THE Riverina's rice harvest has concluded for another year, but “tonnes per hectare” is not the only measure gaining attention.
Rice growers and conservationists have been working together to maximise the yield of young bitterns.
These secretive and strange waterbirds are at the centre of the Bitterns in Rice Project, which has garnered strong support for the marriage of farming and wildlife conservation, and is now in its sixth year.
Anna Wilson from Riverina Local Land Services said with only about 2500 remaining in the world, the Australasian Bittern needs all the help it can get.
"This is a great example of how farmers can be central in recovering a threatened species while maintaining productivity,” she said.
The Riverina's rice crops attract between 500 and 1000 bitterns at the start of each summer and most begin breeding shortly afterwards.
Annual monitoring has shown these numbers occur even in years with a relatively small area of rice, such as the 2015-16 season and in times of flood like the 2016-17 season.
Wildlife Ecologist at Murray Wildlife, Matt Herring said about 70 to 80 per cent of nests found in rice crops with early permanent water had sufficient time for all the young to fledge, become independent and able to fly before harvest.
"We want to find the best ways for growers to build on the existing breeding success and boost the bittern yield,” he said.
The next phase is to develop bittern-friendly rice growing incentives that strike a balance between agricultural productivity and wildlife conservation.