Rainfall lifts confidence of North West cotton growers

Glen Prairie farm manager John Baxter hopes Moree's cotton season continues to improve

Grains
Glen Prairie farm manager John Baxter hopes the season's favourable conditions continue. Photo: Billy Jupp

Glen Prairie farm manager John Baxter hopes the season's favourable conditions continue. Photo: Billy Jupp

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Seasonal conditions lift cotton producers hopes for a stellar season.

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COOLER summer conditions and welcome rainfall has boosted the spirits of cotton growers in the state's North West.

After years of prolonged drought and only 600,000 bales of cotton produced nationwide last season, confidence is high that this year's crops will help producers bounce back.

One local that is confident about this year's prospects is John Baxter a farm manager for Moree producer Dick Estens' Glen Prairie property.

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Having planted 950 hectares of irrigated cotton across three farms, Mr Baxter said the season was shaping up to be a major improvement on last season.

"It's a lot cooler and wetter now than compared to the same time last year," Mr Baxter said.

"It has been overcast the last few weeks in particular and wet in the weeks leading up to Christmas, but not to the point where it has hurt our cotton. We've had a bit of sunshine and storms in between, which has been nice.

Glen Prairie farm manager John Baxter is hopeful the season's favourable cotton conditions continue. Photo: Billy Jupp

Glen Prairie farm manager John Baxter is hopeful the season's favourable cotton conditions continue. Photo: Billy Jupp

"We did get a fair bit of rain around February-March last year, but by then it was too late, the cotton spat half its fruit and didn't really like it at all."

The 950ha of 748 variety of cotton was planted in October and the region's welcome rainfall has already made a difference Mr Baxter said.

"The biggest thing for us this year is probably the water saving," Mr Baxter said.

"We've missed a watering already, which is great and if you look at the sunny weather we're having at the moment, it's going really well.

"Last year, in some fields we used between 2mg-3mg to get it out of the ground where as this year, we've only used 1.2mg.

"We're mostly groundwater anyway with a little bit of river water, but saving that water will just give us a bit more for next year and hopefully a few more options."

Despite the benefits the rain has offered the crops, Mr Baxter said it had its downfalls as well.

"First week in November we had eight or nine per cent of our cotton wiped out by hail, so 120-odd hectares were wiped out," he said.

"It was the same weather event that knocked around a lot of winter crops out west in places like Collarenebri, Walgett and Mungindi.

"All it was a little cell, it was isolated and only hit a few paddocks while leaving the others completely untouched."

Glen Prairie farm manager John Baxter is hopeful the season's favourable cotton conditions continue. Photo: Billy Jupp

Glen Prairie farm manager John Baxter is hopeful the season's favourable cotton conditions continue. Photo: Billy Jupp

As well as climatic challenges, Mr Baxter said usual pests were also keeping him on high alert. "Mirids have probably been our biggest worry so far, we've had three or so rounds of Mirids since we first got going," he said.

"We're starting to also see a lot of heliothis eggs getting around right now. Those things aren't unusual for us and we'll deal with it as it comes."

Mr Baxter said he was hopeful "to harvest in early April with the last watering to be in early to mid-March."

"Most of it has already been forward sold," he said.

"Right now we are just madly spraying weeds and we haven't been able to get onto it because of the rain.

"We haven't been able to get on for the past two weeks because the conditions weren't quite right but we are certainly not complaining."

Gunnedah agronomist Lochie Lancaster said the recent overcast conditions had set some cotton crops in his district back.

"For whatever reason, fruit retention has just been really low this season, the heatwave in November, consistent rainfall and overcast conditions hasn't been ideal," Mr Lancaster said.

"It hasn't been ideal for the cotton in terms of trying to hold its little pin square that it's setting but things are getting a bit better at the moment, particularly the 746, it's starting to really hit its straps."

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