At the time of writing, many cotton production areas in central and south-east Queensland and NSW will have been wondering what sort of summer we are in for.
The week just gone saw unseasonably high temperatures for this time of year with the mercury pushing 40 degrees in many areas and certainly exceeding that number in some western regions of Queensland and NSW. Gatton had its hottest September day on record (39 degrees).
Many in the cotton industry – including producers, agronomists and those tasked with merchandising the end product – would be sincerely hoping that the past week was not in fact a prelude to another summer of intense heat.
The 2016/17 summer saw many crops stressed by hotter than usual conditions which led to increased water usage and in many cases – crops that prematurely ran out of moisture, leading to crop failure or decreased quality and yield. It was a season that necessitated an increase in both water scheduling and applied volumes – for those growers who were lucky enough to actually have access to further supplies.
Whilst the last of the crop is still being ginned in the Carrathool area, the result is clear to see. The impact of prolonged heat, coupled with less than ideal weather at picking time in some areas, saw a rather mixed result in terms of both yield and quality.
The Australian Cotton Shippers Association has produced its seasonal classing report. Data for some 3.6 million bales was used to collate the statistics and whilst this doesn’t include every bale of the forecast 3.8m bale crop, it is considered representative of the season.
Colour grades were impacted quite noticeably with just 10.27 per cent of all cotton ginned and classed at that point in time being graded as 21-2 (Strict Middling) and better. This is in comparison to 36pc in 2016 and a five-year average of 27pc. Colour grades 21-3 (Strict Middling – 3 leaf) and 31-3 (Middling) were dominant results at 30pc and 42pc respectively.
Staple length was outstanding with 68pc of the crop achieving 1-3/16” (38) or longer. The season saw a modest increase in the 40 & above category to 13pc (6pc in 2016 and a five-year average of 6pc) while 39 staple came in at 26pc and 38 at 29pc. Whilst we would like to give credit for improved staple length to our dedicated plant breeders and research scientists, they themselves report that the improved staple length is a result of seasonal conditions and a return to more normal summer conditions will result in a return to our standard staple lengths.
Micronaire was a mixed bag, with personal observations showing that whilst some of the crop was picked with almost every conceivable issue possible (light spot, short staple, low strength, etc), in many cases micronaire was quite acceptable. Micronaire overall was well contained in the 3.5 – 4.9 range but predominantly in the 4.0-4.9 range. If there was a disappointment it was that only 39pc fell into the much desired 3.8 - 4.5 range.
Of course, the season also saw many growers with their fair share of higher mic as well – which was not doubt to be expected after the heat.
Strength has been the big winner to emerge from the lower yielding season and revealed a huge improvement on the 2016 season. The standout feature to note is that 13pc was valued at 34 GPT and higher compared to the five-year average of 1.7pc. Overall 30.1 – 33.9 GPT was the dominant range with almost 75pc of our cotton within these specifications, a 16pc increase on the five-year average.
Whilst many growers will be keen to put the past behind them, it must be noted that despite such a challenge in terms of available moisture and what Mother Nature threw at the crop, growers still managed to produce a longer and stronger crop to meet premium spinners’ requirements.