The cotton industry started in Australia in 1788 with the arrival of the First Fleet and the first cotton seeds but it wasn’t until 1830 when we exported our first shipment consisting of three bags to England. For the next 130 the industry grew and shrunk on such a small scale it was almost non-existent, then in the 1960’s the industry started to take of with the completion of Keepit Dam soon other dams were built and the industry has been growing ever since.
The 2011/12 season produced a record crop of over five million bales worth three billion dollars up from the 2010/11 season of 4.1 million bales, that yield is two and a half times the global average and is grown on the 1500 cotton farms in Australia that provide jobs to over 8000 people (that’s just in northern NSW and Southern Queensland). Australia is fourth largest exporter of cotton in the world with over 94% of our crop being exported, 75% is sold to china with the rest being split between our other main buyers Indonesia, Thailand, Bangladesh, Korea and Japan.
All farmers know that looking after the environment is key to running a successful business and cotton farmers are no different they know that if you look after the environment it’ll look after you. Industry surveys have shown that cotton farmers have at least 40% of their land solely dedicated to native vegetation, particularly along riparian zones and between crops to be used as wind breaks minimising soil erosion. These areas of native vegetation provide a home for birds, bats, wasps and other animals that act as a natural form of pest control that befits the grower.
Just like with any other living thing water is a critical resource that must be manager carefully and used efficiently, but as always the health of the environment comes first. Pumping water from rivers and bores is heavily regulated, each irrigator has a water licence with an allocation but they will only be able to receive a percentage of it depending on the level in dam, no one will receive any water if their isn’t enough to meet a set environmental quota. Water isn’t free, it’s a resource that is paid for just like anything else making it bad business sense to waste it, so growers invest heavily in setting up their property to make it as water efficient as it can be. Water efficiency has increased by 3-4% a year since 2003 and has helped reduce the water use to about 5.2 mega litres to the hectare compared to other crops such as rice which uses 10.1 Ml/ha or cereal crops such as wheat that use 4.0 Ml/ha. Water efficiency will continue to improve into the future as moisture measuring, and alternative irrigating systems such as overhead and drip irrigation improve.
Biotechnology has had a major impact on the cotton industry helping to reduce pesticide use by over 80% over the last decade as well as significantly reducing the number and variety of weeds found on the farm. GM cotton works by adding genes that occur naturally in the soil to the cotton plant making it more tolerant against the Helicoverpa caterpillar (Bollgard II ®) and resistant to the herbicide Glyphosate (Roundup Ready Flex®). Following the introduction of GM cotton cultivation was reduced, soil health improved and there was an increase in beneficial insects, but most importantly their use has had no adverse impact on people or the environment since their introduction to Australia over 15 years ago.
To find out more about the cotton industry visit Cotton Australia