Perfect timing for rice grower
RICE is finally thriving as a rotational crop in local sugar cane fields, but for the grower driving the experiment, Tony Carusi, the rain stopped just in time.
"We had to harvest this year," Mr Carusi said.
"Just when the crop was ready the rain stopped and the weather became perfect for the harvest."
Mr Carusi's family has grown cane on the Richmond River at Kilgin, near Woodburn, for three generations.
With soy beans struggling in the wet in lower paddocks, he decided four years ago to try dry land rice in the fallow rotation.
Dry land rice doesn't require irrigation like the major rice-producing areas of the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area in southern NSW.
Mr Carusi has made a considerable investment, including the construction of his own mill, but it hasn't all been plain sailing.
He spent five days in China in 2009 looking at different types and sizes of mills.
"They've been growing rice for 4000 years so they know what they're doing," he said.
"We had started growing rice commercially in 2008 but floods decimated the crops and what we did harvest cost $125 a tonne to transport to Leeton to the mill.
"Initially the quality was poor and we were getting only $50 a tonne for the rice as stock feed."
The problems threatened to cripple the venture, but now the sun is shining on the fields, the crop is being harvested and milled locally and there is a growing market.
"We learnt as we went along," Mr Carusi said.
"Now we have 75 hectares of rice and are getting it into local shops and markets within five days of harvest.
"The brown rice we produce is well accepted in the health food market.
"It's pesticide-free and with no irrigation it's environmentally friendly.
"We're now starting to develop packaging, distributing and marketing under our own OzRice brand."