Eight days into her new role as Minister for Agriculture, Senator the Honourable Bridget McKenzie was in Leeton with Senator Perin Davey, talking all things rice with Jeremy Morton, President of Rice Growers’ Association (RGA), Graeme Kruger Executive Director of RGA, John Bradford and Gillian Kirkup both SunRice Directors and RMB members and Belinda Lambert Communications Manager of RGA.
Senator McKenzie was keen to learn more. Water, Trade and the future of rice industry were high on the agenda.
The number one issue was the Murray Darling Basin Plan and the importance of no more buybacks, RGA emphasised that all productive water recovery results in negative social and economic impacts for irrigators and their communities. This includes water market impacts, the impacts created by the irrigators bearing the fixed costs of running the highly modernised irrigation systems, and the undermining of the significant investments (billions of $) made in modernising our water delivery infrastructure, both on–farm and within irrigation systems.
Senator Perin Davey provided insight into the negative impact to communities of zero or low water allocations. The RGA advised the Minister that the current management of water resources, water markets and the implementation of the Basin Plan were undermining the confidence of farmers, industries and communities to invest in the future.
The RGA urged Minister McKenzie to work with the Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormaick Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Transport, the Minister for Water Resources David Littleproud and the Minister for Environment Sussan Ley to adopt the solutions to fix the Murray Darling Basin Plan. The RGA believes this needs to be in line with the many recommendations made within the numerous reports and reviews including The Productivity Commission Review into the Basin Plan and community developed proposals to fix the plan. The RGA provided the minister with a copy of their policies which detail constructive, collaborative and innovative solutions to ensure no further productive water recovery and mitigate further social and economic impacts for irrigation communities and industries.
The visit included a tour of the recently upgraded Leeton rice processing mill, which has seen an investment of $24 million to help secure an export deal of Riverina rice into Japan. The Minister; who has a self-confessed love for Australian processing plants, was delighted to learn that the processing and packing is all done locally in the Riverina.
Another fact which brought obvious approval was Ricegrower’s environmental program to protect the endangered Australasian Bittern. In a strong case that food production and nature conservation can be potential partners, it turns out that one of Australia’s most threatened species has a preference for habitat in rice crops. RGA is collaborating with Local Land Services and Irrigation groups to protect the species and improve habitat.
The Minister was updated on the recent RGA survey which saw 63% of all participating current and prospective rice growing levy payers vote for an increase to the rice R&D Levy. This investment will fund further research into growing sustainable rice requiring less water, improving agronomic characteristics and eating quality. The RGA is working with the Federal Governments Department of Agriculture to approve this amendment to the legislation.
It was highlighted to the Minister the practicality of growing a seasonal crop in an environment where water availability was variable - growing more when water was plentiful, and turning to alternate farm practices in dry times such as this year. To achieve this requires a minimum crop size which maintains our infrastructure and markets, therefore it is integral that a minimum guaranteed water supply to farmers is essential for rices’ future.
RGA appreciated the opportunity to showcase our world class rice industry to minister McKenzie and look forward her support in building a future for our Australian rice industry.