AgriFutures Australia, Manager, Research tasked to drive new research projects for the rice industry

08.07.22

Our rice industry is world leading. And with a five-year plan underway to further improve water efficiency by 75 per cent within five years, the industry is aiming to future-proof this position.  

Under the recently laid Rice Program Strategic Research, Development and Extension (RD&E) Plan 2021-2026 five new research projects have been contracted underpinning the second priority area of the Plan, aimed at assisting the Australian rice industry to reach a water productivity target of 1.5 tonne per mega litre within five years. 

To support this strategic priority, Tichaona Pfumayaramba, better known as Tich, has recently joined the AgriFutures team to oversee the portfolio of new research projects focusing on rice agronomy and farming systems.  

Tich brings a wealth of experience to the role – across government, academic, non-government/humanitarian, and private sectors in agricultural economics and agribusiness fields.  

Most recently, Tich was an Agricultural Economist at the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Queensland (DAFQ) in Townsville, where he worked closely with agronomists and other stakeholders to trial and identify sustainable management practices to improve sugarcane profitability. 

Tich is passionate about multi-disciplinary and participatory research approaches and their application in rural development and market linkages. He believes research, development and extension in Agtech can drive productivity and profitability. 

Five new research projects focused on agronomy and farming systems 

Advancements in digital technologies may offer effective solutions to a range of agronomy and crop management challenges, and support the industry’s water productivity target of 1.5 tonne per mega litre. 

AgriFutures Rice Program has taken the opportunity to explore this possibility by partnering with other agricultural industries and supply chain participants in five new research projects.  

Project 1: Quick and easy precision ag tools to increase rice yield and water use efficiency 

This project led by DataFarming aims to close the gap between research and application by supporting the adoption of technology in the rice industry. 

The project team will work closely with agronomists, farmers, NSW Department of Primary Industries (NSW DPI), harvest contractors, SunRice, and technology suppliers to deliver four simple, effective, and semi-automated precision ag tools addressing areas of improving soil structure, identifying anomalies during crop growth, variable rate application of nutrients, and predicting harvest timing to improve whole grain yield. 

This project aims to see 75% of rice farmers and agronomists adopt one or more of the four tools by 2025.  

Project 2: Real-time remote sensing-based monitoring for the rice industry 

In other international rice growing regions, real-time monitoring of rice crops using remote sensing has been adopted with the data effectively identifying important agronomic parameters that can inform crop management and decision-making.  

Led by the University of New England (UNE) this project will bring together remote sensing, weather, and field observations, and apply machine learning techniques to develop models to enable field-scale predictions. These will be delivered to growers regularly and provide insights to recommended timings to water or fertilize crops and play a role in harvest management decisions. 

The project aims to support growers to adopt best-practice crop and water management strategies.  

This project builds on existing industry collaboration between (SunRice, Grower Services, Rice Research Australia Pty Ltd and individual growers), research organisations (UNE, NSW DPI and extension services (Rice Extension)) and makes use of remotely sensed imagery providers (Planet Labs Fusion and Sentinel 2). 

Project 3: Agronomy and remote sensing to maximise rice water productivity 

This project will support growers to achieve higher yields with reduced water use by providing science based agronomic management packages for new and current varieties. 

By comparing field and remotely sensed data and combining it with historical data, updated and user-friendly growing guidelines for current and new release varieties of rice can be produced providing valuable information on variety management. The benefits from NIR Tissue Test services will also be improved with the remote sensed technology to provide more accurate NIR calibrations and nitrogen topdressing recommendations. 

Rice growers can expect to be provided with essential resources required to maximise grain yield and quality from current and future rice varieties while minimising water use. 

Project 4: Development of an integrated pest management program for the NSW rice industry 

This project investigates newer, more sustainable options for controlling the key invertebrate pests affecting the NSW rice industry and the move towards greater water use efficiency.  

The goal of this project is to assist the industry to move away from traditional broad-spectrum chemicals (many of which are under regulatory review) and develop a sustainable Integrated Pest Management Program to help manage pests like native armyworms and Russian wheat aphids.  

This project will help ensure that pests are treated when necessary, and where chemical interventions are unavoidable, ensure growers have access to selective and sustainable treatments that have minimal impact on beneficial species and crop resilience to reinfestation.  

Project 5: Review of the Biosecurity Plan for the rice industry  

Led by Plant Health Australia, this project will undertake a review of the industry’s Biosecurity Plan to protect the Australian rice industry from the negative impacts of plant pests. The Biosecurity Plan will identify and promote awareness of the importance of biosecurity preparedness and encourage the adoption of effective on-farm responses to new pest incursions. 

The project team is working with the rice industry to identify the highest risk exotic pests and established pests and weeds of biosecurity significance, risk mitigation activities to reduce potential biosecurity threats, and current surveillance and diagnostic activities to inform a new Biosecurity Plan for the rice industry.  

To learn more about the industry’s new RD&E Plan 2021-2026 and the important initiatives outlined in the Plan, read the latest news article on our website. 

If you are interested to find out more information about these projects or the priority area ‘agronomy and farming systems’ please contact Tich Pfumayaramba, Manager, Research, at tich.pfumayaramba@agrifutures.com.au.