As the northern cotton harvest gets underway, cotton growers are seeing clear skies for the future of the industry for at least two years.
Although this year's harvest will be slightly affected in its yield after heavy rains in the north, strong prices and bright future prospects are giving growers a new lease of life after years of drought.
The damage to cotton crops was largely contained after the record-breaking rains in many districts in March, with boll rot in some crops confined to about 5-10 per cent. Any crops pushed over by the floodwaters or heavy rain were likely to stand back up in time for harvest. Harvest in many areas has been delayed to late April, due to later plantings.
Recently though there has been reports of frost damage to cotton crops on the Liverpool Plains, but this damage was still being assessed.
But mostly the industry is sitting in the driver's seat, as new export markets are being forged in Vietnam, Bangladesh and Turkey after Chinese buyers were told to snub Australia's cotton last year.
Cotton Australia chief executive Adam Kay told The Land that this year's harvest would come in at about 2.6 million bales. Next year's crop though was looking very promising at about 4 million bales.
Some growers are already forward selling that crop, pricing in about $550 and upwards a bale. Cotton is currently trading in the $560 to $570 a bale region.
"The rain has been a real shot in the arm for the industry," Mr Kay said. "There's only been a little bit of boll rot and the area around Texas lost some crops. We may see a little impact on quality. I'd say you'd be generally looking at a yield loss of 5-10 per cent."
Cotton harvesters were preparing to go into the fields now.
Mr Kay said the big issue facing the industry was the lack of skilled workers that would really hit home next year unless something was done quickly. He said there was light at the end of the tunnel with NSW Government support for NSW ag skills training . "We need to entice these people to stay," he said.
Sundown Pastoral Company director Dave Statham, Keytah, Moree, said he was genuinely concerned that ginning operations would be affected by the lack of skilled workers following the cuts to 457 visas. Keytah had its own skilled workers housed on farm, but many others growers would be struggling.
The rain was a huge boost, and with the rise in Copeton Dam levels, Keytah had at least two years of water available for growing cotton. "Despite the heavy rain it really has only had positive outcomes," he said. Some areas north of Moree had another 8mm over last weekend. "There won't be any record yields. We missed out on a lot of those early heat units." Keytah had planted on two separate dates, late October and then November, so the later crop was not opened when the big rains hit, and no boll damage. He estimated only about 5 per cent damage in the earlier planted crop.