Scholar is ready for Ord cotton challenge
Luke McKay hopes to one day see cotton prosper in the Ord Valley.
As a farm manager with Ord Stage 2 developer Kimberley Agricultural Investment, he is at the cutting edge of reintroducing the one-time failed crop to the region.
So far, the signs have been promising for cotton’s return to the Ord, with about 350ha of new variety Bollgard 3 being harvested and sent interstate for processing.
Last September, Mr McKay was awarded a Nuffield Scholarship to study tropical cotton production. The program included a busy international travel schedule for research.
In June and July, Mr McKay and other Nuffield scholars travelled to South East Asia, Europe and the US before he continued on his own to Brazil to investigate cotton.
“I spent time with researchers and seed breeders travelling to different farms and looking at how they do it over there,” he said.
“Brazil was excellent for relating to what we are trying to do here.
“They have a very different soil type but the growing conditions are quite similar. I learnt a lot about how they manage their crops through the wet season.
“Because we are in the very early stages of cotton I really wanted to see before we potentially expand and get quite big what options are out there, what methods and what technology is out there that we can use and adapt for the Ord.”
Mr McKay, who grew up on a cotton farm in New South Wales, said the knowledge he had brought back from the study tour would hopefully play a part in cotton succeeding in the Ord.
“It is definitely going to help,” he said. “I won’t get all the answers out of it but it is a good start. Cotton up here has always been of interest because it has had a good fit but it hasn’t quite had the stars align to make it work.
“Bollgard 3 has allowed us to plant earlier in the year and make better use of the temperature coming out of the wet season for a potentially higher yield, and better insect management.
“The Ord has a long history of being challenging but it is an exciting place to work because you are constantly trying to adapt and evolve to the conditions and what is happening each year.”
Since returning from the study tour, funded by Cotton Australia and the Cotton Research and Development Corporation, Mr McKay said it was exciting to see KAI’s cotton crops ready for harvest.
“When I left there was a few cracked bolls and now there are white paddocks everywhere,” he said. “The crops moved along and the whole farm moved along.
“What I have brought back is that we need to be really sharp on our efficiencies because to compete in the global market place we need to be very efficient.
“Everywhere we went there was a consistent theme and that was what the consumer wants and what they will pay for are two different things. We need to make sure we are the lowest cost producers we can be and still produce a high-quality product.”
Mr McKay will finalise his research report on tropical cotton production over the next few months before presenting it at the Nuffield Australia national conference next September.
“It was a pretty broad research topic to start with and has probably been refined down to a few things around nutrient management, biosecurity and crop management,” he said.
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