Hopes high for latest Ord cotton

Nathan DyerCountryman

Harvesting of WA's first commercial cotton crop in almost a decade has begun in the Ord River irrigation scheme.

The harvest of about 800 hectares of genetically modified cotton near Kununurra is the first since 2002 and the first since the Government's 2008 lifting of a ban on growing the GM crop in the northern agriculture scheme.

Ord River District Cooperative chief executive David Cross said early signs suggested new GM varieties would overcome past problems with the crop.

"It is certainly a big help for us here in the Ord where insect and weed pressure can be quite high," Mr Cross said.

"It has made growing cotton here a possibility once again, whereas in the past it has been a battle."

Pests, such as heliothis moths, wiped out the Ord cotton industry in the 1970s but Mr Cross said farmers were this year hopeful of yields up to 8.5 bales per hectare.

Kununurra farmer Matt Gray, who was hard at work last week as giant 2.4-tonne 'modules' of cotton dropped from a harvester into his paddock, said the GM crop was a good broadacre option for the region.

Normally focused on growing melons and chickpeas on his Packsaddle farm, Mr Gray said GM cotton provided a rotation option with other broadacre crops.

"Cotton fits in quite well with the other broadacre crops we grow - it's planted on the same system of beds and with the same equipment so it's relatively easy," he said.

"And with the Roundup Ready gene it's quite useful for cleaning up paddocks which do have weed problems."

Ord Valley grower David Menzel said yields looked good, despite a longer than normal wet season and particularly cool dry season creating tough growing conditions.

"If we can get away with a reasonable result this year I think it is a very positive sign for a commercially viable crop," he said.

Mr Menzel said although cotton prices had crashed since planting in April, farmers were positive about the crop's future in the region.

"We may still make money out of it but really it was just to get the crop here ready for (Ord) stage two … and make sure it is a contender if we do get the scale to have a viable commercial industry," he said.

About 7000ha of new Ord land is set to be released by the Government this year.

Mr Cross said in addition to more land to grow cotton, local ginning infrastructure was needed to make cotton a viable Kimberley industry.

He hoped a successful cotton harvest would attract investors to the region.

The Ord harvest is expected to take a month, with an estimated 250 semi trailers of cotton to be trucked from Kununurra to Dalby in Queensland for processing.

The quality of the Ord harvest is not expected to be known until next April.

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