The innovative and efficient Australian Cotton Industry
Based upon the ITMF International Textile Manufacturers Association Spinners Committee Visit in April/May 2012 to Australia, we present the most important findings
The ITMF experts were visiting the cotton growing area of New South Wales in Australia and stated upon completion of the visit that “they were impressed by the overall research and development efforts conducted along the entire Australian cotton value chain”. In addition they noted that “genetically Modified-cotton (GM-cotton) has enabled Australian cotton growers to become more productive and efficient and by constantly increasing yields per hectare since the introduction of GM-cotton in 1996”. Also they observed considerable investments in new harvesting technologies such as round module pickers assisting to reduce labour costs significantly. The Committee attests that the Australian cotton industry is applying BMP Best Management Practises for cotton and this could serve as an example for other cotton producers that do not yet follow such practises.
A more detailed look at the Australian Cotton Industry
In 1998 the cotton area planted was stable to around 450000 ha producing annually close to three million bales or 681000 t of raw cotton. 70 % of the cotton was grown in New South Wales and 30 % in Queensland. 80% of the cotton planted cotton area was irrigated.
Today, in the season 2010-11, the planted cotton area reached 600000 acres and the harvest reached around four million bales or 908000 t. About 55 % was produced in North South Wales and around 45 % in Queensland. Also some large scale planting trials took recently place in Kununurra in North Western Australia. 65 % of the planted cotton area was irrigated and some 35 % was planted on dry land. In the actual season about 12000 hectares of dry land are under cotton or about 20 % of the total planted cotton area. Cotton production in Australia expanded steadily. In 1989/90 1.3 million bales were produced until 2000-01 when cotton production reached 3.4 million bales. In the following season 2001-02 and 2002-03 the harvest was amounting only to 1.6 million bales as a result of a drought but then picked up again in the following seasons with an output of 2.6 to 2.9 million bales. Again 2006 and 2010 were marked by severe drought, and thus cotton production fell to low 60000 bales in 2007/08 whereas thanks to sufficient available water resources it surged from 1.6 million bales in 2009-10 to four million bales in 2010-11 resulting in an increase of 150 %.
The increase of cotton production was in line with the expansion of the planting area. In 1989-90 around 375000 ha were planted under cotton, increasing to 511000 in 2000-01 but then fell to 68500 ha in 2007-08 to soar to 600000 in 2010-11 and in the actual season to around 560000 ha, however some 500000 bales might be lost as a result of the floods in the first few months of 2012.
There were also higher yields, in 1989-90 the average yield per hectare reached about 1500 kg to a record in 2008-09 of 2100 kg and last season 2010-11 the average yield was around 2050 kg.
The average cotton farm size was 2009-10 around 250 ha but jumped to about 700 ha in 2010-11 and to 833 ha in 2011-2. There are 1753 cotton farms in Australia and thereof 1355 have a size of less than 400 ha and about half of all farms range between 50 ha to 200 ha.
Due to relevant amount of rains the share of irrigated and dry land cotton varies in 1989-90 the share of dry land cotton was about 50 % and dropped to 2 % in 2002-03 because of a long drought period. In the past and actual season dry land cotton’s share amounted to 35 %, respectively 20%.
The picking season lasts around six months and the cotton planting period is between September and November. The cotton seeds are planted as soon as the soil is warm enough, meaning a soil temperature of 14 °C at a depth of 20 cm for at least three days. Pests control measures are also applied, a part from GM-cotton varieties the farmers make use of natural and soft chemical options by IPM Integrated Pest Management such as beneficial types of insects and predator pest in cotton fields in order to contain harmful pest. Australia’s cotton is sold to 70% to China and further 30 % go to other Far Eastern markets.