Rice in the Ord River Irrigation Area

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Rice has been cultivated in many countries for thousands of years. It is a staple food for a significant proportion of the world's population and demand is growing.

Australia has been producing rice for more than ninety years. It is well positioned globally to meet the world's growing demand for this staple.

Rice as a world food

Rice is a staple food for over half of the world’s population. More than 90% of the world’s rice is produced and consumed in Asia (where more than 61% of the world's population lives), by countries such as China, India, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Vietnam and Japan.

The Asian population is growing at 1.8% per year at present, which adds 45 million more rice consumers annually.  It has been estimated that rice production has to be increased by at least 70% over the next three decades to meet the growing demand. The demand for rice and its value-added products is growing steadily, with consumption stretching beyond Asia.

The rice plant

Rice belongs to the family Gramineae and genus Oryza. The genus Oryza comprises about 20 species distributed through tropical and subtropical regions of Asia, Africa, Central and South America and Australia.

There are only two species of cultivated rice, O. sativa and O. glaberrima. O. sativa is widely grown in the tropical and temperate zones, and O. glaberrima is endemic to West Africa.

Cultivars of O. sativa are divisible into three types or races:

  • Indica, an elongated, thin and slightly flattened grain which stays separate in cooking
  • Japonica, a broad, thick, short, rounded grain which tends to soften if over-cooked
  • Javanica, a long and sticky variety which possibly originated in Indonesia.

Growing rice

Rice is a remarkable semi-aquatic plant which has been cultivated for at least 8000 years in widely different agro-climatic regions of the world.

O. sativa grows at latitudes from 36° south in Australia to 49° north in Czechoslovakia at altitudes from sea-level to 2400 metres in Kashmir. O. sativa is grown extensively in tropical and temperate regions, normally in water (lowland) but also as a dryland (upland) crop.

It is believed that rice cultivation must have begun at several different locations in Asia between 7000 and 8500 years before the present time. O. sativa probably spread from India to Egypt, Europe, Africa, the Americas and Australia in that order.

Rice in Australia

The likely first introduction of rice seed into southern Australian goldfields was by Chinese prospectors in the 1850s. They cultivated it in marshy areas or ponds using effluent from mining.

In the 1860s, a small rice industry using upland varieties and Chinese labour emerged in north Queensland to supply local demand in the goldfields. In 1906, a Japanese ex-parliamentarian, Isaburo (Jo) Takasuka, began cultivating rice using Japanese (Japonica) varieties near Swan Hill in Victoria. In 1924, a commercial rice industry began around Leeton and Griffith in New South Wales where it has grown to be a significant export industry.

Rice in the Ord

Rice was grown on a commercial scale in the Ord Valley from 1973 to 1983. Production peaked in 1982, with 3500 tonnes of rice paddy at an average yield of 7.1t/ha in the dry season and 3.7t/ha in the wet season. A small mill was constructed to process the crop.

After almost 26 years, there was renewed interest in establishing a viable local rice industry in the Ord Valley. This led to trial plantings of 240ha in 2010 and 650ha in 2011 in the Ord Valley - with mixed results.

Since 2009, the Department of Agriculture and Food, Western Australia has initiated a series of trials to establish best ‘agronomic options for a profitable rice-based farming system in northern Australia’. The research has been supported by the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC) and Rice Research Australia Pty Ltd (RRAPL). Rice trials in the Ord River Irrigation Area concluded in 2014.


Yield performance of temperate and tropical rice varieties in the Ord River Irrigation Area (pages 28-31) will be available in the Research Library when copyright permission has been given by all non-DAFWA presenters.