Last cotton season "mixed bag" in Central Queensland

Central Highlands 2020-21 cotton season "mixed bag", yields in the north increasing

Cotton
Queensland Cotton's Emerald gin manager Rick Jones is holding out hope for a bumper cotton harvest this upcoming season. Photo - Ben Harden.

Queensland Cotton's Emerald gin manager Rick Jones is holding out hope for a bumper cotton harvest this upcoming season. Photo - Ben Harden.

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Hopes for bumper cotton crop in Central Queensland this season following toughest drought in years.

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As the cotton season kicks off, the last of the cotton bales from the central highlands and North Queensland have begun their final voyage to Emerald for ginning.

Despite some growers experiencing above average cotton yields around Emerald, growers have suffered through one of the harshest droughts in recent memory.

Queensland Cotton's Emerald gin manager Rick Jones is currently in the process of ginning the last of the cotton bales.

With around 70,000 bales estimated to be processed through the gin from the 2020/21 season, Mr Jones said the last cotton season has been very drawn out.

"Around Emerald we're probably only about a third of our normal cotton production, compared to a normal season and this is mainly due to the dry season and the low level in the Fairbairn Dam last year," Mr Jones said.

"In terms of the yields, it was a mixed season. Some of the early cotton yielded up to 20 bales per hectare, which would be a record for this area and probably a lot of other areas where they had water.

"The late planted crops were probably a bit disappointing and by the time we got more water it was too late. The yields on that late planted cotton only averaged around five or six bales to the hectare."

Thousands of cotton bales harvested at the end of the 2021 season fill the grounds at the Emerald ginning facility ready to be processed. Photo: Ben Harden

Thousands of cotton bales harvested at the end of the 2021 season fill the grounds at the Emerald ginning facility ready to be processed. Photo: Ben Harden

Central Highlands growers started with no water allocation at the start of 2020, and though there was some cotton grown early along the Nogoa scheme, there was no allocation from the dam until they received later rain.

Mr Jones said despite the dry weather having an impact on the planted area, there was minimal impact to the quality of the cotton.

"Limited water generally restricts how much growers can plant rather than what the quality is like," he said.

"If we have a dry spring and early summer, we'll probably have a similar number of bales for what we got this year, but if we get rain, we could have a bigger than normal season because cotton prices are good."

With north and western Queensland producing around 20,000 bales of cotton last season, Mr Jones said the cotton yields in the north are definitely increasing.

"The yields from around Mareeba and southern Tablelands are improving. Growers are looking to expand and try develop a cotton industry in the north," he said.

Season conditions looking "favourable"

Cotton Australia CEO Adam Kay said despite the harsh growing conditions, season conditions across most of the cotton country are looking "favourable".

"This season we expect around 450,000 hectares to be planted although that could increase if there's further rain," Mr Kay said.

:"At this stage there will be about 370,000 irrigated hectares and 80,000 dryland hectares. Despite the changes in trade with China the global markets are good with demand ensuring good prices, currently at around $620 per bale for next season.

"From speaking to our growers, we estimate that over 30 per cent of next season's production has already been sold from grower to merchant."

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Newly elected chairman of Cotton Australia Nigel Burnett, Emerald, has also begun planting cotton for the 21/22 season.

Mr Burnett said while the rain in many parts has helped some, areas like Emerald could certainly do with more rain.

"For the season ahead, we are forecasting a national cotton crop of 4.5 million bales, which is a significant improvement on the 600,000 bales grown in 2020 or the 2.8 million bales last season," Mr Burnett said.

"With the growth in cotton production areas in the Northern Territory and WA we believe the industry will have an even greater impact on the economy, creating more jobs and flow-on benefits for communities in each growing region."

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