this week I was going to further air my frustration at the endless fallout from that Four Corners episode, but a conversation with my agronomist got me thinking and I changed track.

During inspection of my canola crop (the first time I have grown it), I was discussing cropping rotations, where best my water allocation is used and whether I can grow it again next year. Discussion lead to the amount of decision making and labour was involved in winter crops compared to rice. My first priority is having enough water to produce a rice crop - on the surface this might not be the best fiscal decision for my (our) business, but it runs deeper than that.

For me growing a rice crop makes me who I am. The amount of effort you put in can directly impact on yields and returns. From late October to early March there are water management decisions, which if made correctly ensure you not only produce a high yielding crop, but also help with weed management, maybe slime and wind management depending on the year. Now with the price of water, ensuring that not a drop is wasted is a priority as well. Then there is the management of pests, such as snails, blood worm and ducks, but again this all comes down to management decisions and your style of rice growing.

With cereals, sure there are decisions that need to be made and you might water if it doesn’t rain at the right time or if there is not enough, but there is not the intensity and monitoring that is required with rice.

There is the excitement of planting, then the worry during establishment (ensuring that the seedlings get their roots securely anchored into the soil), then you can catch your breath before deciding the best time to topdress, then worry about cold snaps during the reproductive phase. You watch all the wildlife, insects, reptiles, amphibians and birds make themselves at home, with different species coming and going depending on the phase of the crop. There is the excitement if you see a breeding pair of birds, especially if they are rare or endangered.

By the time late February comes along the amount of time and energy you have put into the crop leaves you impatient for the pending harvest. But it is strange, while there is a sense of achievement and cause for celebration as the last truck leaves the gate, it also leaves a hole. A rice crop is much more than some plants in the ground, it is a habitat for other creatures and it responds to your management decisions; it’s nearly a family member.

To some this will all sound nuts, but to me it’s about choice and what you are passionate about. There is no way I could be a dairy farmer - hats off to them! But, it’s like anything - if you love what you do and you are good at it then you will fight for it.

That’s why I am fighting for a fair deal and a more balanced Basin Plan. I want to continue growing rice that feeds people throughout the world and provides a unique temporary habitat on my farm.