New Queensland rice growing industry being developed by Japanese tsunami farmers

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 24th May 2012

Tsunami-devastated farmers from Fukishima in Japan have made North Queensland the home for a new source of Japanese-produced rice and are celebrating the harvesting of their first crop. The initial trials have proven very successful.

Producers from the city of Iwaki have been conducting a rice-growing trial in the richly-irrigated Burdekin River Valley, around the Ayr Research Station of the Queensland Government’s Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF). The scheme is aiming to create a new rice industry in Queensland whilst providing an alternative location for growing the Japanese food staple.

It is now more than a year since Japanese farming land in the Fukishima prefecture was inundated by salt water and tainted by radiation fall-out.

Queensland DAFF’s regional agribusiness development manager, Gareth Jones, said the trial used traditional rice-paddies and had been funded through a AU$20,000 Food Connect grant from the Australian Government.

“It’s no exaggeration to say that when this project started, the Japanese delegation felt they were planting seeds of hope for the future,” Mr Jones said.

“Their grief is still apparent and comes from knowing their land is literally unusable for food crops for many years to come because of the radiation effects from the failed Fukushima plant,” he said.

The farmers have planted the Kochi variety which is the one most favoured by Japanese consumers, and used traditional growing methods such as flood irrigation, hand planting and few pesticides or chemicals.

While ultimately their aim is to export large amounts of rice back to Japan, any success would also benefit the Burdekin region through crop diversification and through the intention of the Japanese to lease land from local landholders. Currently, the Burdekin area is renown as a sugar-cane growing region.

The head of the Japanese delegation, Iwaki Warld Tambo Project director Takemi Shirado, said the first harvest was expected to reap about 30kg of rice, with the next stage being the all-important taste test.

“We’ll be taking the first of the harvested rice back to Japan next month so other members of our farming co-operative can consider whether it meets our requirements,” he said.

“We will also use a flavour measurement machine to see if it is equal or even better than the rice we grow in Japan,” he said.

If the project succeeds, the Japanese hope to build up supplies of seed, and to export the rice to Japan to help feed residents of the hard-hit prefecture of Fukushima.

More than 20,000 rice-producers living in and around Fukushima saw their agricultural land devastated by the 2011 earthquake and the subsequent tsunami and radiation exposure.

The Japanese delegation selected the Burdekin region as a trial site after visits facilitated by Townsville Sister City program coordinator Susan Roberts.