By Connor Lynch
CHATHAM-KENT — A 2.5-acre research plot growing a short- to medium-grain white rice in a few inches of water at Chatham-Kent will expand to 70 acres or more next year.
The project is owned by the Ontario FangZheng Agricultural Enterprise Inc., and run by former University of Guelph master’s in agriculture student Wendy Zhang.
Next year, they plan to farm the entire 70-acre property, and either buy nearby farmland or convince area farmers to grow as much as 420 acres of rice for them, she said. Next year’s crop will be a commercial crop, destined for both local markets and overseas markets in China, she said.
But is it cost-effective to grow rice here? They’ll find out next year, said Zhang. The experiment is just that: Experimental. The initial investment in materials and equipment, not to mention unexpectedly high expenses in pesticide application (around $500 for the 2.5 acres, compared to the more typical $16/acre) means this year is a wash in seeing how expensive it is to grow a rice crop in Ontario.
But they have reason to be optimistic, Zhang said. The Chinese market is likely to be gung-ho for Canadian rice. “The Chinese know that Canadian means good food, clean food.” And what they do know about rice yields and prices suggest rice can be as profitable as soybeans, or even more. It can yield up to 4 metric tonnes per acre. According to the USDA, a metric tonne of rice was worth about $420 in June.
China has had significant problems with food scandals in the past and food security is a major concern for Chinese consumers. China was rocked by food scandals ranging from arsenic found in rice, to cabbages coated in formaldehyde, to a 2008 milk powder scandal where powder tainted with the toxic industrial chemical melamine killed six children.
Growing rice isn’t actually new to Ontario, although typically it’s grown in shallow lakes, according to OMAFRA. However, the rice in this project is being grown on land. Southwestern Ontario is actually well suited for this, said Zhang, since the rice requires high water-capacity clay, clay loam and heavy clay soils.
Most of the difficulty, said Zhang, in growing the actual crop is finding workers to help with the labour-intensive planting process, and keeping up with all the regulations around pesticide application. So for next year, they’re trying to work around the transplanting process as much as possible, to rely on humans as little as possible.
Unlike most growers, Zhang was just fine with the wet weather this planting season for rice.
WESTERN ONTARIO: Researcher hopes promising research plot in Chatham-Kent will be a commercial crop next year
By Connor Lynch