Innovation in action: AgriFutures Rice Program introduces exciting new suite of projects

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The AgriFutures Rice Program invests in research, development and extension (RD&E) that improves the productivity, profitability and sustainability of the Australian rice industry and assists in achieving the Australian rice industry’s water productivity goal to reach an average of 1.5 t/ML .

 

Through investment in targeted and high-impact projects, the Rice Program focuses on ensuring the rice industry is a global leader for improved water use efficiency with four key priorities:

  1. Optimised genetic improvement
  2. Agronomy and farming systems
  3. Coordinated industry extension
  4. Strengthened industry capacity

In 2023, the Program called for research proposals that were innovative, had the potential for transformative change for the industry, and addressed the needs and challenges of a rice industry using less water into the future.

As a result, the Rice Program has contracted a total of nine successful research proposals adding to the eighteen projects already underway in the Program with an additional three projects to follow. This new suite of projects span across the four RD&E priorities, all with the same focus on achieving the industry water productivity target. The new projects are outlined below.

Priority 1: Optimised genetic improvement

  • Genetic improvement of lodging resistance in Australian rice (The University of Queensland) 
    One way to boost yield under aerobic conditions is to use higher nitrogen levels, but this can cause a problem with lodging, where the stems bend or fall over which makes harvesting a challenge and inefficient, leading to significant yield losses. This project aims to address this issue by identifying rice varieties resistant to lodging and underlying traits contributing to resistance in aerobic and flooded conditions. Over three years, a series of field experiments will be conducted to identify lodging resistant varieties, delve into the physiology, morphology and genetics of lodging resistance, and evaluate these lodging-resistant traits in existing varieties utilised by Rice Breeding Australia in different production environments in the Riverina.

Priority 2: Agronomy and farming systems

  • Determining the extent of the herbicide resistance in Australian rice crops (Charles Sturt University) 
    This project aims to determine the extent of herbicide resistance across the rice growing regions of Australia for the most important weeds and most commonly used herbicides. While the southern NSW regions have been surveyed previously, the newer rice growing region of northern NSW has not been surveyed. For the southern NSW regions this will provide information on the rate of increase in resistance over the last eight years while also providing a base line for further research in northern NSW. The ability to provide individual farmers with the findings for their fields relative to both their region and the industry as a whole will play a major part in increasing the awareness of this issue.
  • Ensuring a sustainable water future: Developing next generation rice water use strategies (Deakin Uni) 
    This project emphasises the Australian rice industries innovation and commitment to sustainably utilising water within its production system. It is focused on developing solutions for accurately monitoring water usage on-farm, across scales and utilising this information for driving water use productivity gains and efficiency gains. The project is developing solutions to help rice irrigators and industry more effectively measure and manage water and the larger industry benchmark its water use efficiency credentials.  This is a collaborative effort between Deakin University, Sunrice, Rice Extension and Sunrice Grower Services and Agronomy.
  • Nutrient and water use efficiency in aerobic rice production: is there a role for beneficial soil fungi? (The University of Adelaide) 
    In the near future, the Australian rice growing industry needs to use significantly less water. A shift from current practices to aerobic rice production will drastically reduce water requirements for production, but there will likely be a trade-off with grain yield unless it proactively undertakes significant R&D to optimise the agronomic management of aerobic production. Using natural soil resources to their full capacity, including beneficial soil fungi, will help provide nutrient- and water-stress resilience to aerobically grown rice. This project will generate information on how Australian rice varieties perform under aerobic growing conditions and their potential for efficient water and fertiliser use, with and without beneficial soil fungi.
  • Increased efficiency in rice water and nitrogen management (The Crown in right of the State of New South Wales acting through the Department of Primary Industries within Regional NSW (DPI)) 
    Determining the time to drain rice fields is an important decision that rice growers and agronomists must make. By researching the key phenological and physical paddock characteristics this project aims to revise the rice drainage decisions providing growers with valuable guidelines to make more accurate decisions around drainage enhancing crop quality, yield and improving harvest logistics. Rice growers require best management practice guidelines for rice varieties grown under the diverse range of water management practices and regions to maximise grain yield, water productivity and profitability. This project collects this essential data and combines it with data collected and validated over several seasons to produce user friendly variety growing guidelines for new release along with along with crop phenology data to provide current varieties and crop development models for panicle initiation and maturity which are valuable for crop management. This project also provides valuable information to growers on nitrogen management which is crucial to maximise yield while minimising risk. Nitrogen rate and timing recommendations are provided for each variety and growing method and the project supports the NIR Tissue Test service with accurate NIR calibrations and nitrogen topdressing recommendations.

Priority 4: Strengthened industry capacity

  • Pre-breeding for new rainfed black rice varieties – PhD top up scholarship (Southern Cross University) 
    This project will characterise agronomic, phenotypic and genetic variations of a diversity collection of 189 black rice accessions sourced internationally through the International Rice Research Institute and resolve the genetics of grain pigmentation traits on black rice by genotyping technologies. It will shed light on the interactions between genotypes of black rice trait and environment, and pinpoint potential candidate genes for variety improvement in the rice breeding program for the Northern Rivers region. As the lack of diversity in rice varieties was identified as a weakness of Australian rice industry, this project will push the diversity of varieties improvement in the industry and further assist with the acceleration of genetic improvement in the Rice Program RD&E Plan.
  • Evaluation of rice variety response to irrigation and nitrogen under aerobic rice production – PhD top up scholarship (University of Queensland) 
    This PhD research project aims to advance our understanding of approaches for increasing the nitrogen and water use efficiency of rice. The project involves evaluating rice varieties to analyse their physiological responses and yield characteristics under various irrigation and nitrogen treatments. The findings from this research will provide valuable insights to support the development of efficient nitrogen-water management strategies for rice cultivation, as well as provide crucial information for selecting rice varieties specifically suited for nitrogen-water efficient systems.
  • Genetic variation and physiological response of rice to cold and heat stress at flowering stage in aerobic production – PhD top up scholarship (University of Queensland) 
    This project includes glasshouse and field experiments conducted at The University of Queensland, Gatton campus. The experiments are designed to identify rice genotypes that are well-adapted with aerobic production, low and high temperature events (cold and heat tolerance). The genetic resource for this project is diverse, including existing cold or heat tolerant varieties and populations. The controlled temperature glasshouses are used to evaluate the physiological performance of genotypes under low or high temperature. The field experiments in aerobic conditions are conducted to investigate the performance of genotypes in terms of yield and agronomic potential. The outcomes of this project will include identification of lines suitable as donor lines for the Australian rice breeding program.
  • Using arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi to improve nutrient and water-use-efficiency of rice production – PhD top up scholarship (The University of Adelaide) 
    Climate change is causing more extreme environmental conditions, such as drought and high temperatures, which negatively impact plant growth and productivity. To address this, beneficial fungi called Arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi, which act as bio fertilizers, are being used in sustainable agriculture to mitigate the effects of these stresses on plants. The focus of this PhD project is to study how AM fungi affect rice yield, the uptake of micronutrients like zinc and iron, and water use efficiency in aerobic rice production, specifically looking at Australian rice varieties. These findings will contribute to improving the availability of essential nutrients in cereal crops for the growing global population.

Learn more about the industry’s Rice Program and it’s RD&E Plan
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