Dryland cotton has long been grown in the North West, but has only ever been considered as a crop that is suited for the western parts of the region.
Since 2014, agricultural company McGregor Gourlay has been working to expand dryland cotton into the eastern reaches of the area, which has traditionally been dominated by sorghum, corn, sunflowers and soybeans as summer crop options.
McGregor Gourlay senior agronomist Scott Rogers said the idea to expand dryland cotton east was inspired by success in the southern Liverpool Plains region, also not a traditional cotton growing area.
“We saw it was growing quite successfully [in the Willow Tree area] and there are fairly similar climate conditions down there as it is to the east,” he said.
In order to prove that eastern dryland cotton would be a highly profitable and sustainable cropping option, McGregor Gourlay began researching various aspects of cotton crop management and worked closely with Monsanto and Cotton Seed Distributors to ensure they had access to the latest in varieties and technology as they took cotton to the east.
They began working with a client near Wallangra who was willing to plant a small area of dryland cotton to see how it would perform.
“This initial 55 hectare trial crop exceeded everyone’s expectations achieving an average yield of 7 bales/ha which was an outstanding result,” Mr Rogers said.
The crop won the Macintyre Valley Cotton Award for best dryland crop and this success led to a larger commercial sized planting at Wallangra the next season which also performed really well. Summer 2016‐17 saw the crop push further east near Inverell where another of McGregor Gourlay’s clients planted cotton for the first time.
This crop also performed really well, taking out an award for best dryland crop in the 2017 Gwydir Valley Cotton Association Awards.
Two growers in the Delungra area have since planted dryland cotton for the first time this season.
Although there are challenges to growing dryland cotton in the east, particularly the shorter growing season due to the cooler temperatures, Mr Rogers said the cooler climate does have its advantages.
“The cooler conditions can be beneficial during the hotter months as the cooler nights allow the crop to recover from high daytime temperatures,” he said.
Mr Rogers said not only is dryland cotton a highly profitable summer crop, it also provides many agronomic benefits for farmers including disease, pest and weed control and as a result he expects more people in the east to give it a go.
“People are realising the rotation benefits,” he said.
“We’re not expecting people to replace sorghum or other summer crops completely, but it’s definitely got a fit in the rotations.”
As the pioneer of the expansion of dryland cotton into the eastern reaches of the North West, McGregor Gourlay was proud to be recognised as a finalist at the recent Northern Inland Innovation Awards, in the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science Agriculture / Horticulture and Associated Services category.