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Northern Rivers growers say rice industry 'monopoly' obstructing their growth

Northern Rivers rice growers who lost half their crops in the recent floods say they have been dealt another blow.  

The New South Wales government announced the single rice marketing desk would be extended for five years, blocking northern NSW growers from accessing export markets. 

The decision follows a five-yearly review into rice vesting arrangements by the NSW Department of Primary Industries. 

The decision has been welcomed by Riverina rice growers, who produce 98 per cent of Australia's rice crop and largely supply to SunRice, which holds the country's sole export licence with the Rice Marketing Board. 

Natural Rice Company's Steven Rodgers says Northern Rivers rgrowers will have to continue to rely on the domestic market.(ABC Rural: Kim Honan, file)

But, Steven Rogers from the Northern Rivers' Natural Rice Company said he was shocked and disappointed that the current vesting arrangements would be retained. 

"The rice industry in Australia is just a monopoly and anyone else trying to step into that industry just tends to get pushed back so much that they no longer exist," Mr Rogers said. 


Northern Rivers growers say the decision to retain a single rice marketing desk is a kick in the guts for flood-impacted growers. (ABC North Coast: Kim Honan)


Unlike rice grown in the Riverina, northern NSW rice is grown without irrigation, with crops relying solely on summer rain. 

Mr Rogers said this gave them a point of difference that importers were very interested in. 

"The world is looking for our kind of rice ... that low-emissions, low-water-usage rice, for their sustainability.

"It's just another kick in the guts knowing we are just subject to the domestic market."

He estimated that half the region's crops had been lost in the record floods seven weeks ago. 

Single desk offers the scale to compete in a global market


The NSW DPI review found there was "no conclusive evidence" that vesting, through the restriction of export competition, was delivering higher prices for NSW rice exports.

It added that the current exclusive export licence holder, SunRice, was expected to enjoy ongoing support from the majority of its growers, many of whom own a financial and controlling stake in the company. 

NSW Agricultural Minister Dugald Saunders said the decision to retain a single rice marketing desk provided certainty to most growers.

"The feedback I got very wholeheartedly from growers was that they like the vesting arrangements as they are," Mr Saunders said. 


SunRice has held a sole and exclusive export licence agreement with the Rice Marketing Board since 2006.(ABC Rural: Cara Jeffery)


He said that through the Rice Marketing Board and their agreement with SunRice, there was only one point of contact for buyers and sellers of Australian rice. 

"If you split that up and have different players in the field, what it does is possibly weaken your ability to get the best price overseas.

"You could have people losing money if you try and encourage other players in that field."

However, he acknowledged that changes could be made to improve opportunities for other rice-growing regions, announcing an independent report into some of the issues raised by the NSW DPI review.   

"Part of the idea of doing a review is to look at what will work for both southern and northern growers, to make sure there is a future for both parties. 

"I want to see the southern growers better support the northern growers …particularly coming out of floods."

Bumper harvest in the Riverina 


Ricegrowers' Association of Australia president Rob Massina, from Finley in the Riverina, said they welcomed the independent report. 

"That's about adapting to change and recognising what's required for the rice industry in the future," Mr Massina said. 

"We just hope that industry experts...are part of that review and we ask that that engagement happens earlier rather than later."

Mr Massina said rice markets across the world were heavily controlled by governments globally. 

"Gaining scale from an Australian rice industry to go and compete in different markets and at different times, can give great value to the rice grower."


The Riverina has experienced a bumper harvest so far, following great conditions during the growing season.(Supplied: Ricegrowers Association )

Unlike the flood-damaged Northern Rivers, the Riverina is currently experiencing a bumper rice harvest, with the total tonnage delivered predicted to be close to 700,000 tonnes.

Mr Massina said that was more than 10 times what was produced in recent seasons that were marred by drought and low water availability. 

"This year ... the critical growing season of flowering and the development of the heads had great conditions to really produce a high-end yield."

By Kim HonanAmelia Bernasconi, and Olivia Calver