Through the Chain: The Welcome Resurgence of Australian Cotton

The Australian cotton industry has been under tremendous pressure in the past few years. With eight years of drought and two seasons of floods it has suffered greatly, but the Australian cotton industry is set to have a resurgence with a forecasted production of 4.5 million to 5 million bales this year. Cotton Australia has been at the forefront of the industry for nearly 40 years and was a key party in helping with flood assistance including providing Australian farmers affected by the floods with financial packages so they could plant a crop.

Cotton Australia has also been heavily involved with the progress of the Australian government’s water reform policies. The initiative was developed to not only deal with Australia’s population increase, but also to help farmers who grow crops in one of the driest climates in the world.

Cotton International spoke with Cotton Australia CEO Adam Kay:

Q: Australia’s cotton industry has had some very difficult times in the past few years, but after the drought in 2002, the country produced record yields in 2005. Australia’s cotton industry appears to be experiencing a great resurgence recently, but what happened prior to that? Why was the industry enduring such hard times?
Kay: The Australian cotton industry has an internationally recognized capacity to recover from adversity, in large part due to the cooperation and support Australian cotton growers show for each other. From sharing the latest technological advances to helping out their mates after a flood, this collaborative approach continues to push the Australian cotton industry forward.
Despite the devastating impact that floods had on Australian cotton growers – for some, it was two years in a row – the Australian cotton industry is forecasting a harvest of about 4.5 million to 5 million bales this year, which will be a new Australian record.

Q: What are the primary reasons for the industry’s comeback in Australia? Have there been any structural changes or technological advancements that have driven the improved situation?
Kay: The introduction of biotechnology, bringing increased water use efficiency, and a massive reduction in chemical usage have been only part of the resurgence in the Australian cotton industry. The formalized information sharing process under Cotton Australia’s myBMP (Best Management Practices) has allowed our growers to quickly adopt and incorporate innovative farming practices, which will contribute to this year’s record harvest.

Q: What things about the Australian industry could the rest of the world learn from? The country has a very good reputation for environmental stewardship and producing high-quality cotton with minimal inputs. What trade secrets can other countries take away from Australia’s success?
Kay: They are called trade secrets for a reason! And it might not be the Australian cotton industry’s place to lecture other countries about how they should grow their cotton. However, we have found that by maintaining a solid commitment to research – with growers given real input into the types of research being undertaken – has produced some significant results. That research is ony half the story. It has been the Australian cotton industry’s capacity to extend the knowledge generated by research directly to our growers, who have been rapid adopters of new techniques and methods, that continues to drive Australian cotton forward.

Q: What do you foresee as the short-term outlook for cotton – both globally, and from Australia’s perspective? How will things be different five years from now, and what challenges/opportunities will present themselves between now and then?
Kay: Crystal-ball gazing is probably more of an art than a science when it comes to cotton growing in Australia, where we remain at the mercy of weather and the elements with each crop. Very few people were able to predict that the price for cotton would become as volatile as we have seen over the past 12 months, and that future volatility remains a challenge for cotton growers in Australia as much as it does for growers in other countries. Our productivity gains and yield improvements give us confidence that we will continue to maintain our world leader status for clean, sustainable cotton.

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