NSW cotton regroups after fitful start to season

Emma Alsop January 24, 2024

A thriving cotton crop relishing the summer sun at Breeza in northern NSW. Photo: Stephen Gibson

THE NEW South Wales cotton crop is thriving in 2024, overcoming setbacks from cold shock, insufficient rain, and storm damage that hindered early growth in the closing months of last year.

The southern and Macquarie valleys have also returned to a more average area after extensive rainfall and flooding cut plantings last season.

The Lachlan, Murrumbidgee and Murray valleys have seen the largest jump in area, with about 80,000 hectares planted, up from 50,000ha last season and a slight increase from the November estimate of 75,000ha.

Cotton Australia is predicting the 2023-24 crop could be as large as 4.5 million bales, with about two-thirds of this grown in NSW.

This is higher than initial forecasts which estimated the crop size to be below 4Mb, mostly due to a reduction in dryland plantings.

ABARES Australian Crop Report update released on December 5 estimated that NSW cotton area would drop 20pc to 273,000ha.

However, widespread rainfall across northern NSW may have led to a higher final planting area, as some growers undertook late plantings up until the end of December.

Southern valleys recover

Growers in southern valleys had a horror start to the season with cold shock resulting in widespread replanting.

Sefton Agronomics’ Ella Arnold said the cold start in October and November meant crops were slow to emerge.

She said growers also had to manage thrip infestations that further impacted crop growth.

She said damage caused by the pests, which attack young cotton plants, was exacerbated by the cool temperatures.

“Once we got through the thrips being bad and the warm temperatures kicked in, the crops picked up and returned back to normal which was pretty lucky,” Ms Arnold said.

“It is beautiful weather now, humid and quite sub-tropical, which are good growing conditions for a summer crop.

“A couple of crops were flowering before New Year, which was a good sign of the season ahead.”

Ms Arnold said fruit retention “has been really high”, adding to the confidence of growers.

“From where we were back in October and November, it has come a long way.”

Rain benefits North

Limited early rainfall in northern NSW resulted in minimal planting of early dryland cotton in October and the first half of November.

Cotton Grower Services Moree-based agronomist Mal Pritchard said “strong rain forecasts” prompted growers to plant from mid-November on.

“It delivered well and there are some very decent plant stands that have arisen from that which probably are approaching first flower,” Mr Pritchard said.

He said most irrigated crops were planted a month earlier.

“Irrigated crops went in in October, and the ones on black soil are going extremely well, and on red soil there was a bit of earlier cut out.

“In general, there are a lot of good-looking cotton crops with good potential.

“There has been low insect pressure and, up until New Year at least, there was very high fruit retention on the cotton bush.”

While crops were progressing well, Mr Pritchard said it would be months before picking commenced.

“There’s a while to go, and a combination of rain and temperatures in the later part of the season will still have quite a considerable bearing on how it performs.”

All irrigated at Macquarie

The lack of rainfall during the planting window resulted in no opportunistic dryland plantings in the Macquarie Valley.

Growers planted approximately 39,000ha of cotton in the region.

Cotton Australia Macquarie Valley regional manager Craig Chandler said all of the crop will be irrigated.

He said in some seasons, there could be about 1000ha of dryland.

“There is nothing this year because it was so dry early in the piece,” Mr Chandler said.

He said crops were progressing well despite in temperatures about 35 degrees Celsius.

“There is nice hot weather and cooler nights with a bit of rain, which has taken the pressure off  waterings.

“We also have minimal insect damage, so everything is growing well.”

Northern NSW cotton growers typically commence picking in April, while the southern valleys will ideally begin in late May.


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