Cotton and Birds Can Co-exist

24 September, 2004

___Cotton CRC chief executive, Guy Roth, says the dramatic 60 per cent drop in pesticide use in the cotton industry over the past 10 years has substantially reduced the environmental impact of cotton production and will enhance birdlife in cotton growing regions._

Addressing a recent Birds Australia Congress held in Highfields, Queensland, he said the industry had a great opportunity to build on these changing practices to enhance sustainable ecological outcomes for birds.

While cotton farms have a relatively small footprint on the landscape and generally occupy less than five percent of the land area in catchments, they are located in the riparian zone of catchments, which are important for birdlife.

“On many cotton farms, twenty to thirty percent of the land is not used for cotton and grain production so there is considerable opportunity to enhance and conserve habitat,” he said.

The Cotton CRC and industry conducted a bird study of cotton farms in the Gwydir Valley (Jarman and Montgomery 2001). In the 23 surveys, 42,495 birds were counted from 45 species.

“The study suggested that if characteristics of some on-farm storages could be modified, without unacceptably reducing their usefulness for irrigation, they could contribute substantially more than they do now to the conservation of a diverse water bird community.

“Most cotton farmers that have taken me on farm tours have impressed me with their observations of birds, particularly water birds. He said birds flying about their landscape are demonstrable proof that the environment is in reasonable shape.

“We know birds eat lots of insects, but we don’t know much about bush birds or the small birds on farms. We need to learn more about them and their value to farming systems. Birds are also good indicators of biodiversity.

“There is a lot of interest in birds by many cotton farmers and their families. We should collectively capture this, show them how to do some monitoring, or introduce them to a bird watching group who could do it for them.”

He said an opportunity exists to combine the skills of Birds Australia members, the interest of cotton farmers and the professional and financial resources of the Cotton CRC, to generate research projects to provide the scientific knowledge base for a sustainable, friendly environment for birds on cotton farms.

“From this growers will learn and understand, and in turn change management practices that will have better outcomes for birds and for family life on the farm.

“We need to raise awareness, benchmark, develop action guidelines, and implement dialogue with farm families in a non-threatening environment. Research and education offers great potential to produce a mutual outcome for birds and cotton growers,” Guy Roth said.

Further Information:Guy Roth guy.roth@csiro.au