GROWING a water-intensive crop like rice in drought-stricken regions just doesn’t make sense to Casino farmer Brett Slater, which is why he’s growing and milling his own.
Mr Slater’s $500,000 mill, the first in the Northern Rivers, whirred into action this month, producing 300 tonnes of biodynamic medium-grain brown rice.
His first 300-tonne crop saved around 465,000 litres of water; the amount required had it been grown in the Murray-Darling Basin.
Rather than truck the unprocessed ‘paddy rice’ to Leeton in the NSW Riverina for milling, Mr Slater invested his own money to produce rice that was not only rain-fed but boasted ‘low carbon miles’.
“It just makes sense. Here we lose crops to flood, not drought,” Mr Slater said.
The Fairy Hill farmer wasn’t sure whether it was the rain, or the biodynamic nature of the crop, that made it tastier than the mainstream product.
“People are saying their kids won’t eat brown rice, but they’ll eat ours,” he said.
The mill, which can process three tonnes of rice an hour, arrived in four enormous shipping containers and was built by Mr Slater and his sole employee, farm worker Luke Barton.
“We had some hard days,” admitted Mr Slater.
By growing and milling his own product and distributing it through Byron Bay-based Santos Trading, Mr Salter had more control of his product.
While current South Australian crops require 1550 litres of water to produce just 1kg of rice, Mr Slater’s protein-rich product, branded with a distinctive blue ‘rain fed’ sticker, is poised to win over the growing environmentally-aware market
Santos Trading will be distributing the rain-fed grain to wholefood outlets around the country.
Northern Rivers stockists include Fundamental Foods in Lismore and Byron Bay, and Brunswick Heads Health Foods, as well as the Santos stores in Byron Bay and Mullumbimby. Santos Trading is also looking to expand its wholesale trade from its headquarters in Byron Bay Industrial Estate.
“Look for the blue ‘rain-fed’ label at wholefoods stores,” Mr Slater said.
The farmer said he hoped to expand his operation.