17 August 2023

Willbriggie farmers win SunRice Grower of the Year 2023 award

| Oliver Jacques
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Robert and April Andreazza in front of a tractor

Robert and April Andreazza won the Grower of the Year award. Photo: Vince Bucello.

Willbriggie-based farmers Robert and April Andreazza have taken out the annual SunRice Grower of the Year award.

The award was announced at a gala dinner in Griffith on Friday (11 August). It showcases the best the rice growing business has to offer and highlights innovation in production, irrigation methods and water efficiency.

“It’s wonderful to be recognised by the industry for doing what we do as a matter of course every day,” Robert said. “It is very humbling because there are a lot of growers out there doing the same as us.

“We feel very supported by the structure of the rice industry; there aren’t many industries which have this level of support, from grower services, research and development.”

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The awards night was hosted by Rice Extension, a research body funded by rice growers. The main award was assessed by a panel of three judges, including two industry representatives and one independent judge, as well as the 2022 Grower of the Year, De Bortoli Wines farm manager Darrell Fiddler.

Eleanor Fondacaro and a jar of rice

SunRice’s Eleanor Fondacaro ran a ‘guess the weight of the rice in the jar’ competition at the conference. The correct answer was 1424 grams. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

The panel assessed applications based on eight key areas: production and agronomy, water use efficiency, innovation and technology, business management, sustainability, Work Health & Safety and involvement in both industry and community.

The recognition was a long time coming for the popular family. Robert’s parents started growing rice in 1965 and since then, there has only been one year when rice has not formed part of the family’s production mix.

One of the judges, Iva Quarisa OAM, said there were several things that set the Andreazza farm apart.

“We were very impressed with the Andreazzas’ farm operations and efficiency improvements. For example, in one paddock they’ve gone from fifteen bays down to six bays – improving water and agronomic efficiencies … Robert and April are also innovative, passionate, and quality food producers.”

As part of their award, the Andreazzas won a $2500 support package to help them further expand their business, and a nomination for the Australian Farmer of the Year Award.

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Also honoured on the night was veteran Griffith-based rice and grape grower John Bonetti, who received the Grower Industry Contribution Award, acknowledging an individual who had made exceptional contributions to the rice industry beyond their farming operations.

The gala awards night topped off another successful two-day 2023 Australian Rice Growers’ Conference in Griffith, which was facilitated by Region Group Editor Genevieve Jacobs.

The event began with a sold-out Women in Rice breakfast at the Bull & Bell steakhouse and featured a number of topical panel discussions on new agribusiness technologies, business risk management, tax and succession, the economic outlook and the Murray Darling Basin Plan under a State and Federal Labor Government.

A panel on stage at rice conference

RGA’s Rachel Kelly hosted a panel discussion on ‘Advocating for ricegrowers in the Murray Darling Basin’. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

Despite the threat of further ‘buybacks’ of irrigation water from government and volatility in Australia’s main export markets, the overall mood was one of optimism for the upcoming twelve months.

Ricegrowers Association (RGA) President Peter Herrmann said the unique three-way partnership between the industry arm RGA, commercial entity SunRice and research component, AgriFutures Australia had laid the foundation for further innovation and efficiency that would hold the sector in good stead in a future of increasing water scarcity.

Photos and further information on the Australian Rice Growers’ Conference can be found on the RGA Facebook page.

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