'The Growers' Paddy'

Land, Water and Co-operation in the Australian Rice Industry to the 1990s

Gary Lewis

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The Grower's Paddy describes how rice-growing developed in the Riverina Region of New South Wales, Australia, and how co-operatives arose to service farmer input, infrastructure, marketing and research needs, placing the industry virtually on a democratic footing. While describing historical aspects dating back to the earliest days of irrigated farming, the reader will be struck by the many parallels with contemporary issues including:

  • sovereignty over established agricultural land and crops;
  • the abiding importance of water in making land productive;
  • a struggle for control of the vital water resource;
  • the relatively low place of agriculture in primary industry notwithstanding its invaluable contribution to national wealth and regional development; and
  • the role of dominant city institutions in setting agendas affecting the bush.

The influence of environmental, social and economic forces, particularly the changing attitude of governments, which impacted upon agriculture, is also discussed, making clear the advantages of stability, the dramatic short-term, often deleterious, impact of change and, above all, the need for sustainable agronomy.

Australia should rightly feel proud of its agricultural achievements and the role cooperatives have played in providing a democratic alternative to hapless exploitation by powerful non-farm economic and political players.

The Growers' Paddy: Land, Water and Co-operation in the Australian Rice Industry provides an admirable case study of one agricultural industry which elected to organize co-operatively and offers a historical perspective on the successes and failures from which we may learn.

A grant from The University of Sydney Co-operatives Research Group has enabled the preparation and publication of this manuscript in the United Nations International Year of Co-operatives 2012 and the Australian Year of the Farmer, and its release in PDF.