THE ORD cotton growing season has gotten off to a mixed start with heavy falls delaying some plantings.
However, the growers in north-west Western Australian are confident the young crops will survive to be picked mid-year.
This positive sentiment comes as the industry creeps closer to bringing cotton-processing infrastructure to the region, with Australian Classing Services in discussions to build a facility at Kununurra and the proposed gin receiving planning approvals.
The Ord is typically the last region in Australia to finish cotton planting, with the fully irrigated crop not reliant on seasonal rainfall, as it is in the neighbouring Northern Territory.
Cotton Seed Distributors extension and development manager – Queensland, NT and WA, Sam Lee said wet paddocks stopped some growers from planting a crop earlier than February.
“Some were planting in that first week of February,” Mr Lee said.
“Some were holding off to wait to see what the weather was going to do, because there was some more rain forecast.”
Mr Lee said most of the February-planted cotton should survive to picking, unless it was submerged in water for an extended period of time.
“If the cotton is advanced enough, that it is up and out of the ground, and four-six nodes it might be okay.”
Cotton Grower Services Darwin-based agronomist Peter Cottle said about 60pc of the Ord crop had been planted by early March.
“Generally speaking, the Ord is off to a reasonable start,” Mr Cottle said.
“The stuff that I have seen…is going well.
“It had needed some rain and got it.”
Ord mixed farmer Fritz Bolten said he was able to plant his crop in early February.
“It was really good timing and had some nice follow-up rain,” Mr Bolton said.
“Everybody has had a pretty good germination.”
He said farmers in the Ord were used to such heavy rainfall and were usually well prepared to work around the weather conditions.
“What we find is, in our environment, if we can get it planted and established then we’re definitely going to be harvesting.”
Minor logistics pain
Mr Bolton said having major freight routes cut due to flooding in November and January caused only minor headaches for growers.
He said “all the inputs were already in town” with supplier Ord River District Cooperative Ltd (ORDCO) prepared well in advance of the planting season.
“ORDCO did a fantastic job being organised, but it certainly changed some of our other capabilities.
“We can’t get inputs from down south; it has to come from over east.”
Input costs trending down
Rather than causing anxiety, Mr Bolton said the slow reduction in input costs has contributed to a positive mindset among growers.
“This year’s sentiment is a lot better than last year’s, simply because we have been able to get input costs down and so things are starting to add up again, whereas last year our input costs were spiralling out of control; it was a very expensive year.
“We had supply contracts to fulfil, and we couldn’t get out of that.”
Classing facility in pipeline
Adding to the encouraging outlook of a sustainable, long-term future for cotton in the Ord is the prospect of a classing facility being built to complement the proposed gin.
Namoi Cotton lead account manager Nathan Hunter and Australian Classing Services manager James Woodrow recently travelled to the Ord and discussed the potential project with local growers.
Mr Woodrow said it was hoped a facility will be opened in line with the Kununurra gin.
“Our number-one goal is to try and have classing up at Kununurra for that 2025 season,” Mr Woodrow said.
“The growers want the classing reports as soon as possible; that’s one of the key factors for us going up there.”
He said the project was still in the early stages and the company has not settled on a final site.
ACS is a wholly-owned subsidiary of ASX-listed Namoi Cotton Limited.
It is expected that the ACS classing facility would run in tandem with the proposed gin, which is to be built and operated by Namoi Cotton.
Gin receives more approvals
The Kununurra cotton gin towards commencing construction, with the WA Development Assessment Panel approving the project’s planning application on January 20.
The application was passed with some amendments, including specifying that proponent Kimberley Cotton Company needed to obtain works approval under the Environmental Protection Act and consent as part of the Aboriginal Heritage Act.
The project is expected to be completed in time for the commencement of the picking season in mid-2025 with exports of Ord cotton commencing thereafter.
The Kimberley Cotton Gin project is supported by key shareholders Kimberley Agricultural Investment Pty Ltd, Prime Grain Pty Ltd and Namoi Cotton, as well as ORDCO, MG Corporation and local family growers in the Ord Valley region.
The Ord’s annual cotton growing area is currently estimated at 2000-2500ha.
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