MANY cotton growers in New South Wales and Queensland have an extra spring in their step following recent rain events which are expected to boost the crop yield by at least 100,000 bales with potential for up to 500,000b.
This may boost the 2023-24 cotton crop to at least 4.1 million bales (Mb), down from 5.5Mb produced last season.
Farmers had been severely impacted by dry conditions for several months and had feared many more months of El Niño conditions, reducing the dryland crop substantially and placing extra demands on irrigators with limited allocation.
According to the Bureau of Meteorology, a rainband delivered widespread rain across much of the cotton-growing regions in early October.
The totals began to mount in early November, when some regions of NSW gained in excess of 100mm, with good rainfall figures reported every week since.
Cotton Australia general manager Michael Murray said the rain came just at the right time for some dryland cotton growers who otherwise may not have planted a crop.
“We have enjoyed two excellent years due to the rain, but growers have been concerned about the last few dry months in winter and spring when decisions were being made about the best crops to plant,” Mr Murray said.
“That has changed over the last few weeks and many of those who rely on rain have received precious millimetres just at the right time.”
He said while many dryland growers have made the decision to plant cotton over the past few weeks, those with water allocation have also benefitted, with many now able to save their water because the rain has done the job for them.
“With the dry conditions, we were looking at reducing the crop forecast for 2023-24 to below 4Mb but we now expect that we may be closer to 4.1Mb bales with the potential to exceed that.”
Two years ago, good rainfall assisted growers to produce a crop of around 5.6Mb, and around 5.5Mb was produced last year.
“We may be able to achieve 4.5Mb this season; however, much will depend on the ability of farmers to access their wet paddocks and plant over the coming weeks, and also how much more rain we get over the next few weeks and months.”
According to the BoM, during the week ending November 27, widespread showers and thunderstorms in northern and eastern regions brought weekly rainfall totals of more than 100mm to some parts of Queensland.
The highest weekly rainfall total was 178mm at Clermont in Central Qld.
While the rain has been welcomed in most of the growing regions, some missed out or received very little, and conditions overall remain challenging.
Above 10-year average
Based on data collected just before the rainfall events, ABARES December Crop Report has predicted the production of cotton lint in 2023-24 to fall by 26pc to 925,000 tonnes.
This outcome is comparable to Cotton Australia’s forecast, which anticipates an almost 25pc drop in production between the 2022-23 total of 5.5Mb and the current anticipated total for 2023-24 of 4.1Mb.
Area planted to cotton is expected to fall by 28pc to 413,000ha in 2023-24.
This reflects a fall in both dryland cotton plantings due to very low rainfall totals during the planting window, and irrigated cotton plantings due to decreased water availability in Qld.
Cotton production is likely to remain above the 10-year average, with the yields of irrigated cotton likely to be supported by high levels of water storages in the Murray-Darling Basin following three consecutive years of above average rainfall.
Aggregate cotton yield is also expected to rise in 2023–24 given the higher proportion of this year’s crop planted to irrigated cotton.
Qld to see biggest cuts
In Qld, cotton lint and seed production is forecast to fall by 44pc in 2023-24, driven by reduced planting areas in both dryland and irrigated cotton, according to ABARES.
Dry conditions in early spring limited dryland plantings but facilitated planting of irrigated crops with uninterrupted field access.
Lower irrigated planting is likely associated with a fall in irrigation water availability, with state-wide water volumes 23pc lower than in 2022-23.
However, recent rainfall events not captured by ABARES data could increase hectares in parts of southern Qld.
The final production outcome would also depend on follow-up rainfall and temperatures.
According to the latest three-month rainfall outlook (December 2023 to February 2024) issued by the Bureau of Meteorology on 23 November 2023, below-median rainfall is forecast for northern cropping regions.
The temperature outlook indicates that above median temperatures are likely to very likely (60pc to greater than 80pc chance) for most areas.
Irrigation drives NSW
ABARES December Crop Report is forecasting cotton lint production to fall by 16pc to 619,000t in NSW.
This total is well above the 10-year average.
Dry conditions during early spring allowed for the timely planting of irrigated cotton.
However, a lack of stored soil moisture and limited rainfall during September and October are expected to have resulted in a significant fall in dryland cotton plantings.
Additionally, cold shock events in October prompted some growers to replant cotton or switch to other irrigated summer crops.
An expected return to average seasonal conditions during summer will likely further benefit the growth and yield potential of irrigated cotton in the coming months.
Global production declines
The news comes as Cotton Outlook’s latest forecasts of global raw cotton production declined by more than 500,000t, reflecting falls in China, India, Turkey and Australia.
Mr Murray said in a positive development, the expected global cotton surplus has dropped from 787,000t last month to 188,000t.
“The combination of a drop in both overseas production and stock levels is positive for Australian cotton growers who last season produced one of the highest quality crops ever seen.
“Buyers of quality and sustainable cotton are looking to Australia, particularly in those areas where there is a geographic advantage for transport to the mill.”
Source: Cotton Australia, ABARES