Water for Rice


Rice growing in Australia diverts water away from use by natural ecosystems, but without adding much economic value to that water.

Most Australian rice is grown in the Murray-Darling River Basin, and draws a significant amount of water from that river system. If some water from the system was set aside for environmental flows (eg replenishing wetlands), and irrigation permits to the remainder were auctioned off, much rice growing might have to close down. Rice adds a relatively small amount of economic value to the water used, so many rice producers would not be able to afford the permit price in competition with other uses, which add much more value.


Feeding the World

Earthbeat, 20 March  2004

Australia is home to the world's most productive and scientifically advanced rice growing industry. But it comes at a high price in terms of water use.

Fields in the Riverina of New South Wales and Victoria’s Murray Valley are capable of producing 1-1/2-million tonnes each year, earning hundreds of millions of dollars in export earnings.

Up to 40-million people eat Australian rice each day.

Robert Houghton: "We should be growing rice here in Australia because we do it so well, it’s a staple food for so many countries in the world and we export up to 90% of our rice produced, and we do it very efficiently with the least amount of water per tonne of produce, compared to any other country in the world.

"It has to be grown somewhere. Better to be grown where it’s grown responsibly with minimal impact to the environment compared to just letting someone else grow it somewhere else and giving them the problems. Some parts of Thailand are still clearing hillsides to grow dry rice, and we don’t see that as a very sustainable practice."

Rice Growing


CRC for Sustainable Rice Production, 2002

Each year in Australia about 150,000 hectares of rice are grown, producing from 1.2 - 1.7 million tonnes of paddy rice.

Australian rice is of high quality and is sought after by overseas markets. Up to 85% of Australian rice is exported to more than 40 countries. Papua New Guinea is the biggest buyer, buying 25% of what is exported. Other major markets include Japan, Hong Kong, Turkey, The Middle East, New Zealand, Fiji and the Solomon Islands.

Rice Research Program

RITDC, 2004

The Australian rice industry is primarily based in the Murrumbidgee and Murray valleys of southern New South Wales, where some 2500 family farms produce around 1.3 million tonnes of paddy a year. It is one of the most productive and efficient rice industries in the world, with yields averaging 9.2 tonnes per hectare. The industry has a farmgate gross value of production of around $300 million and earns more than $500 million in exports (mostly of value-added rice in small branded packs) to more than fifty destinations.

[$300 m per 1.3 m tonnes = 23c per kg rice farmgate price.]

[80% of 1.3 m tonnes = 1.04 m tonnes exported rice. $500 m per 1.04 tonnes = 48c per kg exported rice.]

How much value does rice growing add to the water it uses?

Water and our Natural Resources - Rice Growers' Association of Australia

The rice industry recognises that our natural resources are a valuable asset for Australian agriculture. In the past ten years our Australian rice farmers have improved water use efficiency by 60% - this means they now grow more rice and use much less water.

Our Australian rice growers use 50% less water to grow one kilo of rice than the world average.

Kilolitres of water used per kg of rice (Murrumbidgee Valley)





Kg of rice produced per kilolitre of water