Benchmarking Rural Industries' Practices and Productivity Performance and Review of Industries' Capacity to Change
This project describes the main regional environmental challenges facing the Australian cotton industry and outlines the industry's response to these challenges in terms of changing land management practice. This project provides analysis on a national and industry regional scale and is not intended to have property level uses.
Regional adoption rates of practices are documented and future directions for the industry are proposed. Two the major environmental challenges for the cotton industry relate to the combined effects of salinity and declining water quality within the inland river systems of Australia. The effects of these issues have placed increased pressure on farming systems adopted in the cotton industry. The cumulative effects of intensifying land use within these landscapes is demonstrating itself by declining water qualities, declining water flows, increasing incidence of sedimentation from soil erosion, increasing levels of pesticides and fertilisers and vegetation/habitat loss.
KEY FACTS ABOUT THE COTTON INDUSTRY
- Single commodity with localised growing regions, specific mainly to inland river systems of southern Queensland and New South Wales
- Located close to environmentally sensitive inland floodplain ecosystems
- Well structured and experienced organisational support structure
- Substantial research and development budget
- Good science required to objectively address environmental issues
- Challenged by several national environmental issues
In 1998, the Australian cotton industry occupied an area of 535,400 hectares. These production areas are generally restricted to inland southern/central Queensland and New South Wales. Research is being conducted in Western Australia's Kununurra and Broome areas to assess the viability of expanding the cotton industry.
The industry is supported by the infrastructure of processing gins in these areas.
Australian cotton is currently grown in:
- Northern Region (Emerald and Dawson-Callide districts)
- Central Border Region (Macintyre Valley, Darling Downs, St George-Dirranbandi, Namoi Valley and Gwydir Valley districts)
- Southern Inland Region (Macquarie Valley, Bourke and Southern NSW districts).
These production areas are represented on the following map.
The proportion of Australia's cotton area within each of these regions and districts is:
|Region||Area(ha)||% of Australian cotton area|
Cotton production is localised, and the product is predominantly grown in inland regions of Australia from central inland Queensland to southern New South Wales. Cotton is grown predominantly in areas of variable rainfall, high temperatures and high evaporation. The crop is a not tolerant crop to the vagaries of the weather of inland Australia, and many production areas have irrigation sources to supplement rainfall.
Cotton is grown mainly on fertile deep alluvial dark clay soils, with limited areas grown on moderately deep duplex soils. The landscape supporting the cotton industry is consistently flat, with major production areas restricted generally to flatter alluvial areas.
Historically, the cotton industry has competed for the productive soil and water resources with other rural industries such as grains and horticulture. In addition, river ecosystem requirements are also competing for water allocation to maintain river function.
In 1998, the Australian cotton industry production statistics were:
- 535,400 ha total cotton area
- approximately 76% of which was irrigated
- water use of 1,941 ML for irrigation
- gross value of production of $1,360m
- average return of $0.7m/ML of irrigation water.
The distribution of dryland and irrigated cotton production within the cotton growing regions is illustrated in the table below.
|Area (ha)||Yield (bales/ha)||Production (bales)||Area< (ha)||Yield (bales/ha)||Production (bales)|
In 1998/99, Australia produced 3.2 million bales or 731,000 t of cotton to a total value of approximately $1,360 million. 19% of the cotton produced was retained for the domestic market and the remainder exported as shown in the pie chart below.
The table below shows the regional distribution of cotton production. 79% of Australia's cotton area lies within the Central border region, which produces about 77% of the nation's cotton.
The graphs below illustrate the regional changes in production and area of the cotton industry over the last ten years. From these graphs it can be seen that the highest production occurs in the Central Region, with large increases in both production and crop area noted since 1994/95. The downturn in production during this period was the result of unseasonally dry conditions and resultant reduced water allocations. A downturn in production area from 1998/99 to 1999/00 can also be seen in this region, with a levelling effect on production.
The Northern Region follows the trends noted in the Central Region, but at a lower scale. The Southern Region shows production and crop area are slowly on the increase since the drop in the 1994/95 period.
In 1998, the Australian cotton industry employed in nearly of 5,900 people across over 1,110 properties, averaging 5.3 employees per property or about 65 hectares per employee.
Key characteristics of Australian cotton producers and farms include the following industry and State averages.
|Region Key characteristic||Industry average||Queensland||New South Wales|
|Median age of owner/ manager||39 years||39 years||39 years|
|Owner/manager completed university/tertiary or trade||34%||28%||39%|
|Owner manager working 40 hrs/wk or more on the farm||85%||86%||84%|
|Level of farm income ($)||132,618||58,104||193,276|
|Level of farm debt ($)|
|Level of off-farm income ($)|
The reasons for the low Queensland farm income levels are not clear, however possible factors that will influence income levels include:
- Higher levels of mixed farming resulting in cotton generating only part of the income from the property;
- Number of farms serviced with irrigation;
- Productivity levels;
- Smaller farm size;
- Seasonal conditions.
Each of these factors will influence returns, however they need to substantiated.
The cotton industry has recognised that environmental issues exist and community concerns need to be addressed. It has taken an ordered response to these and other environmental challenges that have been raised over the years. This considered approach commenced in 1991, when the Australian Cotton Foundation undertook an audit of the Australian cotton industry. This audit consisted of three stages incorporating:
- questionnaires to growers, industry bodies, government departments, other agricultural land users, environmental organisations, chemical industry and aerial operators (45% response rate)
- document reviews, field visits and interviews with 71 key individuals within and outside the industry.
- data review and preparation of conclusions and recommendations.
Key environmental issues identified from the audit at that time could be categorised into the following categories:
- Pesticide use
- Land use
- Water use
These categories are still considered key environmental challenges facing today's cotton industry. Extension officers for each district have identified the following environmental issues:
|Northern||Central Border||Southern Inland|
|Land use capability|
|Off-site pesticide impacts|
|Downstream water quality|
In addition, dryland and irrigated cotton producers have highlighted the following soil and land management issues from their 1996/97 Cotton CRC (2000) benchmarking survey.
On the basis of historic investigations, recent surveys and extension officer feedback, high priority research issues have been identified, and are presented in the figure below. This figure shows those aspects of cotton operations that growers and industry believe require further efforts. The percentage reflects only those respondents completing the survey (approximately 40%).
In 1991, the Cotton Audit identified the main categories requiring industry, grower and research responses related to pesticide use, land use and water use. A summary of the Audit's recommended responses to the identified environmental challenges is presented below.
- pesticide use - encourage better performance by and accreditation of aerial operators and growers, tighten control on pesticide use, use of appropriate protective equipment by chemical handlers and field workers, consider the issue of spray drift in design of new farms and new residential development, encourage maintenance of long term databases for potentially related illnesses, continue research into IPM techniques and pesticide resistance, continue observance of Pyrethroid Strategy, appropriate chemical storage and disposal
- land use - develop environmental policy or code of practice for land acquisition, encourage independent environmental assessments of large farm development proposals
- water use - recognise and allow for environmental flows to important wetlands, recycle tailwater, identify and recycle first flush of stormwater runoff, investigate fish kill incidents to identify causes, monitor ground water for pesticide or nitrate contamination.
After dissemination of these results to the industry, and in response, the cotton industry prepared a set of Best Management Practices (BMP). These practices were collated in a Manual. The CRDCs Australian Cotton Industry Best Management Practices Manual (Williams et al, 2000) (BMP Manual) was developed out of a joint research program between the CRDC, Land and Water Australia (formerly LWRRDC) and the Murray Darling Basin Commission.
The second edition of the BMP Manual incorporates a number of changes, including information on pesticide storage and handling, farm hygiene, human safety and dryland cotton production. The most recent version of this manual provides information to growers to help combat a number of current environmental challenges.
The BMP Manual outlines the principles, purpose and benefits of BMP and the need for 'due diligence'. It also outlines the steps undertaken as part of each grower's commitment to the BMP program and recommends that growers keep current copies of the Cotton CRCs publications entitled:
These publications inform growers on management techniques relating to pesticide application, insect control, land management, farm equipment and fertiliser application.
Aspects of cotton production covered by the BMP Manual include:
- application, storage and handling of pesticides
- integrated pest management
- farm design and management
- farm hygiene
- risk assessments.
Self-assessment work sheets are provided for each aspect covered in the BMP Manual and an external audit timetable is provided, including:
- initial compliance audit - undertaken after self assessment and preparation of action plans where required and valid for 14 months
- industry certification audit - undertaken at the end of the period covered by the initial compliance audit and valid for 18 months
- surveillance audit - undertaken every 18 months after industry certification.
The regional adoption of the BMP Manual and its audit requirements varies, and is shown in the table below.
|Audit stage||Northern Region||Central Border Region||Southern Inland Region|
|Number of Growers||112||1006||162|
|No Progress / Don't Know||46%||13%||19%|
|2nd BMP Manual||54%||79%||26%|
The industry is supported by a network of structures and organisations. These structures support the industry in areas such as marketing, infrastructure and research and development. Supportive bodies include peak bodies, government agencies, cotton marketing organisations and R & D institutions. A summary of this structure is presented below.
Research and development
The main research bodies in the cotton industry are the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), state agencies, the Cotton Research and Development Corporation (CRDC) and the Cotton Cooperative Research Centre (CCRC).
CSIRO research and development
The CSIRO is one of the world's largest and most diverse research organisations. The organisation has defined 22 sectors covering research in agribusiness, environment and natural resources, information technology, infrastructure and services, minerals and energy and manufacturing.
Research programs undertaken in 1999 / 2000 of relevance to the cotton industry include the following:
- Cotton Pest Management - finding ways of managing the main insect pests of cotton, which will lessen the Australian Cotton Industry's reliance on pesticides.
- Cotton Management and Production - to develop economically viable and ecologically sustainable systems of cotton production for Australia.
- Towards a Cleaner Environment - CSIRO Plant Industry has used several successful strategies to reduce the use of chemicals on cotton.
- Know You Poisons, Save Your Rivers - Developing understanding of the behaviours of pesticides and other farm chemicals in order to minimise environmental damage.
CRDC research and development
In 1998/99, CRDC project expenditure totalled more than $10.4 million. The chart below illustrates the proportion of this funding allocated to each of the corporation's research programs.
Three of the four key environment-related research programs make up the CRDC's corporate 'production' objective. The fourth program is aimed at delivering social and environmental benefits and forms part of the CRDC's 'community' objective.
The CRDC proposed the following performance targets for the year 2003 as a means of measuring the achievement of their 'production' objective:
- 40% reduction in the use of traditional pesticides
- 30% reduction in the use of residual herbicides
- 10% improvement in water use efficiency
- 50% reduction in farm-origin contaminants in the riverine system
- 100% of cotton growers trained and auditable in BMP
The achievement of these targets is monitored through the auditing process, marketing sales statistics and targeted research initiatives.
How are Australian cotton producers working with other agricultural industries to overcome environmental challenges?
The cotton industry is a relatively new industry that has undergone considerable growth throughout the 1990's. Production from regions grew over this time, but the major growth activity took place in the Central Border region.
The industry is located generally along inland river systems and substantial areas rely on river water for irrigation purposes. Other rural industries usually associated with cotton include grains, horticulture and cattle. Each of these industries share resources with cotton through use of available water, use of available land and managed protection of vegetation communities.
Some of the key industry environmental issues confronting the cotton industry that affect other industries include:
- health of the inland river system
- effectiveness of integrated pest management strategies for pest and disease control
- efficiencies of current irrigation practices
- chemical use and storage
- disturbance of floodplain dynamics and overland flows
These issues have both on site and off site effects, and the industry's Audit identified the magnitude of the issues and the industries BMP's propose responses to these issues. The industry also has an organisational structure that updates knowledge through research by the Cotton Research and Development Corporation and the Cooperative Research Centre for Sustainable Cotton Production.
In addition, the industry involves itself with other wider natural resource management processes including:
- water allocation management planning processes;
- vegetation management planning;and
- water quality management planning.
The industry participates in other planning initiatives including involvement with landcare groups, participation in the preparation of catchment management plans nd local authority planning.
The cotton industry is a young industry located in a sensitive inland Australian environment. It is a relatively highly geared industry in terms of impacts of fertilisers, pesticides and water. These production systems, combined with locational constraints, place responsibility onto the industry in terms of equitable resource use and stewardship.
In response, the industry has recognised through its industry audit process key environmental challenges, namely pesticide use, land use and water use. In order to meet these challenges, industry determined BMP's have been developed for each of these issue areas. Adoption of the BMP is progressing, but it is not comprehensive. The cotton industry is attempting to fill the gap by targeted research, targeted extension activity and targeted self regulation. These activities are being influenced by wider environmental considerations such as river health policy, water quality policy and biodiversity policy. The cotton industry, as is other rural industries, is a participant in these processes.
The industry faces environmental challenges and it has a process and organisational support in place to provide some information into the various debates.
Link to Map maker to make a map using this information.
Link to data available for download on "A spatially consistent sub-set of agricultural statistics (AgStats) data 1982/93 to 1996/97"
- Cotton Research and Development Corporation website
- Cotton Cooperative Research Centre website
- Australian Cotton Research Institute website
- Cotton Australia website
Some documents on this website are available as PDF files. Adobe Acrobat Reader is required to view PDF files.
Links to an another web site
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