BRISBANE Valley farmer Mark Cowley says its now reaching the exciting stage for his first ever cotton crop, with defoliation set to start in late April.
While saying the last few weeks had dragged on because of shortening days, Mr Cowley said he was looking forward to seeing exactly how well the 16 hectare crop had performed.
"It's amazing how good the crop looks," Mr Cowley said.
"We're probably four to six weeks behind where we should be, but it's all working out well."
The trial crop involving several varieties was planted on five blocks alongside Cressbrook Creek at Toogoolawah in mid-November, later than the optimal time because of ongoing drought conditions in 2019.
After watering up, the crop received less than 4 megalites of in-crop irrigation. The water was initially applied using hand shift pipes before moving to an overhead boom.
Mr Cowley is no stranger to the industry, having worked for a contractor across southern Queensland's cotton regions for about 15 years, up until about five years ago.
He said he was inspired to grow cotton on his Toogoolawah farm because the crop offered a good margin, and the returns were pretty well known in advance.
"We grew pumpkins last year, and although the price was $1500/tonne two weeks before harvest, it had slipped to $400-$500/t by the time they were in the markets," Mr Cowley said.
"With cotton, you pretty well know what you are going to get all the way along.
"The development of the technology in the industry was also a reason I was attracted to having a go at growing cotton."
In fact, a John Deere baler picker from Perry Farming at Goondiwindi is already parked at Mr Cowley's farm, ready for picking to begin.
"With coronavirus and not knowing what restrictions might come into place, we decided to get the machine here early, so there wouldn't be any problems," he said.
The stubble from the crop was headed for the farm's composting system, to eventually be reused as fertiliser.
Mr Cowley said based on his experiences, he was planning a 200-250ha crop next season.
Mr Cowley's first cotton crop has been grown with plenty of support from variety breeder Cotton Seed Distributors and Cotton Growers Services in Dalby.
Cotton Growers Services agronomist Will Lange said growing the fibre crop in higher humidity, higher rainfall areas presented a number of challenges, particularly around regulating the rapid growth of the plants.
"One challenge is the cotton plant can grow too quickly in a higher rainfall environment where there is dense cloud cover," Mr Lange said.
"That means the growth may need to be regulated to produce a more manageable, compact bush. Elevated insect pressure can also be a concern where there are continuous cropping systems."
The trial on Mr Cowley's farm involved CSD's Bollgard 3 varieties.
In addition to the Brisbane Valley, trial crops have also been grown in a number of coastal areas, including Hervey Bay and Maryborough, where it has gained some popularity.
The Cowley family's farming operation covers about 1200 hectares and involves a variety of crops as well as livestock. It is believed to be the first cotton crop in the region for about 60 years.