Experimenting with winter cotton

St George cotton yields well in dry season


Cotton
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St George cotton grower Glenn Rogan is thinking outside the box and trialling something as obscure as winter cotton.

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Glenn Rogan, Benelong, St George, in two metre-planted cotton that he expects to yield between eight and 10 bales per hectare.

Glenn Rogan, Benelong, St George, in two metre-planted cotton that he expects to yield between eight and 10 bales per hectare.

Farmers have always been known for their ability to think outside the box, but as operating costs increase and dry conditions continue, more operations are turning away from the norm.

St George cotton grower Glenn Rogan has taken steps to reconfigure his production system and trial something as obscure as winter cotton.

This season the Rogans grew 500 hectares of cotton, 400 of which was planted from mid-October to mid-November in a standard one metre configuration.

Mr Rogan said the remaining 100ha was opportunity-planted in the last week of November at two metre spacings.

"We'd been saving up our profile there for 18 months, however we couldn't plant it in the same configuration as our solid plant cotton.

"We had to drag out an old planter that hasn't been used for 30 years, get it all freed up and run it in the configuration of two metres.

"It came up but we didn't have the water for it, then the river ran so we irrigated and it has gone unbelievably well."

Mr Rogan said the two metre spacing was possibly too wide, but the success of the crop had prompted him to start reconfiguring his system to a 1.5m spacing.

"Some of it has to do with climate variability; the high temperatures are causing us to reduce our irrigation scheduling time frames," he said.

"Instead of being what used to be 10 to 14 days, we're now seven to 10 days, but with the two metre-planted cotton we could make it every two or three weeks.

"There's a lot more forgiveness in the plant because it's got a bigger reserve of moisture underneath it, so it's not as critical to get an irrigation done."

Most excitingly though is the winter cotton project Mr Rogan has been working on for the past three years.

He had been jokingly talking about planting cotton in the autumn for some time, but restrictions made that impossible.

Applying to the APVMA, TIMS committee, CRDC and Monsanto for a regulatory sandbox, Mr Rogan was granted a one hectare research permit to trial winter cotton, with his first crop grown in 2017.

The winter cotton project at Benelong. The 20ha research trial was planted on April 21 at 15 plants per metre, with wheat spread over top at 70-80kg/ha.

The winter cotton project at Benelong. The 20ha research trial was planted on April 21 at 15 plants per metre, with wheat spread over top at 70-80kg/ha.

"We planted a hectare and it was too small to even harvest because it was ready at Christmas time and it was pretty hard to pick just a hectare, but we did handpick sections of the trial and the results showed that we were going to yield somewhere between eight and 10 bales per hectare on one irrigation," he said.

"We had a rainfall event so we said we'd call it two irrigations and even if we looked at it worst case, with the two irrigations we yielded eight bales per hectare.

"That's four bales per megalitre, which is nearly three times what we've ever produced before."

The same trial was repeated in 2018 and didn't yield as well due to frost, but this year he has 20ha planted.

"My theory behind the idea is a mix of vernalisation, photoperiodism, epigenetics and plant physiology manipulation," Mr Rogan said.

"The temperature is stable underground so the roots will continue to grow over winter, the frost burns off the top of it but the roots keep searching and growing underneath

"We grow the plant above ground during the spring time, it's not too hot and it'll produce a lot of cotton."

Mr Rogan said he was exploring the new opportunities out of necessity.

"At $650 a bale that gives you a bit of breathing space, but in the long term you can't just outrun the cost of farming, you have to find a different way of getting more out of less inputs."

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