How is rice grown?

Howis rice grown?

Australian grown rice

Follow rice grower John Hawkins as he grows Koshihikari rice from a seedling to a rice plant. Koshihikari is one of SunRice’s premium rice varietals, grown in our Australia soil.

Update 1 - Sowing

This video introduces John – a SunRice rice grower. It provides an overview of rice production and an insight into sowing rice seeds. Sowing typically occurs in October and early November for the Australian rice industry, especially for SunRice’s key sushi rice varieties.

Update 2 – Growing

The warm, sunny weather and lush, green rice fields will transport you to the fertile Riverina region in NSW, Australia, as we check in with John on the progress of his Koshihikari rice crop.

Update 3 - Harvest

John’s Koshihikari rice is now ready for harvesting, a process that will take him three weeks. Learn about the hygiene, cleaning and storage processes that prevent cross-contamination and ensures the “koshi” rice maintains its premium quality.

Update 4 - Milling

In the final update, John’s Koshihikari rice is now ready for milling, packaging and transportation from the SunRice mill in Leeton to not only the domestic market but to markets all across the world including specialty sushi restaurants.

History of rice

Rice is considered one of the most popular foods in the world. It has fed us for thousands of years and is the main source of nourishment for more than half the world’s population today. Plus, it's delicious.

The domestication of rice is considered one of the most important developments in human history. Beginning in China around 2500 BC, its cultivation initially spread throughout Sri Lanka and India. There are some reports the crop may have been introduced to Greece and the Mediterranean by returning members of Alexander the Great’s expedition to India around 344-324 BC. From China across to ancient Greece, from Persia to Africa, rice migrated across the continents and around the world.

In many cultures, rice is a symbol of life and fertility. It’s a staple food that partners perfectly with red meat, chicken, fish, seafood, tofu and vegetables and easily absorbs the flavour of stocks and sauces

Where did rice originate?

Rice first cultivated thousands of years ago in Asia, in a broad arc stretching from eastern India through to Burma (Myanmar), Thailand, Laos, northern Vietnam and southern China.

It's one of the oldest harvested crops known to man. Rice grains discovered at an excavation in South Korea in 2003 are said to be the earliest known domesticated rice. Carbon dating showed the grains to be around 15,000 years old – 3,000 years earlier than the previously accepted date for the origin of rice cultivation in China around 12,000 years ago.

The first written account of rice is found in a record on rice planting authorised by a Chinese emperor in 2800 BC. From China across to ancient Greece, from Persia to Africa, rice migrated across the continents and around the world.

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Rice facts

  • Up to 40 million people across the globe eat Australian rice every day
  • Australian rice growers are some of the most efficient and productive in the world and grow rice varieties ideal for the Australian climate and the harsh growing conditions we have in this country.
  • SunRice also grows varieties of rice throughout the world. These climates reach high summer temperatures without the humidity of tropical climates and are well suited to the varieties of rice Australia grows and require substantially less water.
  • Each year state governments assess the water resource available in the dams and determine allocations for different users based on hierarchy. Most rice is grown by general security irrigators who receive their water last in this hierarchy of allocations. They are also the first to have allocations reduced in times of water shortages.
  • The Australian rice industry is the first Australian agricultural industry to initiate biodiversity enhancement and greenhouse gas reduction strategies
  • Australian rice is exported to over 50 countries including the Middle East, Japan and Hong Kong.
  • Australian rice growers have improved their water use efficiency by 60% in the last 10 years
  • The Australian rice industry is the first industry to initiate a project to return water to the environment through the Living Murray initiative.
  • Rice is Australia’s third largest cereal grain export, and the ninth largest agricultural export. The rice industry generates around $800 million revenue per annum, with around $500 million of this coming from value-added exports.
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Is rice a grain?

Rice is a cereal, related to other cereal grass plants such as wheat, oats and barley.

It completes its entire life cycle within a year, from planting to harvesting. It's also semi-aquatic, which means it can grow partly on land and partly submerged in water. Most cultivated rice comes from either the Oryza sativa, O. glaberrima, or O. rufipogon species.

Rice plants start their life as tiny grains sown in irrigated fields. They grow to become green, grassy plants about 60-100 cm tall. Each plant contains many heads full of tiny rice grains that turn golden when the rice plant is ready to harvest.

Rice is generally divided into two types of species: Indica (adapted to tropical climates like South-East Asia) and Japonica (adapted to more temperate climates like in Australia). The Australian rice industry produces mostly Japonica types of rice, although some Indica characteristics have been introduced through a rice-breeding program.

What is in a grain of Rice?

The rice grain is made of three main layers - the hull or husk, the bran and germ, and the inside kernel, or endosperm.

The hull: The rice hull or husk is a hard, protective outer layer that people cannot eat. The hull is removed when the grain is milled.

Rice bran: Underneath the hull is the bran and germ layer, which is a thin layer of skin. This layer gives brown rice its colour. White rice is just brown rice with the bran and germ layer removed.

Endosperm: The endosperm is the inside of the rice grain, which is hard and white and contains lots of starch.

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Where is rice grown in Australia?

Australian rice is grown in the Murrumbidgee and Murray Valleys of south-western New South Wales, with small areas of rice grown in adjacent areas of northern Victoria. Rice growing is concentrated in this region due to the large areas of flat land, suitable clay-based soils, availability of water, rice storage and milling infrastructure. These areas are relatively close to the Port of Melbourne, one of the main ports from which Australian Rice is exported.

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Rice production in Australia

Why is rice grown in Australia?

Rice is grown on every continent on earth, except Antarctica. In Australia, we specialise in medium grain rice - a niche variety of rice only grown in a handful of countries.

The Riverina’s climate and heavy soils are uniquely suited to the production of high quality Japonica medium grain rice. Australian rice growers consistently achieve great yields and quality of medium grain rice, while using less water than any other country. As a result Australian-grown Japonica is highly sought after in international markets, including the Middle East, Japan and the Pacific.

Should rice even be grown in Australia given water scarcity?

More than half of the world's population relies on rice as their staple food, yet less than 10% of all the rice grown on the planet is available for global trade. The allocation of water to grow a staple food like rice in a time of increasing global food scarcity is a relevant and important use of this resource.

Is irrigating rice a wasteful use of water?

Australian rice growers are efficient and sophisticated producers of rice:

  • Due to their processes, they use less water than other countries – 50% less than the global average.
  • They achieve high yields.
  • They operate under strict environmental controls.
  • They are also rapid adopters of new technology.

Australian growers are committed to sustainable farm practices – growers recycle all of their water and use the moisture left in the soil after harvest to plant another grain crop.

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Rice growing process

Prior to planting rice, rice growers must ensure their farm meets the strict environmental guidelines for rice production. Once approved, many farmers design a whole farm plan to assist in managing the efficient use of natural resources and to determine the most suitable rotations. Many rice growers have already invested in designing whole farm plans.

Most farms use laser-guided land levelling techniques to prepare the ground for production. Laser levelling is one of the most effective and widely adopted techniques to improve water management. Farmers have precise control over the flow of water on and off the paddock. Such measurement strategies have contributed to a 60% improvement in water use efficiency.

Most of the rice is sown by aircraft in Australia. Experienced agricultural pilots use satellite guidance technology to broadcast seed accurately over the fields.

Rice Growing

Rice can only be grown on soils that are deemed suitable by the irrigation corporations and/or the New South Wales Department of Natural Resources.

Rice seeds are planted in September. Through September until February, the rice plant grows a main stem and a number of tillers. Each rice plant will produce four or five tillers. Every tiller grows a flowering head or panicle. The panicle produces the rice grains.

Rice crops are grown in 5-25cm of water depending on growing conditions.

Rice harvester

As the grain begins to mature, the farmers ‘lock up’ the water on the bays. This means no water leaves the paddock, it is fully utilised by the rice plant. The solid then dries out in time for harvest to commence.

Farmers use large, conventional grain harvesters to mechanically harvest rice in Autumn.

Once harvested, the rice is commonly named paddy rice. This is the name given to unmilled rice with its protective husk in place.

Storing Rice

Once harvested, a truck transports it to one of the industry’s paddy storage facilities, where segregation occurs according to variety. Rice storage bins are fitted with computer-linked sensors that monitor grain storage conditions and keep the rice at a suitable temperature and moisture level.

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Rice processing

Rice mill

Australian rice mills use some of the most advanced equipment and are some of the largest and most efficient in the world.

When the storage manager receives orders and shipping instructions, the rice is trucked to one of three industry mills that are strategically located throughout the region. The industry also has three stockfeed manufacturing plants and 21 rice receival depots.

Milling Rice steps

Step one – Removal of hard protective husk.

The rice husk is the protective layer surrounding the grain. Once removed, the rice grain is packaged as brown rice. Because it still contains the rice germ and outer bran layers, Brown Rice contains more fibre and vitamins thanWhite Rice.

Step two – Removal of the germ and brown layers

Gentle milling removes the germ and bran layers from the grain to expose a white starch centre. The polished white starch centre is what we know as white rice.

Rice by-products

By–products from the growing and processing of rice create many valuable new products. Rice husks, rice stubble, rice bran, broken rice and rice straw are used as common ingredients in horticultural, livestock, industrial, household, building and food products.

Rice husks

The rice husk is the hard, protective shell on the grain. The removal of the rice husk is the first stage of rice milling. Rice husks are the main by-product of rice production. For every one million tonnes of paddy rice harvested, about 200 000 tonnes of rice husk is produced. Rice husks are used in 3 main ways.

  • raw - animal bedding, growing seedlings, improving mulch for gardens.
  • burnt - the resulting ash is valuable for many industries, including steel making, gardening and building.
  • ground and processed – is used in stock feed, potting mixes and pet litter.

Rice stubble

Rice stubble is the stalks and roots of the rice plant left in the ground after it has been harvested.

Rice stubble is very thick and difficult to deal with. Livestock graze on recently harvested paddocks and eat some of the rice stubble. A portion of the remaining stubble is usually burnt off and a winter cereal crop, such as wheat, is planted. On some rice farms, rice stubble is left to break down naturally and is incorporated into the soil, to improve the soil structure.

Rice bran

Rice bran is the outer layer of the brown rice grain. The rice bran is removed during the milling process if white rice is to be produced.

Stabilised rice bran is sold as a health food in supermarkets and health food shops, or to food manufacturers who use it as an ingredient in foods such as crispbreads and breakfast cereals.

Unstabilised rice bran can be used in stockfeed and for other animal and industrial products.

Broken rice grains

Unfortunately, during the rice milling process some of the rice grains break. Most of these broken grains are removed from the milling process. The larger broken rice grains are used in pet foods and stock feed, or breakfast cereals. The smaller broken rice grains are ground into rice flour which can be used in baby foods, snack foods, including rice crackers, muesli bars, or as a baking ingredient. Ground broken rice grains are also used in manufactured foods, such as sausages and milk powder drinks.

Rice straw

Rice straw is the stalks left over after the grains of rice have all been removed in the milling process. Rice straw is used as a building material because it is easy to work with, inexpensive and good for the environment. Some dairy farmers use rice straw as fibre for grain–fed stock. It can also be used to make paper.

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