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The 2012/13 dryland cotton season – from a grower’s perspective

After growing irrigated cotton for the past 15 years, it would be safe to assume that Andrew Gill and his family at ‘Waterloo’ Narromine, would know the ins and outs of a cotton boll. Yet they were still surprised at the resilience of the dryland cotton plant following last year’s dry season.

This week we spoke to Andrew about his 2012/13 season and asked him for any tips and hints he might have to offer dryland cotton growers.

“We have found that growing dryland cotton is quite different to growing irrigated – it’s a completely different crop,” Andrew said.

“In growing irrigated cotton you can control everything and you can plan and control whatever the plant does. Dryland can be harder because you can’t see into the future and see what will happen with the weather and different parts of the plant.

“But the agronomic benefits and the profitability of the crop can make it worthwhile to grow,” said Andrew.

Over the past two seasons, the Gills family farm has introduced approximately 300ha of dryland cotton into their rotation of wheat, canola, chickpeas, barley and irrigated cotton.

“Our first summer was unbelievable as we had heaps and heaps of rain and a massive crop.

“We were expecting a yield of two bales per ha and ended up with 4.5 bales per ha – to double our expectations was mind blowing and it was a very profitable year.

“We had lots and lots of plans about how we could do things differently from our first year to our second but because the second season was absolutely ridiculously bad we couldn’t follow through with any of those plans.

“The two seasons were polar opposites. Our second season was so hot and dry.

“We went from the highest yield we will ever see, to hopefully the lowest yield we will ever see.

“But we were still really surprised and impressed that the plant even lived through the season – we thought it would die but it didn’t and we still managed to break even on the crop.

“We really expected by the middle of January to drive to the paddock and see nothing, but the plant was still trying to grow and trying to flower and put fruit on.

“We discussed ploughing it in right up to Christmas time and then decided we would just wait and see what happened but it kept growing and growing.”

Andrew also mentioned that although a lot can be learnt over a beer with other growers, the Gills cotton success can also be attributed to help from their Agronomist, Matt Ward, and Bob Ford from CSD.