First cotton crop yields a success in NSW dry-cropping region

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Farmers in a traditional dry winter-cropping region in the NSW central west are harvesting cotton for the first time.

A cotton picker reaps the first cotton crop in Forbes in the later afternoon
PHOTO: Farmers’ fight against the clock to harvest the first cotton crop in the eastern Lachlan Valley before forecast rain.

It’s the first time the fibre has been sown to the east in the Lachlan Valley, an area traditionally considered too cold to risk an investment-heavy and sun-hungry crop like cotton.

But farmer and agronomist Matthew Shephard, one of a trio to test the fibre, said the first harvest was yielding more than they hoped.

“It’s a good 20 per cent above expectations,” he said.

“We’re probably growing a slightly lower yield for the potential of the variety in this cooler climate but it’s still at a profitable level.

“Our budgeted yield was 10.5 bales per hectare and it looks like we’ll surpass that quite comfortably.”

High yielding varieties have made it possible to grow cotton in the area, which has a short growing window.

But the three farmers still waited for a cotton price high enough to balance the risk of losing their combined 250 hectares to cold weather.

“I think the perception in the past was that with a high value crop like cotton, $4000 dollars a hectare was a lot of money and a lot of risk to be going into a summer crop that you may lose if you don’t get it picked before the winter sets in,” Mr Shephard said.

Unseasonably warm weather has contributed to the crops’ success this year.

And if the warming trend continues there could be a bright future for Forbes cotton growers.

“If the season that we’ve just had becomes a traditional average summer that would be an opportunity I guess for a crop like cotton in this valley,” Mr Shephard said.

Despite the challenges and potential risk, he said he was optimistic about the crop’s future.

Mr Shephard said the high cost of irrigation infrastructure and minimal water allocations made a high value crop like cotton attractive to farmers.

“I can only speak for myself but I’ll be doubling my area next year and hopefully building on that going forward in the future.”

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