Cotton glory days after phenomenal harvest - and $590 a bale

Peter Miller, "Morcott", Moree, with CSD agronomist Alice Devlin.
Peter Miller, "Morcott", Moree, with CSD agronomist Alice Devlin.

The Macquarie Valley is brimming with smiles, up on the Gwydir they are polishing off a clean harvest and in various cotton industry headquarters they are celebrating the likely sale of the whole Australian harvest.

While many other rural pursuits struggle with the drought, cotton is bathing in a glow, especially with prices tipping close to $600 a bale. The Macquarie Valley has seen a “phenomenal” harvest with many crops going 13.5 to 16 bales a hectare. Some crops in the area and some rare crops in the Gwydir Valley have gone 15 bales.

Moreover, irrigated cotton farmers are reporting a good clean, dry harvest, with little leaf matter, and high quality. Yields for irrigators have been average or above average, while dryland growers have largely seen below average crops.

A large and high-quality Australian cotton harvest is underway with strong overseas demand lifting prices.

Cotton Australia chief executive Adam Kay says in many areas in northern valleys the harvest has been “phenomenal” for irrigated cotton.

This year’s national harvest is expected to bring in about  4.6 million bales, with one million tonnes of lint. Prices at the moment are hovering at $590 a bale. About 70 per cent of the harvest is completed.

This has been accompanied by strong demand for cotton from China, Vietnam, India, Bangladesh, Thailand, and with some new interest from Turkey. “There are more brands wanting Australian cotton,’’ Mr Kay said.

Cotton crops in parts of the Macquarie Valley had been “sensational” and generally quality had been “excellent” with the dry pick.

Macquarie Valley cotton grower Tom Quigley said the area was finalising what had been an excellent harvest. “Yields have been very good, with many averaging between 14 and 16 bales to the hectare,” he said.

The harvest is almost completed in the Moree area after perfect picking conditions. Photos by Rachael Webb.

The harvest is almost completed in the Moree area after perfect picking conditions. Photos by Rachael Webb.

“I think everyone throughout the Macquarie Valley is pleased, and the good pricing on offer is an added bonus, it is very nice when you get that rare combination of good yields and good prices.”

He said the cash price was good and with strong yields there was excess cotton to market at the higher value. “It is a good offer for unpriced cotton, I think on average people will have pre-committed around 10 bales a hectare and will be looking to sell the production above this figure.” A hot, but not scalding finish, had helped.

Next year, he said farmers with carryover water would look to plant cotton, but he said continued dry conditions mean irrigation allocations would likely be down.

Farm manager, Peter Miller, Ridgewood Farming, "Morcott", Moree, says the 1350ha of irrigated cotton on the Gwydir property west of Moree has come off cleanly. Two pickers finished harvesting on the weekend with perfect dry weather harvesting conditions.

He expects the crop to go 10 to 13.5 bales a hectare. He grew non bollgard 711 RRF variety cotton, which was planted in early October with picking starting the day after Easter. 

“This year has been a really good year for picking. Quality is going to be quite good too. There hasn’t been much green leaf as opposed to previous years, last year being the worst.” He is involved in an ambassador role with Cotton Seed Distributors (CSD) where he meets other farmers in the area to discuss growing and management.

“We talk about everything from nitrogen levels, insecticides and the amount of irrigation. We have also talked about ground prepping, there are so many variations depending on weather conditions. If the soil has finer particles you get better seed head, because it’s not as rough.”

Cotton farmers are helping each other out through CSD's ambassador program to improve yields and techniques.

Cotton farmers are helping each other out through CSD's ambassador program to improve yields and techniques.

He says Australian cotton is in high demand because of its quality and suitability for blending.

CSD extension and development agronomist, Alice Devlin, said the ambassador network across most cotton growing areas was providing an invaluable amount of information.

“We have been doing this for four years and we have about 100 dryland and irrigator cotton farmers involved. It is allowing us to set benchmarks at certain times of the growing season and to help them improve yields.”

- with Gregor Heard