Green cane fields across the Tablelands are turning white as some farmers start to experiment with growing cotton as either a rotation crop or as a replacement to sugar cane.
Long-time sugar cane grower and Chairman of the Tablelands Mill Suppliers Committee George Adil initially thought it was only going to be a rotation crop for his sugar cane but cotton has turned out to be more successful than he originally hoped.
“I looked at some of the local trials so I put in a few plants to see how they would go,” he said
“We were looking for a rotation crop because our yields were dropping off and the sugar price is pretty ordinary at the moment.”
George’s original test crop grew better than anticipated and this year he has expanded to over 12 hectares of cotton with some surprising results.
“A lot of people believe that cotton is a very thirsty crop and down south where they don’t get the same rain we get, it is. But up here it uses less water than sugar cane and if we can sell some of that leftover water that’s more money in the farmers pocket.”
“The late wet season has actually helped, cotton could turn out to be more profitable than sugar cane and there’s also the possibility to grow two crops a year.”
The current crop at Biboohra was planted on December 7 in 2019 and was picked this week.
Apart from clothing, there are also other revenue streams to be made from cotton, including cottonseed oil which can be used in everything from cooking to medical purposes and also whole cottonseed has been used successfully to feed cattle as a drought supplement.
“If you can grow something under the wet that uses bugger all of your water, you can sell some of that water off,” he said
“I’m going to plant more cotton as our yields from sugar a slowly starting to drop,
“Some people believe that there won’t be a sugar industry in Mareeba in the next 20 – 30 years because water is becoming too expensive and valuable. Farmers will have to start looking at something else.”
Early estimates are that George’s farm will get 8 bales to the hectare and that could mean double the profit he has been making from sugar cane.
“Even harvesting cotton is cheaper and more economical.”