Canada’s first commercial rice crop may have been small, but it produced some positive results.
Several people came out to watch as the one hectare of rice, grown by the Chinese-based Ontario FangZheng Agriculture Enterprises Inc., was harvested on a farm in Raleigh Township, just west of Chatham on Friday.
“This is our first project to try to establish rice here as a new crop,” said Wendy Zhang, farm manager and researcher for FangZheng Agriculture Enterprises Inc.
She said initially the rice crop looked much like corn did earlier in the year.
“It just looked like nothing in the beginning, and then it just boost up so quick.”
Zhang said a good crop of rice yields about eight metric tonnes per hectare, but she expects this first crop might not quite reach that amount because some yield could be lost during the harvest.
John Zandstra, a researcher in horticulture cropping systems at the University of Guelph, Ridgetown campus, said he’s pleased with how the crop turned out.
He estimates the yield with be north of 130 bushels per acre.
Having rice become a viable local crop is the plan but remains to be seen, Zandstra said.
“It’s the largest consumed grain crop in the world and so there’s markets there,” he said.
However, Zandstra said there are still some questions to be answered.
This crop was transplanted using seedlings raised in a greenhouse, which is a more costly option.
In the southern U.S., where rice is already grown commercially, the crop is direct-seeded, Zandstra said.
He said there is a test plot at the university where rice has been direct-seeded to see how it will do.
Since this first crop will be used to produce the seed to plant a larger crop next year to fill an entire 30-hectare (74-acre) farm FangZheng owns on Drake Road, Zhang was anxious to get it harvested while the weather was still favourable.
“I cannot wait anymore. If a storm comes or a hail comes or a frost comes, I will lose everything,” Zhang said.
She enlisted the help of Jim Hawkins, who owns and operates Tri-Hawk Farms with his sons, to use his combine to harvest the rice.
Hawkins said Zhang contacted them to ask if they would experiment with their machinery to see if it would work to harvest the crop.
“So we took on the challenge,” he said. “It’s different because it’s green and we’re used to harvesting dry straw, like a wheat, so yes it’s different to set the combine, but it’s OK.”
When asked if he thinks rice could be a viable crop, Hawkins was optimistic.
“It’s a little new to know right now, but I do believe it probably has a place here by the looks of what’s gone on here this summer and how it’s harvesting.”
Zhang said the ultimate goal is to see about 1,600 hectares (4,000 acres) of rice grown in the area.
She said the company is looking for farmers who are interested in growing rice, which thrives in the kind of soil conditions that traditional crops such as corn and soybeans don’t do as well – clay soil that is compacted and not well drained.
However, Zhang said the land needs to be flat and have a nearby source of water, such as a drainage ditch.
While people might envision rice fields submerged in nearly a metre of water, Zhang said today’s varieties only need about five centimetres of water. She added she only needed to pump water from a nearby drainage ditch – having obtained a proper permit – 16 times this growing season.
Zhang said growing rice today is different from even 10 years ago.
“Every single year, we try to make it more efficient, more economical.”