AFTER a hot and dry season marred with insect pressures and water shortages, St George cotton growers are finally coming out the other side.
A wet winter allowed growers to plant their crops on rain moisture and many thought the cool and wet conditions would lead on into summer.
But the traditional consecutive few days of over 40C temperatures that began from Christmas failed to let up.
Harvesting began in the area on Monday with Darren Armstrong, Manna Farming Pty Lt, St George and Scott Brimblecombe, Ashwood Farms, St George the first growers to start.
The impacts of the high irrigation season are already being felt with a mixture of results from the first harvests.
Mr Armstrong planted 800 hectares of cotton across his three properties, Doondi, Warrine and Brookglen with early indications suggesting this season’s crop will reach last year’s average of 12.5-13 bales/ha.
Mr Brimblecombe was at full production with 445 hectares (1000 acres) on his property, Ashwood Farms.
He had harvested 200 acres as of Wednesday and said yields were looking to be at 4.5 bales/acre compared with 5.5 bales/acre in previous years.
“No one predicted this for this season,” he said.
“I think the long term forward prediction for this summer was cooler and wetter than average.”
Both growers were fortunate to have enough water to fully irrigate their crops but exhausted all their supplies in the process.
“The heat and the irrigating has been pretty relentless,” Mr Armstrong said.
“It’s probably been our highest water use season that we have ever had actually.
“We put on 11 to 12 irrigations. We normally put on eight maximum.
“It looks like the boll numbers are there we are just not sure what affect that heat had on what was going on inside the boll. We won’t know until it’s ginned.”
The early stages of the season were also hampered by insect pressures with mirrids affecting fruit retention and thrips damaging a lot of the bottom crop.
“We have got the bottom part which is significantly damaged which early on we don’t really worry about it because cotton always compensates but when you end up with it being really hot and not having those bolls, it makes it really tricky,” Mr Brimblecombe.
But despite the challenges, St George growers are confident the area will still have strong contributions to the cotton industry and will bounce back next season.
Less is more
Mr Armstrong returned to his family’s St George property in the 1990s and under his management learnt that when it came to cotton farming, less is more.
For the past few years he has been using a lazer bucket to systematically brush fields to ensure they are level and ultimately benefit the crops before they have gone in the ground.
It’s one of a few small but influential additions he has made.
“After the corp last season we got in there and normally we go through once with a ripper but I went through twice and gave it a good rip and everything seems a lot more even this season.
“This season I put less fertiliser up front and more on during the crop.
“We had such a wet winter that a lot of it would have leached (otherwise).”
The importance of irrigation
In 2009 Scott Brimblecombe made some significant management changes that have already proven to be successful.
As a result of changes to fertiliser application and irrigation scheduling their yields jumped to 5.5 bales/acre for the last four to five years.
”We used to hold back our last irrigation where as ever since 2009 we have been adding an extra irrigation so just finishing the crop off properly,” he said.
“We know what happens to cotton when we run out of water and everyone knows that we can get substantially good yields if we can run it right.
“It’s just a matter of getting that water on.”