COTTON Growers and industry leaders travelled to the Northern Food Futures Conference in Darwin last week to discuss the next frontier of fibre crops.
According to a straw poll, conducted over morning tea, the sentiment from some of Australia’s largest cotton and grain producers was a “can do” attitude and it was time to just “get on with it”.
The potential of the northern cotton crop, often considered a boomerang pipe dream, harks back to the 1960s, when commercial cotton plantings in the Ord were brought unstuck by high insect pressure and poor fibre quality.
However, speaking at the Northern Food Futures conference in Darwin, ORDCO chief executive officer Dave Cross said recent expansion and investment in water infrastructure by the government meant a viable cotton industry was closer than ever.
Mr Cross said the release of the genetically modified Bollgard III cotton, which protects the cotton plant from insect pests, was a critical precursor to the viability of cotton in the Ord.
“That has allowed us to have a discussion about changing the planting window of the crop,” he said.
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“The Roundup Ready technology has also been critical as well, allowing weed control in the wetter months. We are committed to moving forward.”
CSIRO principal research agronomist Dr Stephen Yeates said research funded by the Cotton Research and Development Corporation in northern Queensland had delivered good results, particularly around farming systems.
“What is unique in this part of the world is water availability, which gives the option to grow a second crop,” he said. “In terms of development costs, particularly for irrigation, it is a bottom line improver.”
Dr Yeates said as most of the northern land was surrounded by beef cattle, the integration of a second fodder crop in irrigation systems, along with the ability to use cotton seed for feed, made cotton a viable and potentially profitable crop.
“It also helps if you can also fit some of your high value niche crops into these systems.”
Dr Yeates said, in his experience, growing irrigated cotton in the dry season, rather then the wet season, was possible, but it was only suited to certain environments.
“To avoid the pests we had to trade off some seasonal advantages,” he said.
In terms of dryland crops, Dr Yeates said there was merit in re-evaluating options in light of new technology, improved pest control and better varieties.
“We’ve seen some very promising dryland crops in the Gilbert River this year. It’s pretty exciting,” he said.
Sharon O’Keeffe travelled as a guest of conference sponsor ANZ.
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