Cotton Stories

Cotton a profitable option on Maryborough cane farm

21 Oct 2019
Ellison Maxwell
Ellison Maxwell, of Maryborough, QLD, inspecting his first crop of cotton as an alternative to sugar cane on the property.

A decision to plant cotton as an alternative crop to sugarcane has paid off for Ellison Maxwell, on his farm just south of Maryborough on Queensland’s Fraser Coast.

Mr Maxwell said cane had been grown on the property for more than 100 years and 15 years ago they diversified into pineapples.

“Now we're in a situation with the cane that profitability is becoming a major issue and so we're looking at different options.”

He said, historically, cotton prices had been reasonably good, and it was an industry that was moving forward.

“It seems to be an industry where there's a lot of work being done on yields.”

Bollgard® 3 and Roundup Ready® technology were particularly attractive elements of growing cotton for Mr Maxwell.

“With sugarcane there is a fairly big reliance on pre-emergent herbicides,” Mr Maxwell said.

“With cotton we’ve found that using Roundup® as part of the weed control system provides flexibility and is fantastic for cleaning up some real problem weeds that we’ve had with years of growing sugarcane.”

Because of the expanded window of Bollgard® 3, Mr Maxwell’s cotton crop was able to be planted on August 18, 2018.

An earlier plant meant the cotton could be harvested prior to heavy rain and flooding that often occurs in the autumn.

Mr Maxwell said years of growing sugarcane had left them with major soil compaction issues and it was hoped that the introduction of cotton, with its strong taproot, could help address this issue.

“We've got major hardpan issues under our ground everywhere and we're hoping that with the cotton, controlled traffic and GPS we can help minimise or repair some of that damage.”

He said moving into the new crop was made easier by the support they received from various people in the cotton industry.

“We've had fantastic support all the way through – CSD put in some trials and we've had an agronomist from Murgon coming over every week, he's been a wonderful help. Some of my relatives are heavily involved in cotton. They've been a fantastic help as well, so it's been good."

“I can't emphasize the amount of help that we got from CSD through the whole exercise. It's been wonderful support."

A decision was made to buy a basket picker, module builders and a boll buggy.

“The main reason we went with buying our own equipment was because we've got four different varieties planted. It is fairly obvious now that there is going to be a spread on defoliating, so it will make it a lot easier to be able to pick at the right time. We’ve been speaking with a gin in Dalby and that's where we plan on sending it."

Seasonal conditions were generally favourable for the crop with four to five irrigations and excellent rain through October, November and December. Yield estimates ranged up to 10 bales per hectare, but with a cyclone forming off the coast of Maryborough in mid-February, the decision was made to bring defoliation and picking forward.

With a number of bolls yet to open at picking, a top yield of 8.93 bales per hectare was a pleasing result, given the climatic conditions.

After picking, the fields were planted to a late soybean crop and rotated back to cotton for the 2019-20 season. Older blocks of cane will also be replaced by cotton.

Mr Maxwell said cotton had been a talking point among local farmers.

“I'm yet to have a negative response. Most people are probably just looking at it to see how successful it is. We really haven’t had any problems whatsoever, to the point where our local sugar mill is even trialling cotton. And there are two other growers in this area that have also planted it.”

“Cotton is totally different to anything that we've grown before. It's just interesting to grow something that’s used for clothing rather than for food.”