A NEAR record $2.5 BILLION crop will inject economic vitality into Australia’s cotton industry to be spread throughout regional towns, businesses and communities, says Cotton Australia CEO Adam Kay.
Mr Kay said the cotton industry was anticipating its second biggest crop this season, surpassing 4.4 million bales on the back of 460,000 hectares planted in favourable conditions, with farm-gate returns boosted by solid prices.
“We’ve had a pretty big plant in Australia,” he said.
“About 340,000ha of irrigated cotton has been planted and about 120,000ha of dryland cotton so that’s a total plant of about 460,000ha and we’re estimating that should produce in excess of 4.4 million bales,” he said.
“That would make this the second biggest crop on record and it would go around the 2013 crop which was 4.4 bales but would not quite eclipse the 5.3m bale crop that was picked in 2012.”
Mr Kay said the positive forecast was all on the back of a mild, wet spring which was “so good” in many areas, for winter crops and produced vital run-off water for storage dams.
He said some of the major storage dams that feed into cotton irrigation areas have been filled, which has allowed growers to maximise their plantings this season.
“That’s also coincided with some pretty reasonable cotton prices,” he said.
“Most of the time, from planting through to now, we’ve seen prices over $500 a bale and in fact yesterday there was $540 a bale on offer to growers and that’s a good level.”
Mr Kay said Cotton Australia believed this year’s crop would be worth in excess of $2.5 billion to the Australian economy; a significant increase on last year’s $1.5b return.
“This year’s increase is all on the back of that good spring rain, filling those water storages and in many areas that’s going to be enough for not only this year’s crop but also next year’s crop,” he said.
“We’re also looking at a good sized planting for the next season and that allows growers to take advantage of some of these good prices.
“For the crop that’s going to be planted in October this year, growers can get $500 a bale so it lets them forward sell and lock away some of their production at these levels – that’s the beauty of having some water in the storages.
“There’s real confidence and that’s flowing onto the 40-odd cotton gins across Australia that are in maintenance mode now but gearing up for a big season.
“A crop like this is a real stimulus to a lot of activity in rural towns and communities and flow-on businesses.”
Mr Kay said the export market was undergoing change, with 60-70pc of the cotton crop sold into China over the past few years but they’ve started using their stockpile and have not been as active in the market.
But he said countries like India – which had moved from 3pc up to 25pc last year – were moving further into the market and “taking up the slack”.
“When we produce a big crop like this it means that our cotton shippers have to get out there and really work hard to find a home in the various spinning mills around south-east Asia - but they do a great job and the fact that the high quality Australian cotton has a good reputation helps them do that job,” he said.
Mr Kay said growers had experienced cool wet conditions which made for a tougher start to this season than the previous few years.
He said over the last two seasons the area planted wasn’t big but the yields were “enormous” and in excess of 11 bales per hectare, across the industry.
“There’s a feeling that it’s maybe been tougher this season than it was for the past couple of seasons but there’s still some time to go and some hotter weather has been forecast for later this week and into next week which I’m sure will really kick those crops along,” he said.
“A lot of those crops are being irrigated now, in preparing for that hot weather.”
Mr Kay said this season’s large planted area also comprised more than 99 per cent Genetically Modified varieties.
He said this current crop was also the 20th year of commercial GM cotton production in Australia which was “an outstanding success story”.
“The industry has been able to reduce the amount of pesticide it uses by 90 per cent and we’ve earned a reputation for being the most sustainable and highest yielding cotton producers in the world,” he said.
“And that’s due to using GM technology on the back of good integrated pest management programs - it’s just an outstanding success story.”
Mr Kay said one of the benefits of this year’s crop was a new Bollgard III cotton variety that has given growers a bigger planting window.
He said the new variety had seen a third gene added “to the mix” which gives the plant additional benefits to help reduce pest resistance.
“For an insect to develop resistance it has to develop resistance to three genes and the chances of that are pretty low so this product will have a long life,” he said.
Mr Kay said cotton growers in central Queensland started plating on August 1 and some of those crops were getting ready for defoliation in the next couple of weeks.
He said at Emerald in Queensland, some people had been planting their crops up to and after Christmas, but most of the general crop was planted in late October and early November.
“Certainly it was a little delayed in southern NSW due to wet-cool conditions but at the end of the day, southern NSW did see a pretty big plant which was about 12,000ha in the Lachlan and about 45,000ha in the Murrumbidgee/Murray,” he said.
“Southern NSW has become a pretty major cotton production area.
“Harvest of the main crop will be in April and May.”