Scientists at the Frank Wise Institute of Tropical Agriculture near Kununurra are closely monitoring their rice crops for a fungal disease that brought an end to commercial growing in the Kimberley last year.
About 650ha of rice crops were planted by farmers in the Ord Valley in 2011 after a successful yield from 250ha planted in 2010.
But an outbreak of the “rice blast” disease this time last year affected yields and made marketing the crop a challenge for growers, who have not returned to plant new crops in 2012.
The Department of Agriculture and Food’s Frank Wise facility is now trialling international varieties from America and Asia for their tolerance to the fungus. Institute development officer Siva Sivapalan said there would be enough research to identify which varieties were suitable by the end of the year.
“If it is going to affect our crops this is the ideal time so we are closely monitoring our trials to see if we are going to get it or not,” he said.
Once the most tolerant rice varieties have been identified, the next phase of research will investigate suitable planting times, nutritional requirements and plant density.
Rice will be planted on raised beds in the wet and dry seasons and compared with flooded systems.
The research will also explore the benefits of rotating rice with other crops, such as legumes.
Funded in part by the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation, the project is also being supported by the Northern Territory and New South Wales State Governments.
Agriculture Department director of irrigation agriculture innovation Geoff Strickland said the project would aim to provide guidelines for profitable rice-based farming.
“Among crops trialled in the Ord River Irrigation Area, rice has shown it can provide high returns,” Mr Strickland said.“But we need to understand a lot more about the most suitable varieties, the best establishment systems, planting dates, disease resistance and other factors to provide sound advice to commercial industry.”
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