A Maryborough farming family is planting the Fraser Coast region’s first commercial cotton crop in 100 years.
Ellison Maxwell along with his son Scott run a 263-hectare irrigated farm just south of town and planted the cotton crop on August 18.
“Two or three growers trialed growing cotton in this region six years ago and we have now made a decision to make cotton a regular part of our yearly commodity production,” Mr Maxwell said.
The initial test crops achieved 7.5 to 8.5 cotton bales per hectare, which is similar to the latest national cotton crop yields of 8.2 bales per hectare.
“There’s no question now if it can grow cotton but it’s more a focus on the quality of the end product,” he said.
The cotton growing decision was made due to skyrocketing electricity prices of pumping irrigation water with costs doubling over the past five years from $125/ML to $250/ML at present, according to Mr Maxwell.
“You have to be growing a crop of high enough value to make the financial equation work,” he said.
The Maxwell family normally grow the region’s traditional cane crops, plus pineapples, but found it difficult to make it financially viable due to currently low sugar prices and high water pumping electricity costs.
“To be honest we had two options, plant sugarcane and not make any money or try something different, like cotton, with a possibility of making something out of it,” Mr Maxwell said.
The Maxwell family decided to plant short to mid season Bollgard 3 Sicot 707B3F variety of cotton seed.
“We diversified out of sugarcane 15 years ago into pineapples and they have become a successful part of our business,” Mr Maxwell said.
“I’m hoping cotton can provide us with more diversification and increased profitability because our irrigated crop input costs keep rising every year.”
He noted the opening up of Bollgard 3 cotton planting window spurred their Scocan Holdings company’s decision to adopt cotton as a regular yearly rotational crop.
Mr Maxwell said the overhead water irrigated cotton crop had a slow start due to cold weather but still achieved a seed germination of 10 plants per metre.
“I’m sure longer day light hours going forward and increased temperatures will see the crop grow,” he said.
The crop is expected to be harvested by late January next year and then be followed by a soybean crop.
A dramatic fall in sugar prices from $600/tonne two years ago to $250/tonne also cemented the decision to incorporate cotton as part of the Maxwell family’s cropping rotation.
“As long as sugarcane has been grown there’s big price volatility and there’s little we can do about it, so diversifying to a cotton crop provides us with more price return stability,” Mr Maxwell said.
According to newspaper reports, a commercial 20-hectare cotton crop was first grown on one of the Maxwell family’s aggregation properties called Alpha in 1925. An old newspaper article says Maryborough and Ipswich were the first places in Queensland to grow cotton.
“On top of everything, it’s just interesting to have a go at a new crop,” Mr Maxwell said.