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Native rice trials begin in a $1.4 million project

Dr Sean Bellairs
Dr Sean Bellairs says they are currently growing three species of native rice

A research project seeking to commercialise native rice in Northern Australia, and support Indigenous enterprise, has received $1.4 million cash support and has commenced growing trials.

The project led by Charles Darwin University (CDU), is funded through the Future Food Systems Cooperative Research Centre, with partners Queensland University of Technology (QUT), NT Department of Industry, Tourism and Trade, (DITT), and commercial partners Pudakul Aboriginal Cultural Tours (NT), Olive Vale Pastoral Pty Ltd (QLD) and Myera Group (Canada). 

CDU Research Institute for the Environment and Livelihoods’ Dr Sean Bellairs said the researchers were currently growing three species of native rice in shadehouses at CDU’s Casuarina campus and at DITT’s Coastal Plains Research Farm.

“One species, Oryza australiensis, only occurs in Australia, mainly south of Katherine,” Dr Bellairs said.

“The other two species, Oryza rufipogon and Oryza meridionalis, occur in the floodplains in the Top End and across to Cape York in the east and to the Kimberley in the west.

“We are exploring all three species for growth, yield and grain quality.”  

Once preliminary trials are completed, the team will scale up to trial commercial quantities.

Dr Bellairs said assisting Indigenous enterprises to develop and commercialise this native Australian food, which has been used by Aboriginal communities on the floodplains in Northern Australia for millennia, was a focus of the project. 

“Aboriginal enterprises and communities are involved as commercial partners in the project,” Dr Bellairs said.

“Our project team wants to see native rice produced as a high value, culturally identified Australian grain giving economic benefit to Indigenous communities and enterprises.” 

DITT researchers will provide invaluable support with expertise in rice agronomy and use of their propagation facilities, while QUT collaborators have developed protocols to investigate the nutritional properties of the grains.

Department of Industry, Tourism and Trade, Executive Director of Agriculture, Phil Hausler said the project was an exciting opportunity.

“This is an exciting opportunity to leverage the Territory’s natural advantages to help develop an understanding of the best management practices for the cultivation and processing of native rice,” Mr Hausler said. 

“We know agribusiness is one of the economic drivers of the Northern Territory and this research will assist in attracting and facilitating investment, growing our export markets and supporting Aboriginal business development and employment opportunities.”

Commercialising Australian native rice is a focus for Future Food Systems Cooperative Research Centre in the Northern Territory and Queensland. The first four years of this 10-year collaborative project will focus on agronomy, processing and value adding to maximise the value of the grain.

Two CDU Master of Environmental Management students, a Master of Engineering student and one CDU PhD candidate also have begun research as part of the project.