Merger and acquisition activity by the dominant rice growers
Due to merger and acquisition activity by the dominant rice growers in Australia, The Green Group lost access to a reliable supply of rice.
As a result of this uncertainty, they aspired to be self-sufficient by growing their own rice crop and controlling their supply, enabling them to maintain existing markets as well as capture emerging domestic demand for new products, such as black rice.
While black rice has seen growing consumer demand in recent years due to its nutritional benefits and taste, it is not currently grown domestically and is solely imported from India and Asia.
The Green Group wanted to capitalise on the opportunity to become the first to develop and grow an Australian black rice variety, satisfying a growing demand for locally grown products and sought help from the Entrepreneurs' Programme Innovation Connections service, an Australian Government initiative which is funded and supported by the Australian Government.
To accomplish this, they needed to trial a black rice plant variety that could be bred to suit the Northern Rivers' unique growing conditions (flat, low-lying swampy land with strong rainfall) that would also be a viable cropping and harvesting operation for the business in the long-term.
Undertaking an extensive plant trial and breeding program
Innovation Connections facilitator Mitch McGuire assisted The Green Group to refine their problem further and connected them with world-leading plant scientists at Southern Cross University to undertake research to help them identify the most appropriate black rice variety that would produce consistent yield with acceptable grain qualities consumers expect.
The research involved undertaking an extensive plant trial and breeding program with researchers highly experienced in breeding cropping plants, with access to quarantine glasshouse facilities and familiar with the growing conditions of the Northern Rivers region.
A first-mover advantage
The Green Group enjoyed a very early benefit when the trials revealed the Australian cultivar 'Sherpa' as a strong rice plant to grow in the region allowing the business in the short term to immediately meet demand.
Owing to its favourable growing traits, 'Sherpa' was also identified as the most suitable variety to cross with black coloured rice lines sourced internationally, as part of a subsequent breeding program, which identified several black rice varieties following extensive trials. This is currently being explored further as part of an Australian Research Council Linkage grant, which identified the best candidate for successful cropping at an industrial scale.
As a result of this project, The Green Group were able to rapidly preserve its market share following the loss of a key supplier, as well as claim a first-mover advantage by offering the domestic market the first Australian-grown black rice variety. This new business move has also contributed to the economic development of the Northern NSW region, which will be even more important as it continues to recover from devastating flood impacts in February 2022.
The support from Innovation Connections for the early work we completed with Southern Cross University was critical to us winning additional competitive funding to continue our ground-breaking rice breeding research.
—Nelson Green, The Green Group, Director