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Challenges for new cotton growers in the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area

When a relatively new crop to a region is
expanding, there are always some challenges to existing farmers wishing to diversify and
learn about the crop, how it grows, and what irrigation system suits it best.
In the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area, the relative newcomer is cotton. Kieran O’Keeffe, CottonInfo
Regional Development Officer based in Griffith sees his role in helping growers face some
of those challenges with adoption. I think there’s challenges there that most
row croppers have to face is that there are nutritional issues, and it just takes time
to get ground ready, to actually overcome those nutritional changes.
What are some of the ones that you’ve come across?
We’ve seen a thing called rice stubble disorder, coming out of traditional rice ground. So
you can’t really go straight into a row crop, whether that be cotton or soybeans or maize.
It really needs a season off, and probably a drying crop like a wheat crop that isn’t
fully watered out, and then land-forming to occur. What happens in a flooded situation
is that iron goes into solution and it actually ties up the phosphorous. So how it’s been
overcome over the years in the Murrumbidgee Valley is that growers are aware of it and
put on double phosphorous rates, and actually put on quite high poultry manure rates to
alleviate that problem to a major extent in that first year.
So it’s fairly significant in terms of input costs?
It’s something that growers would consider. I think what we’re seeing down here is conversion
of ground that may not be rice ground into row crop ground and that’s where these new
layouts are a lot more flexible, so you can swap from one crop to another, and in these
beds in bay layouts, there’s no reason why people can’t grow rice, cotton, soybeans,
maize and interchange them. Do you see that this will have an impact on
the change from rice to cotton in terms of expansion area?
The big advantage of these layouts is that they’re very labour efficient. Our reports
have one grower being able to handle 400, 500 hectares in irrigations. Very efficient
irrigation, so we need to do the measurements on those to see what sort of water use efficiency
we’re getting with them. So it’s quite a good system for either rice
or cotton? Yes, I’d like to think that it’s the way of
the future with these flexible layouts, that people will change depending on the price
of these crops, and we will see movement from one to the other, depending on the value of
that crop.

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