COTTON pickers are moving through the final fields of a 4.35 million bale cotton crop, wrapping up a harvest that has gone smoothly under blue skies and fine conditions. Throughout the cotton belt, growers are reporting above-average yields of more than 10 bales a hectare for irrigated cotton, while there are mixed yield results among the diminished levels of dryland plantings which were down because of dry conditions at sowing and the low price for cotton.

Darling Downs Cotton Growers Association president Chris Barry said turnouts for the cotton produced in the area had been about 40 to 42 percent. He said while irrigated and dryland plantings were both back in area this year, quality had been good and yields, for dryland in particular, were above average. “Yields for dryland have been anywhere from six to 10 bales a hectare and irrigation from nine to 12,” he said.

“For next season, most of the growers along the river have full storages and will do a full plant. The overland flow dams are half full.” In North West NSW, CSD extension agronomist at Wee Waa, Rob Eveleigh, said it had been a good season for most growers in the Namoi Valley. “It has certainly been very different. We have gone back to a much hotter season than we have had for the last few years. Consequently, people’s water budgets have been blown apart,” he said.

“Particularly west of Wee Waa a large percentage of the crop’s water has had to come from irrigation. “We have had quite a few crops that have had from nine to 12 irrigations through the season, which is a lot. But in general most people are happy with their crops.” Mr Eveleigh said yields were above average in the lower Namoi and the quality was generally very good. “Colour grades will be excellent. We have had no rain at all since defoliation began which means the colour is excellent,” he said.

“The only missing variable is the price. We haven’t got a 5 in front of the price but hopefully the yields will make up for that.” Mr Eveleigh said the situation with irrigation water for next season on the Namoi was looking good. “We work on a volumetric allocation system for both ground and surface water. Although Keepit Dam is only about 40 percent full, the supplementary dam Split Rock has almost 90pc,” he said. “Although we won’t have quite as much water this year we will still be in reasonable shape.”

Mr Eveleigh said while there were only 3000ha of dryland cotton grown in the Lower Namoi and about the same in the Upper Namoi this season because of a lack of sowing rain, many of the crops that did go in went well. “There were a few crops put in on a wing and a prayer and those crops are pretty good,” he said.

“There are a few dryland crops in the Lower Namoi that  are yielding nearly six bales/hectare and there are some phenomenal dryland crops in the Upper Namoi that look like irrigated crops. “They are solid plant and they are yielding quite well.” CSD extension and development agronomist in the Gwydir Valley, James Quinn, said early crops which were hit with heatwave conditions in January hadn’t performed as well as the later-sown crops.

“As the harvest has progressed the yields have slowly climbed. Growers are getting above what they thought they would get,” he said. “The low humidity and sunny days of April/May have helped with the picking process and made sure some very good cotton is being presented to the gins.” Mr Quinn said the reduced area of dryland plantings had produced mixed results.

“Those that did go in have struggled through the season. Their fortunes are very much based on how well the crops got through to the January 26 rainfall event coming out of cyclone Oswald,” he said. “They kicked on really well, put a lot of fruit on and are yielding above average. “Those that did it tough shut down and were unable to recover in time to put more yield on, so will be below average at around 2.5 bales/hectare whereas the other crops will go close to 5.0b/ha.”

Mr Quinn said growers had used more water than they had budgeted for this season, which would cut back their entitlement for next season, but he still expected the irrigated crop in the Gwydir in the coming season to be the same size as this year’s crop of about 60,000ha. “We are starting to see the new reality of the water buybacks. We will have to wait and see how it goes. That will be the new normal in terms of irrigated crop,” he said.

“Hopefully if we get a rainfall opportunity the dryland plant will bounce back up to average seasons where we are looking at up to 40,000 hectares of dryland cotton.”