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. It wasn’t the first time rice had been grown in Australia. 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.
Takasuka made the first serious attempt at rice cultivation in south-eastern Australia. 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 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 his difficulties in producing a commercial crop, in 1914 the Victorian Government granted him 200 acres of land to continue rice cultivation in the area. Although Takasuka enjoyed some good harvests in the 1920s, he 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. It now operates under the brand of SunRice. 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-growing still accounts for around 11% of irrigated water use in Australia.