Allan Milan checking his wet season crop with SunRrice northern operations manager Steve Rogers.BURDEKIN cane grower Allan Milan calculates he made 50 per cent better net return from rice than he would have if the same land had grown sugar cane last season.
Nanjing Night Net

Rice, yielding nine tonnes a hectare from 54ha, also delivered a 30pc better return per megalitre of irrigation water than sugar.

A leap in input costs associated with cane farming in the past decade, particularly electricity to run irrigation pumps, have convinced Mr Milan and his wife Lynette to make better use of fallow cane land on their Giru district farm east of Ayr.

Cane crop input costs had jumped almost $10 to $30 for every harvested tonne in just eight years.

“There’s got to be more than one way to skin a cat,” said Mr Milan, pictured checking his wet season crop (expected to average about 8t/ha) with SunRrice northern operations manager Steve Rogers (right).

The Milans, with teenage sons Ryan and Caleb, expanded this season’s rice area to 184ha of their 560ha aggregation and will probably plant a dry season crop of up to 280ha.

Mr Milan said northern yields and returns, particularly for niche varieties, had improved notably since rice was previously grown in the Burdekin in the 1990s, with aerobic crops yielding about 2t/ha better than the 7t/ha previously grown in flooded bay systems.

“It’s an exciting time. SunRice has come in with the resources to provide technical support, markets and new varieties,” Mr Milan said.

“Although a lot of people are reluctant to leave the security of cane growing, there’s quite a bit of interest in rice.

“A fair few neighbours are keeping an eye on what we’re doing.”

Solid grain legume markets were also an attraction for growers using their 20pc fallow rotation area to grow mungbeans other pulses.

Many cane growers were also looking ahead at diversification options because of looming changes to cane marketing structures by global milling giant Wilmar.

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