NT’s first cotton gin nears completion as Katherine council considers stance on industry

As Northern Territory farmers look to a brand new “silver bullet” crop, Katherine council is weighing up the industry’s potential impacts on water and the surroundings.  

The NT’s first industrial cotton gin is about to be accomplished later this yr, as the cotton industry seems to be to increase within the area.

Since industrial trials of cotton restarted within the Top End in 2019, the industry has been hampered by the shortage of an area processing facility.

In July 2021, a consortium of growers identified as WANT Cotton introduced that New South Wales-based firm RivCott Ltd had started constructing a gin at Tarwoo Station close to Katherine.

Despite plans to have the gin up and running for growers this season, development was delayed because of COVID lockdowns. 

The facility has the potential to turn into Australia’s largest cotton gin, with plans for a staged growth as the industry expands.

“It’s going to be as much as farmers to provide the provision after which we will improve the [cotton] gin in response to that,” mentioned David Connolly from Tipperary Station, who’s spearheading the challenge as chairman of WANT Cotton.

A large tin shed with high roof and open sides, with construction materials in the foreground.
The WANT Cotton gin is positioned at Tarwoo Station, 35 kilometres north of Katherine.(Supplied: David Connolly)

About 8,000 hectares of cotton are being grown within the Northern Territory this season, greater than double final yr’s crop.

‘Silver bullet’ crop set to increase

NT Farmers chief government Paul Burke mentioned the industry would increase to absorb as much as 40,000 hectares within the subsequent 5 years, facilitated by the brand new cotton gin.

“The Northern Territory desperately wants new industry. And I believe the cotton industry can present a very good catalyst for growth within the Katherine area.”

Close up of a cotton plant with cotton buds blooming in sunlight.
Mr Burke says the industry would create a full-time equal position on farm for each 300 hectares of cotton grown.(ABC News: Hamish Harty)

Mr Connolly mentioned the cotton industry would “change the Northern Territory”, with extra alternatives and safety for farmers.

“We’ve been looking for a silver bullet crop for the Northern Territory, and with the best way the cotton’s been growing for us beneath the rainfall up right here, it seems to be like this may be it,” he mentioned.

“Farmers [will be] capable of lastly develop a crop that makes some profitability for them, in order that their households can survive on the land and so they can make use of folks on their farms.”

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Mr Burke mentioned the industry had an “untapped potential”, with new cotton seed expertise permitting the industry to plant the crop on scale “with a level of confidence”.

“And as a result of it trades on a world market, and there’s a shortfall of cotton, there may be all the time alternative on this area,” he mentioned.

Water considerations stay

The capacity to develop cotton at scale within the Top End is what considerations some residents and environmental teams, who’re urging warning amid potential impacts to rivers and the surroundings. 

Earlier this yr, researchers took purpose on the cotton industry’s plans to extract 520 gigalitres of water from the Daly River. 

Protect Big Rivers spokesperson Sam Phelan mentioned she was involved about the over-allocation of water as the industry grew. 

“And as we head into more difficult climatic instances, we merely don’t have sufficient science associated to the sustainable yields within the system,” she mentioned.

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