“IT GIVES me a real ache in the gut”.
That is how Leeton shire irrigator Rob Houghton has described the announcement of around 100 job losses at SunRice.
Mr Houghton hasn’t grown rice since the 2016 wet season and said he was concerned about the future of the industry.
As a grower he has had to look at the options which are best for his farm and his family, which has led him to make the difficult decision to currently leave rice out of his crop program.
“The rice industry has always been very dear to me … I’ve had to make some tough decisions as have all the other growers in this area,” Mr Houghton said.
“The job losses at SunRice do hurt. It’s really hard times.
“The price of water is through the roof, water allocations are low.”
While times are tough now, Mr Houghton remained optimistic the rice industry would bounce back as it has done many times in the past.
However, he said now was not the time to “stick our heads in the sand”.
He suggested more money needed to be spent in the research and development areas regarding rice, perhaps coming up with varieties that didn’t need to be flooded with water to be grown in the MIA area.
Late last week SunRice announced it would be cutting up to 100 jobs as a result of the predicted severely-reduced rice crop for this season.
Low water allocations were also a factor, with Monday’s allocation announcement indicating no change in For general security users, which sits at seven per cent.
The job losses will come from the Leeton and Deniliquin mills through a phased process, but some are expected to be laid off before Christmas.
Leeton mayor Paul Maytom said the timing was unfortunate, but he could see why the company had to make the decision it has.
“I believe there is still a future for growing rice in this area … but it’s very tough times at the moment,” he said.
“My thoughts are certainly with those people and their families. I have to give credit to SunRice for trying to keep the damage minimal through the phased process.
“At the end of the day there is only so much they can do.”
He labelled the price of water at the moment “ridiculous” and worried how irrigated agriculture would progress moving forward if something wasn’t done.
Temporary water allocation currently sits around $440 per megalitre.
Councillor Maytom was hopeful other industries in town would make room in their workforce for the affected staff at SunRice.
“We don’t want to lose these people from our town … hopefully some of our other industries can offer them employment,” he said.
SunRice chief executive officer Rob Gordon the company remains “committed to the Riverina region”.
The proposed reconfiguration, which is subject to consultation with employees and unions, will see operational changes and shift restructuring at the Deniliquin and Leeton mills.
“Right now, our priority is the welfare of SunRice employees,” Mr Gordon said.
The changes announced by SunRice include:
The proposed changes include:
- Phase 1 - Reduction of Deniliquin Mill two shift structure from 24/7 to 24/5 will take effect from January 2.
- Phase 2 - Reduction of Deniliquin Mill one shift structure from 24/5 to 16/5 will take effect from January 31.
- Phase 3 – Will take effect from end of April 2019 at both Deniliquin and Leeton Mills. Deniliquin mill one will cease production and be placed into maintenance. Reduction of Deniliquin Mill two shift structure from 24/5 to 16/5. Reduction of Leeton Mill shift structure from 24/7 to 24/5
- Phase 4 – Reduction of Deniliquin Mill two shift structure from 16/5 to 8/5 will take effect from July/August 2019.
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