Four of the United States' leading minds in cotton research have been in Australia for a two-week tour examining water efficiency and usage among cotton crops in the Namoi, Gwydir and McIntyre valleys.
Acting as the tour guide and lead collaborator was Cotton Seed Distributor's commercial research manager, Dr Michael Bange, who said the return of researchers after a nearly four-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic was a welcome event.
Dr Bange said it was important for researchers to collaborate across country borders to maximise the effectiveness of research addressing common goals.
" As we continue to experience climate change and extreme weather events, rainfed cotton and management of cotton with limited water (conducted efficiently) is vital to the sustainability of Australian and various USA cotton systems," Dr Bange said.
He said the two nations' leading scientific cotton research arms, Cotton Seed Distributors (CSD) and Cotton Incorporated (CI), see extensive value in exchanging ideas and developing opportunities to work together on common goals.
"One key aspect of rainfed systems is the ability to measure water use efficiency; the saying goes 'if you can't measure it, you can't manage it', illustrating the need for science to lay the foundation for management," he said.
The visitors included Associate Professor Craig Bednarz, who holds a joint appointment with West Texas A&M University and Texas A&M AgriLife Research; Assistant Professor Duke Pauli the director of the newly formed Agroecosystem Research in the Desert (ARID) Center; Dr Susan (Evy) Jaconis is the director of Agriculture and Environmental Research (Cottonseed and Plant Physiology) at Cotton Incorporated.
The fourth member of the team of visitors is Dr Gaylon Morgan, director of Agriculture and Environmental Research (Agronomy and Weed Control) at Cotton Incorporated.
Dr Bednarz said the exchanges involved investigating rainfed cotton and cotton in limited water environments.
He said the state of Texas grows around six million acres [2.430m hectares] of cotton; much of it is produced with trickle tape irrigation, with centre-pivot irrigation covering the remainder. There is no furrow irrigation, he said. He added that Texas cotton generally has a lower average yield than Australian irrigated cotton.
"We just don't have the water to do it," he said. "In west Texas, we have clay/loam soils that are not as deep as your soils and don't hold the moisture."
Dr Bednarz said infrastructure and whole farm management, rotations, soil health, agronomy, physiology, and breeding (amongst others) all play a role in delivering water-use efficient cotton crops and are all areas of potential collaboration between Australia and the USA.
Dr Bange said the visit to Australia by USA cotton scientists aimed to provide an in-depth understanding of the Australian cotton systems and the challenges and identify the commonalities with the USA cotton systems.
"We have a long history of working together, and there is great value in collaboration," Dr Bange said.
He said the vast experience shared by CSD would help the visitors understand the Australian system and connect the USA collaborators with relevant Australian researchers.
CSD coordinated the two-week visit with Australian cotton specialists across the industry, including travel to a few regions to learn the production systems and challenges.
CSD will support engagement with scientists or specialists that align with the research interests of the visitors, and using Narrabri will be a solid in-country base for interactions with CSD, Cotton Research and Development Corporation, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, the Department of Primary Industries, and other institutions.
Other areas of discussion and collaboration may include rainfed cotton, water use, physiological and performance prediction modelling, abiotic stress, irrigation strategies and considerations, root traits, seedling vigour and plant establishment.
Dr Bange said an Australian team of researchers plan to visit the US later in the year to reciprocate the exchange of information and techniques.