1906 Rice cultivation begins in SE Australia

Jō Takasuka (1865-1940), by unknown photographer, 1939 La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, H92.400/94

The first person known to have planted rice in south-eastern Australia was  Jō Takasuka, an import/export merchant who had previously been a parliamentarian in Japan. In 1906 he sowed 35 acres (14 ha) of rice on flood-prone land rented from a farmer in Nyah, on the Murray River.  He struggled to produce a commercial crop, but in 1914 the Victorian Government granted him 200 acres of land to continue rice cultivation in the area.

Chinese miners brought rice seeds to Australia in the 1850s, and a rice mill was established in North Queensland in 1888, but the cultivation of rice in the area was soon largely abandoned in favour of sugar cane. The first serious attempt at rice cultivation in southeastern Australia occurred in the early 20th century. Jō Takasuka struggled with floods, droughts and lack of finance in attempts to produce a viable harvest.  Test plots on his property were harvested in 1911 but early sales were for seed rather than as a food crop. Despite some good harvests in the 1920s, Takasuka abandoned the enterprise in 1927.

Meanwhile, farmers around Leeton and Griffith in the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area began to grow rice commercially, using seed from California. Their first commercial crop was produced in 1924.

During World War II rice was in short supply, as it could no longer be imported from Asia. To meet the shortfall, rice cultivation began in the Murray Valley. The industry grew strongly through the 1950s and a grower cooperative was formed in the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area. The growers’ company receives, stores, mills, processes, packages, sells and ships rice products within Australia and overseas.

Rice cultivation is water-intensive. Australian rice farmers have increased production per hectare while decreasing water use, but rice still accounts for around 11% of irrigated water use in Australia.

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