Manager, Technical Services, Ricegrowers' Cooperative Ltd. Leeton. NSW
The research program at Ricegrowers' Cooperative Limited (RCL) is fundamentally pragmatic, and combines market awareness with product innovation.
RCL is farmer/producer owned and stands as an efficient processor and marketer of branded packaged rice nationally and internationally. Great emphasis is placed on a strong marketing effort whereby a healthy, quality, branded product is consistently presented to the consumer, in a value for money package.
Our research program focuses upon building on this base, aiming to reinforce the core business whilst adding value through selective further processing in growth areas.
A basic tenet is that some net value added must also flow back to the producer/shareholder such that viability at the farm level is preserved.
RCL maintains a team of food technologists, engineers and chemists in Leeton. This team works in liaison with a network of nutritionists and home economists.
Farm Level Research
RCL contributes to research done at the farm level, largely conducted by NSW Agriculture. This research is focused on maintaining grain quality whilst increasing grain yield. Varietal development and maintenance of varietal purity, consistency and specific traits are also key research goals.
Other work focuses on efficiency and resource utilisation, and sustainable production methods.
Organic growing of rice will be a growing niche and research in this field will increase.
Environmental factors also play a prominent role in long term research.
Grain storage research forms a core plank of the RCL research program. This involves strong external linkages with the CSIRO and the Stored Grains Research Laboratory. Current work is focused upon grain drying strategy improvements, rapid drying techniques and integrated pest control regimes.
Work continues towards phasing out the already low amount of chemicals used for grain preservation in the New South Wales rice industry.
Product research is focused using the umbrella of taste, health, nutrition and convenience. We have many valued customers for rice and rice products, and we therefore target our product research efforts into segments where RCL can stake out a competitive space in its own right.
Specific research programs include identification of the active ingredient(s) in rice bran associated with cholesterol lowering, value-added rice bran products, quick cooking rices, rice cake range extension, etc.
Fundamental nutrition research is conducted externally, with institutions of recognised excellence in their field.
Value-adding for RCL represents a step into processing technologies that are new to our organisation. This, of necessity, involves development of new processes, and process improvements where efficiencies and quality enhancements can be made.
Use of external facilities is a necessary component of this research strand, for both economic and expertise factors.
Milling of rice produces a husk material that is intractable and difficult to use. A consistent R&D program has resulted in significant utilisation of rice husks into stockfeed, animal bedding, chicken litter and various silica-based ash and refractory products.
Such utilisation is environmentally sustainable, however there are still excess rice husks which must be dealt with. Research continues into acceptable methods of dealing with large tonnages, this research focusing on controlled combustion and potential horticultural/composting applications.
A limiting factor at present is laws, relating to power cogeneration, where a private electricity generator is restricted via economics. Changes in this area would enable RCL to overcome its by-product disposal problem.
1. For a significant agricultural marketer and processor to survive, focused high quality effort must yield commercial result. This involves strong market intelligence, identification of growth areas, world competitiveness in basic processing and value-adding and a niche within which competitive space exists. For companies/organisations with limtied resources this means tapping into an expert and relevant network of external institutional research.
2. Scale of development may be a limiting factor and commercial cooperation may become a necessity.