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Chatham-Kent home to Canada's first commercial rice crop

Agricultural history is quietly being made on a farm west of Chatham where a one-hectare (2.5-acre) crop of rice is growing.
“This is the first Canadian commercial rice production,” said Wendy Zhang, the project and farm manager with Ontario FangZheng Agriculture Enterprises Inc., which planted the crop.
She said initially the company was allowed to grow a research trial crop, based on regulations set out by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
Zhang said they have now received CFIA approval to expand next year.
The plan is to plant rice on the entire 30-hectare (74-acre) farm where the first crop is currently growing and find other land to plant up to 202 hectares (500 acres) next year.
Growing rice in Chatham-Kent is more a relief than anything, Zhang said. The process began in 2016, she said, with an expert rice production team from China coming to the municipality to inspect the soil, the water, the weather and what kind of machinery could be used.
When it comes to growing rice, Zhang said the first thing you need is flat land and, secondly, a good source of water.
“It’s just so flat and so good (in Chatham-Kent), and we got two lakes here as well.”
While this year’s cool, wet spring has caused tremendous problems for other farmers, Zhang said her rice crop benefited from the rain. The enterprise has saved a lot of money by not having to operate a pump to irrigate the crop.
Many people may envision rice crops being surrounded by a large amount of water, but Zhang said a new technique was developed in recent years.
“We don’t need that much water,” she said. “All we need to do is cover the soil surface.”
Zhang said the canopy will soon fill in on the crop, so the water on the field won’t be visible.
She began preparing the crop in early March by soaking the seed inside.
“It has to be a closed environment and monitored every day,” she said.
From there, the plants were moved to a greenhouse in April before being transplanted in May.
The crop will be harvested in late September or early October, depending on the weather, Zhang said.
Ontario FangZheng Agriculture Enterprises has been working with the Ridgetown Campus of the University of Guelph, which did a successful greenhouse study on rice. This resulted in the experimental field of rice being planted by Zhang.
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