Top End's silver bullet

Tipperary Station experiencing success with cotton

Cotton
Tipperary Station farm manager Bruce Connolly checking the progress of the cotton, which will be picked at the end of April.

Tipperary Station farm manager Bruce Connolly checking the progress of the cotton, which will be picked at the end of April.

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Cotton is proving to be a successful addition for Tipperary Station.

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The viability of cotton in the north continues to be explored, with large-scale Northern Territory property Tipperary Station planting in January, after undertaking a commercial trial in 2019.

Tipperary is owned by Melbourne-based barrister Allan Myers and his partners and is being developed into a highly diversified northern Australian agricultural operation under the hands-on approach of general manager David Connolly.

Mr Connolly said they grew 50 hectares of irrigated cotton and 10ha of rain-fed dryland cotton on the property, which is 160 kilometres south of Darwin.

He said while the yield of the trial crop was commercial-in-confidence, the result was very pleasing.

"So much so, that we have increased planting this year to 100ha of irrigated cotton under a centre pivot, and 200ha of rain-fed dryland," Mr Connolly said.

"Cotton is a crop well suited to Top End conditions, it likes the sub-tropical humidity, water and heat, and we have plenty of that."

Tipperary Station farm manager Bruce Connolly with general manager David Connolly and the first bale of cotton harvested as part of the trial.

Tipperary Station farm manager Bruce Connolly with general manager David Connolly and the first bale of cotton harvested as part of the trial.

Mr Connolly said ideally, they planted during the wet season when rain was plentiful.

This season's crop was planted on the back of 160mm of rain in December and 35mm falling in January. The dryland crop was planted on January 7, and the irrigated crop on January 20.

"The idea is to plant at the time it is going to rain so both crops are rain-fed, but if it doesn't rain, we can irrigate the crop as a back-up," he said.

"We have learned and expanded a few new techniques since the initial trials."

Last year the crop was planted on double-row, skip-row, while this year it is single-row, one metre apart.

"After the rain we sprayed the paddock and left the mulch to die down and left it there," he said.

"We use a one-tripper to set the planting rows and direct drill the seed at 10kg/ha, placing fertiliser on the side."

The Bollgard 3 varieties 746 and 748 were planted into the soil base and not into cultivation banks.

"This has achieved nine plants to a metre, which is a good result."

It really is the silver bullet for broadacre cropping in the Top End... - David Connolly

The crop doesn't suffer from insect pressure and in-crop fertiliser and weed control is done by aerial spraying.

Mr Connolly said once the cotton is picked it is transported to the St George cotton gin.

"Eventually we would like to use the cotton seed in our cattle operation, but it is not viable to transport it back from Queensland so we take the credit," he said.

"It really is the silver bullet for broadacre cropping in the Top End, and the dryland rain-fed cotton is sustainable and good for the country."

He said they use contractors where ever possible, and only invested in minimal machinery.

Cotton is also being grown in the Katherine, Douglas Daly and Kununurra regions.

Mr Connolly said there has been heavy lobbying by growers for a feasibility study and detailed business plan to be undertaken into the construction of a cotton gin in the north to service the developing industry.

"For growers to have a gin in Katherine, we have to have volume and be viable," he said.

Tipperary Station runs 10,000 high-grade Brahman breeders and 30,000 steers and heifers bought in to background for the Indonesian live export trade.

It is also home to the 15,000-head export accredited Honeymoon Feedlot.

It also has a significant irrigated and dryland fodder business, as well as 4000 mango trees, and planted a 3500-tree lemon orchard last year.

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