After being one of the major crops produced in Australia for well over 200 years, cotton has in the recent past been facing major difficulties. A product that comprises over 40 per cent of the world fiber market cannot go unnoticed if its production is threatened. Especially if its prior production figures were high in a given country. But what is really happening to the cotton industry in Australia?
Some factors come into play here. Firstly, one of the greatest environmental challenges in Australia is water. Apart from affecting other sectors, this challenge has had a domino effect on the cotton industry in this country. Since cotton uses just as much water as other summer crops like maize and soybeans, its decline has been awful for the industry. The reduction in water is two-pronged; less water in the inland water systems like Queensland and New South Wales and poor quality of the little that is there.
Poor quality water is brought about by higher levels of sedimentation due to erosion, increasing levels of pesticides and fertilizers and habitat loss. These point to poor water management by Australian farmers. The recent draughts led to cuts in water entitlements and these didn’t help either. And they are also to blame for permanent and casual staff falling by 60 and 40 per cent respectively.
Farm designs are poor; therefore there is no water efficiency. Not many farms have on-farm water meters and moisture probes to help the farmers schedule irrigation. Industry initiated courses and training programmes are not being rolled out with the required frequency.
Another factor that is aiding to kill the cotton industry in Australia is that farmers’ pesticide knowledge is low and they can’t understand the dynamics between pests and yield. They also score low in record keeping as they don’t know the best methods and the appropriate software. The mandated cotton bodies within the government have been slow in disseminating the right information to farmers.
Many Australian farmers are not quick to adopt the new transgenic varieties. Although these varieties require even up to 86 per cent less chemical applications, many farmers are still unwilling to plant them. Organic cotton is also not fully supported. Most textile manufacturers and distributors want more certified organic cotton but full support and funding is lacking to producers. With the right information to farmers concerning these, many Australian producers would convert to organic cotton. Compared to other less developed markets, the cost of Australian organic cotton is very high.
Another factor that is contributing to the downfall of the Australian cotton industry is the lack of enough facilities in the country to produce fine yarn that is given by organic cotton producers.
The cotton industry is also not well expanded beyond Queensland and New South Wales. Viability of western areas require to be assessed. With its demand increasing, cotton development need to be at the heart of the government. Competition for productive soil with other industries such as grains and horticulture is also rising at a fast pace.
These factors among others have hit the cotton industry in Australia really hard relegating its production tens of rungs below other established producers such USA, China, Pakistan, India and Brazil.