Rice was one of the earliest crops planted in Australia by British settlers, who had experience with rice plantations in the Americas and India.
Although attempts to grow rice in the well-watered north of Australia have been made for many years, they have consistently failed because of inherent iron and manganese toxicities in the soils and destruction by pests.
In the 1920s it was seen as a possible irrigation crop on soils within the Murray-Darling Basin that were too heavy for the cultivation of fruit and too infertile for wheat.
Because irrigation water, despite the extremely low runoff of temperate Australia, was (and remains) very cheap, the growing of rice was taken up by agricultural groups over the following decades. Californian varieties of rice were found suitable for the climate in the Riverina, and the first mill opened at Leeton in 1951.
Monthly value (A$ millions) of rice imports to Australia since 1988
Even before this Australia's rice production greatly exceeded local needs, and rice exports to Japan have become a major source of foreign currency. Above-average rainfall from the 1950s to the middle 1990s encouraged the expansion of the Riverina rice industry, but its prodigious water use in a practically waterless region began to attract the attention of environmental scientists. These became severely concerned with declining flow in the Snowy River and the lower Murray River.