Australia’s sole supplier of planting cottonseed is bracing itself for the likelihood of a national crop spread across one million hectares in 25 years, or less.
That compares with this year’s recently picked 4.6m bale cotton crop which covered about 450,000ha.
Cotton Seed Distributors (CSD) has just officially opened new seed delinting and treatment facilities at the its 663-hectare research farm and processing site “Shenstone” near Wee Waa in northern NSW.
The expanded capacity was planned to accommodate the likelihood of significantly more seed demand for dryland crops and the industry’s expansion into Victoria and Australia’s tropical north.
Up to 10,000ha of cotton could be planted in North Queensland in the Etheridge Shire between Innisfail and Normanton in August.
North Queensland moves
The prominent Harris and Greentree farming partnership from North West NSW has been looking at cotton production in Queensland’s Gulf country for several seasons and is keen to expand its early efforts considerably.
CSD chairman, James Kahl, said his company had planned for the industry’s likely seed supply needs for the next 30 years.
However, new production areas in northern and southern Australia could see Australia’s planting area hit 1m hectares well within that time frame.
Dryland cotton’s increasing opportunities follow the recent release of the durable Bollgard 3 herbicide resistant variety, which is set to encourage more dryland croppers to plant cotton if sowing conditions suit.
Traditionally only about 20pc of the Australian crop is dryland.
Mr Kahl said CSD’s strategic plan also included lifting cotton’s yield potential by an extra two bales/ha by 2020.
CSD’s upgraded facilities, including a new head office for the not for profit public company, required a $90m spending effort.
The new world-leading delinting and treating plant sits alongside bigger storage facilities and a laboratory.
The processing plant – the third CSD has built in its 51-year history – includes two delinting and seed treatment lines providing greater flexibility for different varietal demands to be handled at the same time.
CSIRO chairman and former Telstra managing director, David Thodey, officially opened the new operations this week at a ceremony attended by about 400.
The national scientific research body has been a 47-year seed breeding partner with CSD, during which time 113 cotton varieties have been released.
CSD also has joint ventures in the US, Greece, Turkey and Brazil to provide seed based on CSIRO’s successful germplasm work.
Up to 40pc of the US and southern European cotton crop and almost a third of the Brazilian crop is planted to Australian-based varieties, delivering about $7m a year in royalty revenue to CSD.
Mr Kahl said as the only supplier of planting seed in Australia the company had a significant responsibility to meet the requirements of a progressive cotton industry.
Changing farming and research technologies and crop management practices were demanding a much more responsive, efficient processing plant.
“CSD will be able to handle planting seed needs for up to 1m hectares of dryland and irrigated cotton in any one season,” he said.
Apart from seed processing and storage “Shenstone”’s irrigated farming country is used for early generation seed increase, cotton crop research and technology demonstrations.
At Tuesday’s opening ceremony Mr Thodey praised the CSD-CSIRO partnership.
He noting how it had enabled the Australian cotton industry to become the first company globally to engineer the Bollgard 3 traits into cotton, subsequently giving farmers “unprecedented freedom to choose when and how much cotton they plant”.
This partnership was formalised in 2007 with the Cotton Breeding Australia joint venture, a targeted research fund which has since invested $110m into research and breeding future cotton varieties.
The CBA partnership has now been extended to run until 2029.
Commenting on the dry season’s impact on cotton planting prospects for spring, Mr Kahl said current expectations were for a planting of just 200,000ha for a likely yield of about 2m bales in 2019.
“It’s about as dry and dusty around here as I’ve ever seen it,” he said.
“But we also know it only takes a few good rain fronts to come across and everything can change within the space of a month or so – as it did a few years ago.
“Suddenly we jumped from expecting to sell about 3000 tonnes of seed in a below average season to selling 8000t.
“The dryland planting area really exploded, and that could easily happen again.”
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