COTTON is booming in the Murrumbidgee area as high prices and low water allocations make it the new crop of choice for farmers.
Picking is expected to start in the next week in Murrumbidgee, on a crop with an area size of 26,200 hectares – up from 20,000ha last year.
“The cotton price has held pretty firm above $500 (per bale), and there was some uncertainty for farmers with water allocations... you go for what gets you your best return per megalitre (of water) and this year it’s cotton,” said Elders Griffith agronomist, Richard Malone.
“The overall area planted is about two per cent higher than last year,” he said.
CottonInfo’s regional development officer for southern NSW Kieran O’Keeffe agreed some of the first-time cotton growers in the area probably made the change based on lower water allocations available because of the Murray-Darling Basin plan.
“In general crops are looking good with good yield potential... (and) with picking due to start at the end of April,” Mr O’Keeffe said.
Mr Malone said yields in the area would be comparable to last year despite some issues with later planted crops being affected by recent rainfall and some of the earlier crops struck by a mould infection.
“The yield potential still looks pretty good but these problems will drag back the overall yields a little bit.”
Along with a good price for cotton, Mr Malone said a bonus for growers was a high demand for cottonseed this year, which meant better returns from the cotton gins.
With Auscott’s plans for a new cotton gin to be built in Hay before harvest next year, Mr Malone said an extra option for farmers to send their crop to couldn’t come quickly enough.
“There’s certainly enough cotton being produced for another gin in the Murrumbidgee... there’s still quite a lot going up to get ginned at Trangie, and some even being trucked up to Bourke (from last season’s crop),” he said.
Rivcott is planning another gin at Carathool, according to Coleambally Irrigation Co-operative Ltd chairman Trent Gardiner who said the season had been “pretty good so far” for local growers.
“It’s good to see another industry has proven itself down south,” he said.
Mr Gardiner said the expansion into cotton was benefiting other local industries such as freight operators, and fertiliser and fuel suppliers.
Meanwhile, cotton picking is in full swing in the State’s northern valleys, with most gins receiving modules and some already starting to process.
Ginning began last week in the Macquarie and Namoi valleys, where picking has started in the past few weeks.
Growers are halfway through picking in the Gwydir and Macintyre valleys, and the Border Rivers area is just about done.
Agronomists are reporting mixed yields and quality for the northern cotton areas.
Cotton Seed Distributors agronomist Robert Eveleigh said about 20 per cent of lower Namoi crop had been picked, compared with about 5pc to 10pc in the upper Namoi region.
“If the weather holds off the majority of the crop should be off in the first part of May,” Mr Eveleigh said.
Late season rain at Narrabri is expected to result in some downgrades.
“The rain has done some damage to the colour so we’re expecting discounts associated with colour, but as you go further west from Narrabri to Walgett there are no problems with quality,” Mr Eveleigh said.
Cotton Grower Services agronomist Susie McCutcheon, Warren, said while picking had begun in the Macquarie, there were still some crops being defoliated near Narromine.
“They’ve still got picking to go,” Miss McCutcheon said.
“The yields are down slightly due to the heavy rain. So far there’s not much ginning done yet to see if there’s any quality downgrading.”
Border Rivers growers have nearly finished picking, with just a few later crops to be picked at St George.
“Yields have been varied which is a reflection on water availability and the quality has also varied due to recent heavy rainfall,” said Cotton Info regional development officer Sally Dickinson.
“Early reports were showing some colour discounts.”
It’s all systems go in the Gwydir Valley, where growers are halfway through picking, ginning having begun a few weeks ago.
“Yields are varying depending on how much water was available,” said Cotton Seed Distributors agronomist James Quinn.
“Any cotton that’s been managed well and had enough water has yielded 5.5 bales an acre (13.5bales/ha) and we’re getting about 0.7 to 0.8 bales (1.7 to 2 bales/ha) for dryland.
“It’s been a tough year for dryland cotton. The irrigated cotton will make base grade but the dryland will come short.”
Second crop’s a charm at ‘Farm 77’
PETER Sheppard may be in the middle of harvesting 200 hectares of rice, but his thoughts are on his cotton crop.
Mr Sheppard, “Farm 77”, Coleambally, made the move into cotton two seasons ago, but his first crop didn’t go quite to plan.
“We had to resow the first crop due to the cold weather,” he said.
“Cotton’s a real super sook when it’s young.”
Last year he didn’t plant cotton because “the money wasn’t there”.
This year, “the money is there” so he and his full-time offsider, Troy Griffiths, have planted 60ha of Sicot 74BRF cotton.
“We’re hopeful it will be better this season,” Mr Sheppard said.
“This year we sowed a bit earlier. The timing’s good.”
Mr Sheppard said he had forward sold his entire cotton crop to Queensland Cotton for $500 a bale and he expected to yield 10 bales a hectare in about two weeks when it is picked.