The Territory's first-ever cotton gin is set to open just a few kilometres from Katherine mid next year.
And although Western Australia Northern Territory Cotton Chairman David Connolly says it will mean big things for the local region and the Northern Territory, not everyone in the community is on board with the development.
Mr Connolly believes cotton is the solution to the NT's long-held need to diversify its farming practices.
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"NT farmers and pastoralists have struggled to find a crop that remains profitable even during cyclical changes in the commodity," Mr Connolly said.
"We think that this is a crop that not only not only can grow in the NT under the NT rainfall very well, it also has a ready global market for it."
He said the aim of building the gin in the Territory was to save local farmers the cost of sending their product elsewhere for processing.
"If we have a gin, a farmer can save himself the expense of doing a 3000-kilometre road trip with each carton, and freight is so expensive."
After construction began on the gin on Tarwoo Station, 35km north of Katherine, in 2021, it has been a rocky road due to delays caused by COVID-19 and the wet season.
"We suffered some delays last year as we headed towards a wet season with some COVID lockouts, we had to shut down some of our workers and they weren't allowed to attend the gin site under the rules of the Northern Territory," Mr Connolly said.
"We should have the gin completed at the end of this year. And then generally it takes some months to run it up and test it and make sure it's functioning properly, and our goal is for July opening, 2023."
However, some community members and environmental groups have expressed concerns about the emergence of cotton farming in the region.
In fact, cotton was on the agenda of meetings about water held by the Protect Big Rivers group in Katherine and Mataranka last week.
The group's spokesperson and local veterinarian, Sam Phelan, said they were concerned about the impact of cotton on the region's delicate ecosystem.
"By the time you combine cotton and fracking and broadacre, that's hundreds of thousands of hectares of tropical savannah," she said.
"It's a thousand cuts that will actually kill the ecosystem. So it's the cumulative impact across the ecosystem."
However, Mr Connolly said his station has "very good environmental credentials."
"We wouldn't grow anything or do any practices on our land that would hurt the land," he said.
Ms Phelan also said the group was particularly concerned about the "water harvesting policy" currently being developed by the NT Government."The decision-making processes need to be really precautionary [and] I don't think the floodplain harvesting policy is precautionary enough to prevent us going down a Murray Darling [Basin] path."
Ms Phelan said the NT Government should be reviewing their legislation around water allocation before moving into new industries.
"We need to not go down this path before we've got adequate water laws," she said.
"We are entering the land of the water wars and we have no legislation around it."
Speaking to the Katherine Times last week during her first visit to Katherine as Chief Minister, Natasha Fyles said the water harvest policy was being developed with the consultation of environment and Aboriginal organisations.
"That draft policy, I'm advised, will be released soon. And that will allow Territorians to have the opportunity in those groups to provide feedback," she said.
Ms Fyles said the NT Government was also developing a "long-term comprehensive strategic water plan.
"So we need to ensure sustainability of the management of our water resources. Obviously, we need it available for drinking household use, but we also need it to grow crops and make valuable products."
Mr Connolly said the current cotton crop at Tipperary is rain-fed, with the potential for irrigation in the future pending the NT Government's water policy.
The Katherine Town Council wrote to Mr Connolly and NT Farmers in 2020, saying, according to Mr Connolly, that they were withdrawing their support for the gin out of concern for water use.
However, Mayor Lis Clark said last week that Council was not against the gin's development.
"We were concerned about the water use and how much they are going to be needing. We need to be responsible and sustainable leaders in any future developments," she said.
"We've had talks with Paul Burke, who is the CEO of NT Farmers Association. We are working towards having an amicable relationship with the cotton growers to encourage the flow of important information between us."
Mr Connolly said he welcomed the change of heart.
"We want to work with people. They're going to get the support of the cotton gin anyway."
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