Central Highlands cotton growers coping

Central Highlands cotton growers managing small Fairbairn Dam inflow

Cotton
Cam, Julie and Andrew Geddes at home on their cotton property at Emerald.

Cam, Julie and Andrew Geddes at home on their cotton property at Emerald.

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Despite the area sown to cotton in the Central Highlands being half of last year's, which itself was a significant reduction on the normal amount grown, Cam Geddes believes the region is in reasonable shape.

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Despite the area sown to cotton in the Central Highlands being half of last year's, which itself was a significant reduction on the normal amount grown, Cam Geddes believes the region is in reasonable shape.

Mr Geddes and his parents Andrew and Julie Geddes have recently finished picking 70ha of cotton on their 200ha Laikipia property to the west of Emerald, only a third of their normal plant.

Highlighting the importance of Fairbairn Dam as a backstop, the family-run operation was able to grow this year's reduced crop from savings accumulated from the previous water year despite there being a zero allocation in force.

"It was a challenging season but everyone managed," Mr Geddes said, commenting that different businesses chose different options, some taking a punt on rain, some semi-irrigating or changing row spacings, and others only planting what they felt they had water for.

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The area got the majority of its cotton picked before rain early in the year, and that moisture together with inflows to the dam has now increased the water allocation to 27 per cent.

As a result, some have planted mungbeans, corn or sorghum on fallow paddocks to make the most of what rain they had.

"The next decision will be, if there's no increase in the allocation, what do we do with the 27pc," Mr Geddes said. "Do we plant the whole farm to a winter crop and utilise it all or carry it over to next year and potentially plant a smaller area."

As well as anticipating where the dam level might sit, how many will draw on the water and environmental factors, potential commodity prices in the current climate of uncertainty all have to be factored in.

Mr Geddes and his parents Andrew and Julie beat the January rain to get all their cotton picked and have mulched and are content to let nature take its course for the time being.

He said they would wait until April before making a decision on what to plant next, pinning some hope on the Easter full moon cycle for more rain, and the knowledge that the majority of Fairbairn Dam's inflow happens between February and May.

Read more: Emerald grower happy with early plant

"I think everyone's doing alright," Mr Geddes said.

"We had some very good crops in the lead-up to this dry.

"Prices have been strong and seed prices have been too, based on the drought demand."

He added that people were still investing in infrastructure, putting another pivot in or improving a paddock, indicating that there was still an element of confidence in the industry despite the lack of water.

"If we get to May when it's chickpea time, and there's no increase in dam water, the chances of us coming back to planting 30ha of cotton is more likely, so that increases our chances of growing something else," he said of the choices ahead.

"Early planted cotton crops are your best yielding but if we got put in a more compromising position, we can't afford to be too picky."

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