Is dryland cotton any harder to grow than other summer crops? Are there any more risks?
Dryland farming is dependent on natural rainfall. Whether the crop is cotton, sorghum or another option, yields can never be guaranteed. However, major advances in variety performance and technology traits have simplified the process of growing dryland cotton, reducing the risk and increasing the reward for growers.
On a yearly basis, the profitability of any crop will rise and fall due to market forces and seasonal conditions. However, dryland cotton, when examined over the full term of a rotational cycle, has proven to be consistently providing the highest gross margin return. Read more about why more growers are realising the benefits of growing dryland cotton.
What are the benefits of including dryland cotton within my rotation?
- Greater returns - higher returns over the rotation cycle, compared with growers with solely-grain based rotations. The 2016/17 saw prices of around $550/bale.
- Less risk - current varieties and improvements in technology traits have simplified the process for growing dryland cotton. Yield potential is continually increasing and pests are more manageable with new technology traits.
- Flexibility - cotton varieties incorporating Bollgard 3 traits have facilitated greater flexibility in planting windows, reduced refuge area requirements and more flexible pupae busting requirements.
- Cash flow management – Monsanto’s End Point Royalty payment option allows for major costs to be pushed to the end of the season and growers only pay for what they pick.
- The longer crop maturity of cotton gives a wider window to make use of late summer rainfall through January and February. Combined with the use of skip row, this allows the plants to hold on for longer during dry periods.
- Simplified weed management - rotating away from a cereal-based program with a broadleaf crop such as dryland cotton allows the insertion of a disease and weed break into the crop rotation plan.
Have a look at ways you can incorporate cotton into your dryland rotation.
What is the best way to plant dryland cotton to utilise the moisture profile?
The vigorous tap root system of cotton means the roots explore much wider for moisture and nutrients. Wider row configurations are used to increase the total amount of soil moisture available to the plants. This extends the time before in-crop rainfall is required and making the most of available rainfall, and the crop less reliant on in-crop rainfall particularly in the first two to three months of its life.
Narrow row configurations are more popular in areas with higher and more reliable rainfall. There is also a strong relationship between row configuration and fibre quality, especially for fibre length. In row configuration trials, fibre quality improved with wider row configurations.
Planting into standing stubble provides a better environment for establishment, extends the planting opportunity, improves the efficiency of rainfall capture, provides a home for beneficial insects and reduces the likelihood of sandblasting.
What cotton varieties are best suited to dryland in my region?
View which varieties are suited to your region, based on your growing conditions.
What are the gross margins of dryland cotton in comparison with other summer crops?
Converting moisture into returns is the focus for all dryland cropping farmers. Over time, dryland cotton’s profitability has been proven to out-perform other rotational options (provided costs are kept in check, reasonable yields and quality are achieved and a competitive bale price is realised) and advances in the farming system over the past decade mean less risk and more reward.
Recent benchmarking studies conducted by Cotton Seed Distributors (CSD) comparing multiple cropping enterprises have shown that dryland cotton, when examined over the full term of a dryland rotational cycle, consistently provides the highest gross margin return compared with solely grain-based rotations.
Advances in biotechnology have resulted in the need to use fewer insecticide sprays to manage pests, meaning reduced labour, lower costs and a more manageable cash flow.
Plus, a new suite of high yielding and high quality varieties for dryland cotton are highly adapted for dryland production, giving you the opportunity to maximise returns while minimising risks.
Take a look at the gross margin calculator and see how dryland cotton can give you better gross margins.
What is the average yield of dryland cotton?
The overall trend for average yields of dryland cotton in Australia has increased since the late 1980s.
Historical performance data
As you can see from the chart below, the overall trend for average yields of dryland cotton in Australia has increased since the late 1980s. Variations in climatic conditions obviously affect each year’s yield and explain, at least in part, the occasional swings from one year to the next.
Source: CSIRO (2011)
Due to the nature of dryland farming, weather conditions have a significant impact on yields. This means that there is considerable fluctuation in results, however it is clear that there has been a general trend of increasing yields.
Do you have to grow any other crops to maintain dryland cotton?
Every Bollgard II and Bollgard 3 cotton crop must have an associated refuge crop – either unsprayed cotton, unsprayed pigeon pea or sprayed cotton. The refuge produces large numbers of Bt susceptible Helicoverpa spp. moths, minimising resistance.
Cotton varieties incorporating Bollgard 3 traits have reduced refuge area requirements, which means that area and resources can potentially be dedicated to profitable crops.
For full details on refuge requirements, refer to the Central Queensland Cotton Essentials Guide or Southern Queensland New South Wales Cotton Essentials Guide for the Resistance Management Plan.
What is row configuration and what are the benefits?
Row configuration is the spacing between rows of cotton, such as single skip, double skip or super single. By choosing the right row configuration for your operation, you can significantly increase profits and reduce risk for your dryland crop.
What’s the best configuration for soils with less than ideal soil moisture?
Cotton should only be planted on a full profile of moisture.
Double skip row configuration is best suited to drier profiles and hotter environments. However, it has an average yield potential about 39% less than solid plant. Plants can be prone to lodging, especially vegetative branches, which take advantage of the extra light available in the skip area.