ENVIRONMENTAL CHAMPIONS PROGRAM

Welcome to the Environmental Champions Program (ECP).


The ECP was developed in the early years of this century as an innovative voluntary program designed by farmers for farmers to help improve on-farm environmental management and deliver on the industry’s environmental goals. The programs key aims were to assist rice growers improve both the environmental and economic performance of their farms, which in turn contributed to the social fabric of our communities.

During 2012 with the support of the Murray CMA, worked together to collate the outcomes and lessons learnt from the program since its inception. The project involved gathering input from ECP participants, the rice industry and partner organisations to reflect the ECP’s achievements and potential future direction.

Click here to read about the outcomes and lessons learnt.

The key recommendation from this review was to integrate the ECP within the rice industry’s levy funded extension framework and other RGA activities. This change was made during 2014 with levy funds invested to update materials and streamline the delivery of the program, so growers will receive environmental management information as part of the rice industry’s broader production advisory service.

The rice industry delivers a range of government funded environmental projects through the ECP network. Recently, these have included projects on stubble management, on-farm soil testing, measuring greenhouse gas emissions, encouraging biodiversity in the house paddock, and protecting the endangered Australasian Bittern.

ECP PROJECTS AND EVENTS


As part of the industry’s commitment to environmental best practice, the ECP has been given funding assistance to collaborate with our local partners on a number of projects that improve the industry’s environmental performance.

For more information about any of these projects, please contact our Environmental Projects Co-ordinator, Neil Bull:
Tel: 02 6953 0433 or 0428 603 557 Email: rga@rga.org.au

Bitterns in rice project


The Bitterns in Rice Project began in 2010 when a Mayrung district rice grower photographed a pair of Australasian Bitterns in his rice crop. Knowing little about these elusive birds he sent the photo to Birdlife Australia, who contacted the Environmental Champions Program to investigate how we could work together to learn more about this endangered bird.

The ECP obtained funding from a range of organisations to establish population estimates and study these birds’ use of rice crops as surrogate habitat. A steering committee was formed and wildlife ecologist Matt Herring was engaged to lead the field work. Funding partners in this project include Riverina LLS, Murray LLS, RIRDC, the Norman Wettenhall Foundation, Coleambally Irrigation and Coleambally Landcare. Significant in-kind support has been received from Coleambally, Murray & Murrumbidgee Irrigation, Murrumbidgee Field Naturalists Club, NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, Murrumbidgee Irrigation Landcare & Murray Landcare Collectives and ECP members.

We found:

That Riverina rice fields support the world’s largest known breeding population of Australasian Bitterns. This equates to 30-40% of total Australian population. Significant numbers of Australasian Bitterns use Riverina rice crops as habitat during the growing season with numerous birds found in the Murray, Murrumbidgee and Coleambally irrigation areas. We have also proven that Australasian Bitterns nest and raise their chicks in our rice crops. Further field studies this season will focus on fox control, bird populations and breeding outcomes. We plan to trial thermal imagery to identify Bitterns nests and then monitor breeding success. The majority of this work will be carried out in the Coleambally and Murrumbidgee Irrigation areas thanks to funding support from Riverina LLS with population studies undertaken in the Western Murray Valley. This season’s work will be supported by both the Riverina Local Land Services and Murray Local Land Services with funding from the National Landcare Program. For full details of the Bitterns in Rice project see; https://www.bitternsinrice.com.au/

Habitat value under different agronomic practices


Rice crop management practices have been recorded for all crops formally surveyed for Bitterns. Initial findings highlight this bird’s preference for aerially sown crops, or drill sown crops with early permanent water. We believe the earlier flooding of the fields benefits prey development enabling early and ample food supply for successful breeding. The latest tips for Bittern Friendly Rice growing can be found in the booklet; “Bitterns in Rice the Story so Far 2012-2016” see http://www.bitternsinrice.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/Bitterns-in-Rice-Project-2012-2016-summary-booklet.pdf

Pozible campaign


During October 2014, the Bitterns in Rice project team successfully raised in excess of $50,000 as a participant in the Landcare NSW-Pozible Environment Collection crowd funding campaign. These funds have been used to satellite track ten Australasian Bitterns.  The project has shown that many Bitterns leave their spring summer rice habitat and fly large distances to coastal and inland ephemeral wetlands. The tracking has also shown that some birds like to stay close to their rice fields during winter using habitat created by irrigation infrastructure. For the most up to date information on the project please check out the Bitterns in Rice project Facebook page here.

Biodiversity in the house paddock


The Biodiversity in the House Paddock project has been funded through the RGA ECP’s Capacity Building Project with the Murray Local Land Services. The aim of the project is to demonstrate how to strategically plant locally native plants within the house paddocks to provide habitat for a range of native bird, reptile and insect species. A planting guide titled “Beyond the Garden” has been produced as part of this project. This booklet is available by contacting the RGA office or Neil Bull on the details above.

Stubble management


Every year following the rice harvest, the ECP runs a stubble management awareness program to ensure that growers are aware of alternatives to stubble burning and how to burn responsibly where it is necessary to do so.

A range of information about responsible stubble burning for RGA members can be found here

You can listen to the advertisements about stubble burning we run on local radio stations here

With the support of funding from the Commonwealth Government’s National Landcare Program, the ECP and Rice Extension is also investigating the use of legumes after harvest as a means to avoid stubble burning and improve soil health.
For more information contact Neil Bull on the details above.

Greenhouse gas emissions


A priority for the rice industry is to better understand greenhouse gas emissions produced from rice growing in Australia. Although some work has been done on this topic overseas, little is known about what is occurring in Australian conditions, and what management practices might be effective to reduce our emissions profile.

With the support of funding from the Commonwealth Government’s Action on the Ground program, we have engaged scientists to investigate the extent of our emissions under different management practices. This three year project should give us a clear indication about what effect varying irrigation timing, fertiliser regimes and stubble loads has on emissions from rice in Australia.