NIGEL Burnett says he is very confident the Australian cotton industry is very well placed to meet its developing sustainability responsibilities after attending a global conference in Sweden.
Mr Burnett, who is the chair of Cotton Australia, said based on wide ranging from discussions at the recent Cotton + Climate Action conference in Malmo, Sweden, it was clear Australia's advantage was that it already operated within an extremely variable climate.
"We produced just 600,000 bales two years ago because of extreme drought," Mr Burnett said.
"This season we are now looking at 5.5 million bales.
"Australian growers are constantly demonstrating how they can adapt in an extremely variable climate."
The scale of Australia's farms and industry-wide willingness to develop and adopt new technologies also characterised the industry, he said.
Consistent themes at the Malmo conference included the value and importance of traceability, and that production claims were able to be backed up with data.
Mr Burnett made the point that sustainability measures attributed to practice changes on-farm needed to be recognised by brands and retailers.
"Any increased financial gains generated through the supply chain needed to be passed back to farmers.
"It's important that growers, wherever they are in the world, to be rewarded if it creates extra value," Mr Burnett.
"Unless that happens there is unlikely to be the necessary incentive for growers in a lot of countries to implement the changes increasingly being demanded of them."
The big and the small
Mr Burnett said he had a much greater appreciation of the two broad sectors in the global cotton industry after attending Malmo.
"At the conference the large growers were represented by Australia, Brazil, the US and Turkey," Mr Burnett said.
"The focus was on issues like technology, productivity and water use efficiency.
"However, the vast bulk of the industry comprises of smaller growers from countries and regions including India, Pakistan, Asia and Africa.
"That was a real eye opener, because the issues raised by smaller farmers growing and hand picking crops on a typically very small scale are focused on very different ideas.
"They are very much focused on creating a living income and that is usually concerned with simply putting food on the table for their families."
Mr Burnett said he was extremely impressed how the themes of the Malmo conference were able to be captured by 'graphic recorder' Carlotta Cataldi.
"It's one thing to take notes and read summaries, but to see all the key issues that were raised and discussed to presented in a graphic form was something else," Mr Burnett said.
The Cotton + Climate Action conference was organised by global industry group Better Cotton.
Better Cotton chief executive officer Alan McClay said transforming the cotton sector required bringing together players from across the cotton industry.
"Our industry has been investing heavily in building its climate resilience for some years now, but of the 350 million people who rely on cotton production about half face high exposure to climate risk," Mr McClay said.
"In particular we need to show farmers that implementing more sustainable practices really will give them tangible rewards - both monetary and by improving the health of the land.
"There are a myriad of issues to tackle - from gender and social injustice to finance and traceability."
Better Cotton describes itself as the world's leading sustainability initiative for cotton. It's mission is to help cotton communities survive and thrive, while protecting and restoring the environment.