Australia’s record cotton crop is a story of preparation meeting opportunity, with a healthy dose of luck thrown in.

Story By Sally Nicol-Rigney

Andrew Watson looks tired but content. “Hold on mate,” he quickly leans into the ute and grabs the two-way to redirect an errant cotton picker being driven by a backpacker. Andrew began picking his cotton crop on “Kilmarnock” at Boggabri, 50 kilometres south-east of Narrabri, NSW, when his new daughter Xanthia was six weeks old. Since then, another six weeks have gone by with only four days off. “We’ve been going pretty hard,” he says. But there are no complaints. “Couple water, reasonable prices and great yields and there are some pretty excited people around here.”
The excitement has been contagious throughout the industry. Australia has produced its biggest ever cotton crop – 4.7 million bales. Adam Kay, chief executive officer of the grower group Cotton Australia, says it feels amazing after a decade of drought. “At the worst of it in 2007/2008 we only had 60,000 hectares of cotton, so one-tenth of what was planted this year, and produced something like 600,000 bales.”
The dry years not only drained farming families but also the regional communities that rely on cotton income. This season’s record production is the result of flooding rains that have provided secure water supplies across the country. Now growers are confident of putting together a few consecutive years of production and recouping their losses.
Adam says that while water has been the key ingredient, the other driver behind this season’s record production is the industry’s strong research and development focus, which has made cotton easier and more profitable to grow and much more environmentally sustainable.
“Twenty-seven years ago, when I was a young agronomist at Warren, that was the southernmost cotton in Australia,” Adam says. “People would come down for field days and stand there shivering saying, ‘Oh it’s just too cold to grow cotton here’.” He says better varieties and better agronomic techniques have enabled cotton to spread to the Victorian border. “You never say never anymore,” he says.

This story excerpt is from Issue #84

Outback Magazine: Aug/Sep 2012