Deniliquin farmer Lachie Bull will soon be farming eels within his rice crop.
Conargo farmer Lachie Bull is on track to be the first farmer in Australia to be commercially producing eels in a rice crop.
The 31 year-old aims to have a 10ha trial site of short finned eels in a rice bay this season.
Licensing approval for NSW Fisheries is still pending, but Lachie is hopeful of starting the project before Christmas.
The innovative new venture will have two main benefits for his farming business — an additional source of income through the sale of eels and to maintain aquatic pest populations attacking his rice.
‘‘I wanted to take advantage of the system and wanted to try and value add to the rice crop,’’ he said.
‘‘The eels will also potentially eat blood worms and snails, keeping them off the rice.
‘‘This entire project stemmed from a curiosity and after noticing aquatic animals could survive in the rice bays.
‘‘There were fish, algae and other aquatic life, because it provides a fantastic wetland environment.’’
Lachie has been investigating the aquaculture idea for at least three years and sought advice from a friend who has some eel expertise.
‘‘After investigating the idea I realised fish were not the best idea because of the number of predators.
‘‘A friend of mine is an eel fisherman in Victoria, and through talking to him I decided to go with eels because they are a hardy and larger animal.
‘‘I don’t feel they have any natural predators in this region either, so I decided to go down that path.’’
Lachie said he would in effect be creating an eel feedlot during rice season.
At the 10ha trial site, he intends to stock 300kg to 400kg of eel per hectare.
They will remain in the rice bay water for at least four months.
Through the trial, Lachie hopes to determine whether the project will be a viable venture.
‘‘I need to get an understanding of how it all works before I continue with the investment,’’ he said.
‘‘I need to see if they will have the growth rate we expect and whether the food source is enough to sustain the eels for three to four months.’’
In the process of applying for the licensing required, Lachie has already placed fencing around the rice bays to ensure the eels are contained.
Lachie first introduced his potential project to colleagues at a rice conference earlier this year.
He said the interest in his project has been growing ever since, and that he has received tremendous support.
The eels for Lachie’s rice bays will be sourced from Victoria, where they are grown in a lake.
Short finned eels can grow up to an average of 1m long and 3kg in weight, although the Victorian Department of Primary Industries have reports of the animals growing to 6.8kg.
The eels prefer still waters such as lakes, dams and swamps and, if grown in clear water, are renowned for good eating.
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