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Australian Rice Exports to Rise

06 December 2011

AUSTRALIA - Australian farmers are optimistic of boosting rice exports to Japan in the wake of its twin tsunami and nuclear disasters.

The Japanese government last month banned the sale of rice grown in the Onami district near the site of the Fukushima nuclear reactor meltdown in March after high levels of radioactive caesium were found in the food staple, reports Weekly Times Now.

Three shipments each of 12,000 tonnes of Australian rice sold to Japan since April - already three times as much as last year - suggest it may require more imported rice this year.

As well, a recent study published in the National Academy of Sciences journal has concluded large tracts of arable land in northeastern Japan may not be safe for food production, including rice, for some time because of fallout from the radioactive cloud.

Large zones of rice fields near the coast were also inundated by the tsunami surge, leaving the soil salty and irrigation systems destroyed.

Ruth Wade, chief executive of the Ricegrowers Association of Australia, said local Australian rice growers were aware of the possible impact on their businesses of the March 11 tsunami that swept Japan's northeast coastline.

Fukushima prefecture produced 440,000 tonnes of rice last year, the fourth-largest source of rice grown locally in Japan.

"We've been very successful with our (export) tenders to Japan recently," Ms Wade said.

"We were aware there could also be impacts on Japan's rice-growing capacity - not just because of the nuclear reactor (failure) but the tsunami itself, although the last thing we want to be seen to be doing is benefiting from Japan's misfortune."

Griffith rice grower Hayden Cudmore said it was pleasing Australia was in a position to supply rice to meet Japan's needs again, after rice production shrank so much during the past decade of drought that little was available for export.

Mr Cudmore has planted 190ha of rice this season, and hopes some of his crop may end up on Japanese tables when it is harvested next April.

"We don't want to make any mileage out of their disasters, they've experienced a terrible tragedy, but we do need to regain our markets," Mr Cudmore said.

"And from past experience it is obvious the Japanese like our rice; we harvest counter-cyclically in their off-season and discerning customers say they can tell the difference when the rice they eat is freshly harvested."

Imports of rice to Japan are tightly controlled by the Japanese government, but have been increasing in recent years after agreement with the World Trade Organisation.

Japan's agreed import quota is 682,000 tonnes of milled rice - equivalent to less than 10 per cent of domestic consumption - sold through a global tender system. Rice sold to Japan within this quota is tariff-free.

But any additional amounts above quota, unless first authorised by the government, attract massive tariffs seen as protecting the local rice industry - equivalent to 778 per cent of market price.

Milton Bazley, international trading manager at SunRice, Australia's grower-controlled sole processing and export company, said Japan was a key market now that Australian rice was available again for export with plentiful water in the Murrumbidgee and Murray rice growing areas.

"We sold 110,000 tonnes to Japan in the early 2000s, but after almost five years of being unable to supply them we are having to work very hard to regain those markets," Mr Bazley said.

There has been no formal announcement by the Japanese government that it is looking to expand its tariff-free import quota because of the shortage.

TheCropSite News Desk

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