Organic rice production trial in Australia
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Organic rice will be grown in Lakeland, Queensland, and monitored over two cropping cycles. The project is expected to begin this December. Project co-ordinator Adam Willson, director of Soil Systems Australia, says the research will focus on two major factors - irrigation systems, and organic production methods using new seed varieties - for more sustainable rice crops. First, the research will look at growing rice under pivot. Changing the favoured irrigation system from flood - an intensive water use system under which most rice in the world is currently grown - to pivot can use up to half the water, and doesn't leave large amounts of water sitting on the surface for long periods of time. Studies from the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources in Missouri found in preliminary trials that almost 30 % less water was needed when pivot irrigation was used, BFA reports.
Secondly, the research will use new rice varieties grown under organic production, according to Mr. Willson. He states rice varieties will be selected to match the pivot irrigation technique. They will be experimental lines, in contrast to the varieties currently used, which are almost all adapted to flood irrigation. Soil Systems Australia will focus on building stable soil humus - not just maintaining soil carbon - for ultimate productivity, and on balancing soil minerals for optimum nutrition in the final rice product. According to Mr. Willson trials have already shown organic crops could match, or even outstrip, conventional yields on a large scale.
“An organic dryland wheat grower last year for example, out-produced non-organic wheat production by 20 % with the right nutrition and soil management," Mr. Willson continues, and states that in light of an anticipated global rice shortage, Northern Australia should look seriously at the sustainable production of organic rice for export. ''Northern Australia receives up to 86 % of Australia's rainfall. Australia is the only country in the world that is an island, politically stable, and has the potential to produce large quantities of food. It makes sense that we develop the north.'' He says rice needs to be grown in the tropics where water is and not remain restricted to NSW Riverina areas, where most rice plantations currently exist. ''Rice is grown in the tropics all round the world - there is no doubt it can be successful in far north Australia, with the right management system and investors in place.''
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