IT IS fair to say it has not been the easiest season for cotton producers.
The ongoing drought has meant this year's national plant is the smallest since the 1970s.
But while the plant is down it is not non-existent.
Small pockets of irrigation have been available while there have also been a handful of growers who have managed to get a dryland crop going.
And it has meant the annual FastStart Cotton Establishment Awards have been run and won, with over 70 entries, in spite of the dry.
Angus Doolin from North Star, New South Wales, took out the irrigated cotton category; and Brett Enkelmann from Murgon in the South Burnett region of Queensland winning the dryland category. Each grower wins a pair of tickets to attend a tour of Kununurra, Western Australia, to observe farming practices in this diverse growing region.
Both men were complimented on their achievements in tough growing conditions.
The FastStart Cotton Program is a collaboration between Syngenta Australia and Cotton Seed Distributors (CSD) that funds research and practical solutions to support healthy establishment and robust growth in the early stages of a cotton crop's life.
The competition, which compared establishment percentages and uniformity, saw over 70 entries this season across both dryland and irrigated categories.
"There are lots of growers out there doing a fantastic job of optimising their seedling establishment through the utilisation of the technology and tools that FastStart is providing," said Syngenta Seedcare technical services lead, Sean Roberts.
"We want to recognise and celebrate this as best practice cotton farming," he said.
"The awards are a great way of doing this, as well as sharing what good looks like with other growers."
CSD Marketing & Extension Lead, James Quinn said this year's top farmers were all the more impressive considering all the factors that contribute to establishment success.
He said there was a lot growers could do to improve their establishment, such as planter set-up, field and soil bed preparation, planting conditions, and the management of any soil insects and seedling diseases.
"Achieving even establishment of a cotton crop isn't easy but it is critical in getting the crop off to a good start. This can influence the development of the crop and ultimately, yield and quality at picking," Mr Quinn said.
The winning growers were delighted with the award.
"It is particularly pleasing given it's been an extremely tough season," said Mr Doolin.
He said every step was taken to get the crop off on the right foot.
"We focus on a full no-till system and aim to maximise seedling establishment by managing stubble within the plant line prior to planting and adjust the planter speed to the conditions to ensure consistent seed placement."
Mr Enkelmann said it had been a tough season for dryland cotton, but added technical advances meant it was possible to get a crop up on minimal moisture.
"With the dry weather, this season has been a very challenging time; but with the use of a precision planter, FastStart technologies and a no-till farming system, the benefits are evident in the emergence and strength of this season's cotton," he said.