COTTON - I’m wearing it, and I’m fairly sure you are too right now in some form. Like food, it’s something of a constant and has been around all my life and probably taken for granted I suppose.
You often hear about people in agriculture hell-bent on ensuring consumers know where their food and fibre comes from. When it comes to cotton, they could have started with me, because I honestly had no idea about it despite having grown up in the agriculture sector.
I knew it grew on some kind of plant, and we’d be somehow well past the pictures in my head of slaves walking the rows with hessian sacks in “the deep south”, but that was it. I was especially ignorant to the scale and performance of the industry in Australia. I will say, seeing cloth grow on a plant was strange reality to be faced with at first.
For two weeks I worked on the tail end of a cotton harvest for Nigel Corish just out of Goondiwindi in southern Queensland. You wouldn’t believe it, but I was lost for words seeing the technology, research and development, measurement and culture of the cotton industry. Growers, industry representative bodies, processors (cotton gins), Monsanto and on many places now, John Deere have all come together and produced a system that works and keeps everyone happy, in most cases.
Sam and Oxley during cotton harvest on the farm of Nigel Corish and family, near Goondiwindi in southern Queensland.
I have to thank Nigel, his family and farm plus Namoi Cotton for welcoming me with open arms and showing me around every level of the process, from the soil, through to the lint bales being loaded for export.
Australia grows some of the best cotton in the world, and with world leading measurement, management and research, the domestic industry is seeing yields and productivity gains that would make most other farmers wince. This has also enabled them to double their water-use efficiency in the last 10 years.
Sam - Get Muddy On Tour - Cotton Farming from Mick Russell @mickrussell_ on Vimeo.
Like my last few reports from my Get Muddy on Tour, the video says it all, but here’s a few points to chew on.
Well over 90 per cent of cotton in Australia is genetically modified (GM), so there are some fascinating facts, figures and future for the industry. Since the introduction of GM cotton, farmers have cut spraying down dramatically, from upwards of 18 passes a season to now just a few.
Monsanto has taken prime position in the seed stock side of things, which from my impression, renders a good deal for the grower if all the criteria are met, but the industry is tunnelled into only a few high yielding varieties. Competition, as always, from the likes of Bayer, or Dow AgroSciences would be welcomed.
The technology in the John Deere harvester will soon enable people to almost locate what part of which paddock the cotton in their T-shirt came from - why you would want to know this is beyond me, but it’s cool to know anyway.
The picker will map detailed yields in paddocks, show patterns and track all yields and bales electronically. It places bar-coded stickers on top of the yellow round bales which are then scanned in to the gin as the truck arrives to track a grower’s inventory. The bar-codes in some cases can be sent to the gin from the header via WiFi so the gin knows what the paddocks yielding and what’s on the way before the farmer does.
Cotton is a weed of sorts, so after the harvest it takes some killing to prepare for next year’s crop. The plant itself it obliterated with a special kind of mulcher and then as you’ll see on the end of the video, the roots are cut beneath the surface with another machine.
Some tillage is also required to open up the soil to kill pupae, laid by insects that will destroy next year’s crop if left untreated. This is an example of one of the requirements by Monsanto if you’re to use their seed. Another is a green-manure crop which you’ll see on the video. Pigeon Peas must be planted at a ratio of 5pc to the cotton as a refuge crop for a destructive bug to hammer instead of the cotton crop.
The experience was a valuable insight into a dynamic domestic industry, and gave me a whole new appreciation for all the cotton in my wardrobe.