AN ORD River farmer has travelled the world to unlock lessons to help his community grow cotton and seize the potential of the new Kununurra cotton gin.
Fritz Bolten of Oasis Farms in Western Australia visited “inspirational” farms and other businesses in seven countries as part of a Nuffield Scholarship supported by ANZ Bank and Cotton Australia.
Mr Bolten said many growers in Ord River Irrigation Area are excited by the “cotton-corn-cattle” cropping and integrated farming system.
This system is possible thanks to the development of the Bollgard3 cotton variety that can withstand northern insect pressures.
Collaborative research efforts showed this new system was not only possible but could also be profitable.
Mr Bolten said he was driven to explore how to support farm systems change, in his own business and the community.
“To optimise cotton in this region, the collaborative research showed that it should be planted in mid-February, which is the wettest month with an average 200-250mm of rain,” Mr Bolten said.
“In the past, we have always planted crops in late April or early May after the monsoon wet season has finished.
“The change in practices and shift in paradigm around planting operations is paramount.
“It has also opened up new opportunities to grow other different crops during this wet time period.”
His research and travels to Singapore, The Netherlands, Canada, the US, Germany, New Zealand and within Australia enabled him to “look at solutions from left field”.
“We’ve certainly found some potential mechanical and biological solutions, but the main solution I discovered was the importance of collaboration.
“Only by working together can we make use of the dry periods we’ve got, to get the work done in a very timely matter and I saw great examples of how that can work through my travels.”
Mr Bolten said visiting an Amish farm in Canada was a light-bulb moment for him, because he was not t looking for a complicated, technological solution and instead realised that changing farm systems takes time and collaboration.
“Enjoy the results, just don’t expect them quickly.
“A good foundation is built on collaboration and will last many generations to come.”
Farming systems change
Mr Bolten said he was excited his report was published and ready to share to other northern cotton growers, including members of the Northern Australian Crop Research Alliance and the Ord District Cooperative.
“To put the importance of this farming systems change into context, the current cotton gin development in the region, which is owned by the local farming community, will add $90 million in revenue from lint.
It will also add over $100M in other agricultural revenue annually due to value add from cotton seed fed to cattle during the protein drought in the dry season.”
The Nuffield Scholarship not only illuminated a path forward for the farming systems change for Mr Bolten, but also saw him grow personally, in ways he did not expect.
“Nuffield is a big commitment, including many weeks away, and that meant we had to restructure the business and I had to delegate responsibilities to our staff who have really stepped up.
“It has also made me part of a network of people throughout the agricultural industry globally that will continue to share with me and inspire me.
“And that has taken me to a whole new level of thinking, innovation and leadership compared to where I would have been had I just stayed in my community, despite it being a really inspirational, forward-thinking community here.”
Mr Bolten recommends producers consider doing a Nuffield Scholarship for the immense benefits it brings to the individual, business, industry and community.
He said lots of producers might be too humble but encouraged them to back themselves and be open to the learning and development opportunity of a Nuffield Scholarship.
“It is a big commitment and like many things, the more you give to the Nuffield Scholarship, the more you get back.”
Applications for 2025 scholarships will open in March 2024.
Source: Nuffield Australia