GINNING of Australia’s 2023-24 cotton crop is under way, with Queensland Cotton’s Moura facility being the first to start operation for the season.
With early picking now taking place in Central Queensland, Moura started ginning on March 20.
Most Queensland gins are expecting to ramp up several weeks behind previous seasons, with mild temperatures, cloud cover and rainfall impacting the growth rate of the crop.
Dawson Valley Cotton Growers’ Association president and Theodore farmer, Andrew French, said “bits and pieces” have been picked this season beginning from February.
However, he said due to the late start and ongoing wet weather, a considerable amount of crops would not be picked until after Anzac Day.
“We had a really hard start to the season with all the wet weather and it has really set a lot of the crops back,” Mr French said.
“This means there is a lot of crops that will start being harvested from May into June.”
Mr French said crops were generally recovering well from the poor start, but he expected yields to be slightly down on previous seasons.
“We have the heat and we have the water; we just need the patience to wait for it now.
“We are expecting an acceptable crop; I think it’s fair to expect we will see some big numbers in one-offs but on the whole, yields will probably be down this year.”
He said dryland cotton should excel in the Dawson Valley with “average to above-average” yields expected.
The dryland cotton area is believed to be up on previous years, with growers making use of above-average rainfall to expand their hectares.
Central Highlands delayed
CQ’s two other gins are located at Emerald, north of Moura, and neither have started up for the season.
LDC’s Emerald site would normally be ginning by now, but is not expected to start until after Easter, while the Queensland Cotton facility is on track for a late April or early May start.
Cotton Seed Distributors extension and development agronomist Stewart Brotherton said only a few growers in his region have begun picking cotton.
“Growers who have picked early cotton are really happy with what they have picked and the yields they are receiving,” Mr Brotherton said.
“Considering the cooler, wetter start to the summer we had in November and December, the crops have really done quite well over January-February to finish well.”
He said most Central Highlands cotton will be defoliated from next month.
“A little bit of defoliation has started now; the majority will start in the middle of April towards the end of April.
“There is going to be a little bit of a spread on picking and defoliating through the season.
“Most of that is to do with…the cotton itself being a little late in maturing compared to previous seasons.
“We are about three weeks behind in maturity compared to traditional seasons.”
Mr Brotherton said waterlogging events “during that peak part of the growing of the crop” held back cotton in parts of the Highlands.
“Temperatures over November and December have been very mild and then with all the rain…we have had waterlogging events.
“The crop has certainly been set back from the amount of rain we have had.”
Southern Qld to follow
South of the Dawson Valley, the Darling Downs and Macintyre Valley gins will most likely start after Easter.
LDC’s Dalby gin is predicted to start ginning anywhere from mid-April to early May, depending on the weather conditions.
Queensland Cotton’s Dalby gin will open in the first week of May, with the Cecil Plains facility set to begin ginning a week later.
Namoi Cotton’s Macintyre operations will commence ginning after Anzac Day, with cotton expected to start being delivered to the site from mid-April.
Above-average crop expected
The national cotton crop now being picked is estimated to be above average in volume, although predictions differ as to how close it will get to the 2022-23 season’s 5.6-million-bale total.
ABARES’ Australian Crop Report released earlier this month has forecast production at 5.3Mb, while Cotton Compass’s February figures has it locked in at 4.9Mb.
Despite the differences, it is clear Qld is driving the growth in production for 2022-23, with a jump in area planted of 18pc and production of 14pc compared to last season, according to ABARES.
New South Wales saw a 2pc rise in area planted, but a drop of 16pc for lint and seed production.
ABARES has attributed this production decline to a decrease in the higher-yielding irrigated crop plantings in southern NSW because of flooding and waterlogging at planting time, but has estimated an expanded dryland planting in northern NSW.
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