Technology predicts rice quality

Nice rice: New research aims to give processors and growers information about the pay grade quality of the rice as it is delivered from the farm rather than months later. Photo by Evie Feehan

The rice harvest is under way and Charles Sturt University research is being put to the test to predict grain quality and provide timely information for processing.

Charles Sturt PhD student Allister Clarke, who is working with SunRice and the Food Agility Cooperative Research Centre on the project, said the research was focusing on a key measure of rice quality — whole grain yield.

WGY represents the percentage of grains that remain unbroken during the milling process.

“Rice needs to be stored, dried and milled before the WGY can be appraised,” Mr Clarke said.

“That means that growers don’t know the pay grade of their crop until months after harvest and that the rice can’t be segregated for quality as it’s delivered.

“Our model can change that by giving processors and growers information about quality as the rice is delivered from the farm.”

Mr Clarke’s research uses satellite and climate data, historical rice production, harvest and milling information, along with machine learning algorithms to develop models to predict whole grain yield.

“This is the second year the model has been tested during rice harvest,” he said.

“The aim is to be able to provide information for SunRice to be able to predict the quality of the crop to manage storage and processing to maximise returns.

“But we also want to be able to provide information to the growers about how their management and harvest decisions impact the WGY.”

Mr Clarke said the research also demonstrated the benefits gained in harnessing data across the value chain.

“This research wouldn’t have been possible without the decades of information that’s been captured from the paddock right through the milling process,” he said.

“I’m excited about the potential this area of research holds for other crops and industries in using the wealth of data across value chains to improve agricultural and food production.”

SunRice’s Belinda Tumbers said the research project would deliver benefits for growers and SunRice, and was part of the industry’s broader research, development and extension efforts.

“The Australian rice industry is world class,” she said.

“We grow some of the highest quality Japonica-style varieties anywhere in the world while already using 50 per cent less water than the global average.

“SunRice takes that rice and transforms it into valued-added branded products at our facilities in the Riverina, which are then marketed and sold in some 50 global markets.

“The Australian rice industry has just released a new five-year roadmap to guide the next phase of our research, development and extension efforts — focused on achieving an aspirational water productivity target of 1.5 tonnes of rice per megalitre by 2026.

“This new plan will assist us in maintaining the high quality of our rice varieties, while increasing focus on water-use efficiency.

“We are investing in four important areas of research, including optimising genetic improvement of our rice varieties, targeted agronomy and farming systems and investments in capacity improvement, as well as co-ordinated industry extension.”