A northern cotton industry update

27 June, 2019

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In most of the cotton valleys across eastern Australia, the 2018-19 cotton season is all but wound up. The vast majority of fields have been picked, mulched and all kinds of ground work have been done in preparation for either a winter crop, or a fallow until the next crop goes in the ground. Most of the cotton gins across the industry are now in full swing, processing round bales and modules and trucking out loads of processed bales. For the newest cotton growing regions in Australia, the season is also drawing closer to an end, but rather than being in the process of crop destruction, defoliations continue to be applied and the pickers are rolling into paddocks. For some of these regions, it will be the first time that a cotton crop has ever been picked.

Cotton has gradually begun its expansion into northern Australia over the last couple of seasons, under both irrigation and dryland, and we now see cotton being grown in almost every state and territory in Australia. This season in northern Queensland saw cotton being grown in the Belyando region, the Burdekin, just outside Mareeba and near Georgetown, where the crop has been grown for a few seasons now. And closer to the more traditional cotton growing regions in Queensland, cotton has also been grown in a number of places around the Fraser coast this season. While some of these regions have previously grown cotton, others are completely new to the cotton industry.

In the Northern Territory, cotton is being grown for the first time this season. Crops were grown in the Katherine and Douglas-Daly regions, with a mix of dryland and irrigated cotton. Although it is very early days, indications of results looked promising at defoliation. This follows a season which mirrored many of the regions across the far north, where the wet season rainfall was only about half or even less than half of the annual average. There is much interest in not just cotton, but cropping in general across the Northern Territory, as landholders look to diversify.

In the Ord River region of Western Australia, cotton has made a return to cropping systems over the past couple of seasons, with the introduction of new varieties containing Bollgard®3 technology. Results for both yield and quality were positive following last year’s picking and the crops in the area this season also look very good, as they get closer to defoliation.

Most of these regions in northern Australia are either in the process of being defoliated, with the intention to pick the crop in July, or they have already begun picking, with the bales bound for a destination further south, where the closest cotton gins are currently located. There were challenges faced by growers in the north this season, as was the case with the rest of the industry. While some regions battled very wet and cloudy conditions, others fell short of their required rainfall to finish the crop. Results will be eagerly anticipated once the crops start to go through the ginning process and preparations can then be made for the next season. As the industry builds in these northern areas and the opportunity to expand continues, the establishment of infrastructure such as cotton gins will no doubt see an increase in cotton production, as part of a cropping system.

As anyone who is involved in the cotton industry knows, there is a great unity within and a large amount of information is willingly shared by all. This includes not only growers, but extends to all of those who have an active involvement in the industry, both past and present. The northern regions are no different and they are keen to be involved in such an innovative and proactive industry. Further to this, they are also uniting as a northern industry, as they share many of the same common and often unique issues and challenges, whether located in northern Queensland, the Northern Territory or Western Australia. The prospect of the northern Australian cotton industry is an exciting development and one that will be keenly watched by all as it continues to grow and progress.

By Sam Lee, CSD Extension & Development Manager – Queensland