THE NORTHERN Territory cotton industry has reached a milestone with the opening of the Katherine cotton gin late last year set to bring new opportunities to the region.
The facility will enable NT and Western Australian-grown cotton to be processed and exported to international markets via Darwin Port without needing to truck the raw product to east coast gins, as has been the case until now.
A consortium of growers, WANT Cotton, led construction of the gin, which is located at Tarwoo Station, 35km north of Katherine, and cost around $70 million to build.
In a statement, international ginner Louis Dreyfus Company confirmed it is a construction partner in the gin, and will be involved in ongoing gin management.
The Katherine gin will be capable of processing 150,000-200,000 bales yearly, with previously harvested crops from NT and WA’s Ord Valley already on site ready to be ginned.
Over 150 people attended the opening ceremony, officiated by Tipperary Group chair Alan Myers.
WANT Cotton chairman and Tipperary general manager David Connolly, who spearheaded the introduction of cotton to the NT crop rotation alongside brother Bruce Connolly, said the facility benefits from the newest technology and efficiencies.
“It’s the most modern gin in Australia…and has the latest technology that we put in it,” David Connolly said.
He said the project was originally planned at a smaller scale, but interest from NT growers pushed the operators to think bigger.
“Halfway through the build, we decided to extend the capacity out to two 12-foot stands.
“It’s already got a large capacity at 50-60 bales per hour…but it is also built to be able to be extended.”
Mr Connolly said the project couldn’t have been a success without the support of growers.
“We thank the growers who are already supporting the gin, and those who will support it in the future.”
The new facility will now mean growers will not need to transport cotton modules more than 3000km to Dalby for ginning.
This will make growing the crop more economically viable for NT farmers, as well as giving them direct access to the cottonseed.
Cotton Australia chief executive officer Adam Kay said this will make the NT cotton industry more sustainable into the future.
“The gin is a great boost for the cotton industry in the Territory,” Mr Kay said.
“While overall the number of cotton growers in the NT is still growing, this means no longer do they need to transport their modules thousands of kilometres to gins in Queensland.
“It also assists WA cotton growers, who are awaiting the construction of their first gin at Kununurra.”
Mr Connolly said cottonseed has been introduced to the region’s cattle as a rich source of protein and dietary fibre.
He said now growers are also working to capitalise on the value of the lint as textile fibre.
“We started growing cotton for the seed for cattle; that was the motivation.
“We are still motivated by the seed to feed the cattle, and we are looking at the fibre as a by-product mainly, but both products are very important.”
He said the industry anticipates lint will start being exported out of Darwin Port in containers this year.
“We are 100pc sure that some of it will go out of Darwin Port.
“As we and Darwin Ports get better at handling it, an increasing percentage will go out the Port.”
It is anticipated that the northern Australian-grown cotton will head to traditional export countries, such as Vietnam and Indonesia.
Dry start to season
It is estimated that about 90 NT growers will or have planted a crop this season, with a predicted total area of 12,000ha.
NT Cotton Growers Association president Bruce Connolly said the 2024 crop had a difficult start with a drier-than-expected start to summer.
Almost all of the NT crop is rainfed and grown in line with the region’s wet season.
“Most of the crop is in in the Northern Territory,” Mr Connolly said.
“We have had some pretty hard conditions over the Christmas and New Year period, with dry and extraordinarily hot weather in what would normally be just hot and wet.
“It’s been challenging once again with another different style of wet season to get the crop out of the ground.”
He said there had been some early plant losses, but the crop size should be in a “similar range to last year”.
Following the dry end to 2023, Mr Connolly said “the last three days that has changed into a particularly wet period”.
“We’re looking at upwards of 100mm over the next four or five days.”
The Bureau of Meteorology has confirmed that this is likely the onset of the monsoon trough which will bring potentially heavy rainfall and the possibility of cyclones forming.
“If we can get these cyclones out of the way in the next 15-20 days, we will be in a pretty good spot because we won’t have a lot of cotton flowering.
“It won’t affect the crop that much unless it remains cloudy then it will suppress the growth.”
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