Picking has begun in central Queensland in what is thought to be the earliest harvest of commercial-scale, irrigated cotton in Australia in recent decades.
Hamish Millar from company Cowal Agriculture, which grows the cotton crop in question in Queensland’s Emerald region, said this years’ crop was even earlier than conventional (or non-GM) crops of decades past.
He said he understood they were the first to harvest cotton this year in Australia.
“It’s completely brand new for us on a commercial scale,” he said.
The latest variety of genetically-modified cotton has a much more flexible planting window meaning many farmers could plant earlier.
In the second season the new GM cotton has been grown, farmers have really tested the boundaries.
Planting in the Ord gearing up
As harvest begins in record time in central Queensland, history is also being made in the West as growers in the Ord irrigation scheme gear-up to plant the largest commercial cotton crop since the collapse of the industry in the 1970s.
Kimberley Agricultural Investment (KAI) is set to plant 300 hectares of cotton in the Ord in coming weeks as they patiently wait for the land to dry out following recent heavy rainfall.
But the bigger plan is to later develop 3,000 hectares on the lighter soils of Carlton Plain.
“In order to underpin a cotton industry we need access to arable, lighter country, the lighter soils, because we’re trying to plant cotton in January or February,” said KAI general manager Jim Engelke.
“On black soil that won’t be achievable every year, but on red soil we believe it will.
“I guess as a valley we’re all hopeful that this time we get something like cotton to be the base crop we so desperately need, add a few other crops in the rotation, and start to develop a farming system to be more robust and of a larger scale that allows the valley to continue into the next phase of its growth.”
Carlton Plains stage one forms the initial component of a staged development of four larger parcels of land designated for irrigated agriculture.
The eventual aim it to build enough scale to justify funding a cotton processing gin that would cost upwards of $30 million.