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Reviewing the 2014/15 dryland cotton season

Over the past five years the interest in dryland cotton has been building as farmers have a chance to see the economical and agronomic benefits of having dryland cotton as part of their rotational mix.

Strong results in dry conditions

Who would have thought that for three years in a row North West New South Wales and Southern Queensland would have little to no spring rainfall, making it difficult for farmers to plant any summer crop let alone dryland cotton. Those lucky enough to receive some storm rain were able to establish a stand and it has rewarded them with above average yields.

Dryland cotton this season showed its hardiness – surviving through the heat and dry of November and December, where other crops like sorghum and mungbeans planted at the same time withered and died away.

 

Above average yields

General rainfall over the Christmas and New Year period allowed the plant to kick off and from then on it never looked back. Consistent rainfall, especially in the eastern portion of cotton growing valleys, and excellent temperatures allowed fruit to be set and retained which has led to above average yields across all districts.

 

Boost from strong cotton price

The jump in the cotton price early in the year added to the optimism leading up to the picking of this season’s crop. At planting time the average price growers would receive was struggling to make $400/bale. Fast forward to picking and growers were able to confidently lock in prices above $500/bale. The combination of above average yields and excellent prices has made cotton a very profitable crop this past season.

 

Hands on experience for new growers

Of interest to many within the cotton industry, the dryland cotton demonstration plots in the eastern portions of the Namoi valley at Willow Tree and the MacIntyre Valley at Wallangra Station, have performed very well.

 

Initially there was some apprehension about whether there would be enough heat accumulated to establish the crop in time to mature, and if it was possible to defoliate before the first frost. Those fears were dispelled by the actual results. For the past three seasons the yield of both demonstration sites has been strong with yields well in excess of expectations.

 

Strong demand – even past the end of November

When the rain did fall later in the summer some growers were able to take advantage of the late Bollgard II planting window permit. A small amount of conventional cotton even went in after the extended planting window had closed.

 

These later crops jumped out of the ground and have really benefited from the excellent climatic conditions. It will be a juggling act for growers and consultants to mature fruit and pick before we move too far into the winter months.