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 cotton industry has been hampered by transport prices without an area gin
- The cotton industry is hoping to increase the “silver bullet” crop within the subsequent 5 years
- Katherine council is weighing its place on the industry, with some considerations around water
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
“When we have a look at what the cotton industry and floodplain harvesting has completed to the Murray-Darling system, and we mix that with notoriously poor Northern Territory regulation, folks in our area are very involved about the longer term.”
Mr Burke mentioned that whereas 97 per cent of NT cotton was at present rain-fed, the industry would plan to irrigate about 20 per cent of the crop sooner or later, with extra “surety of getting the crop off” beneath irrigation.
“We will not see an enormous quantity of extra water allocations as a result of the programs are pretty near being absolutely allotted,” he mentioned.
“What we’ll see is folks transitioning from different crops throughout to cotton.”
Katherine council weighs its stance
Last yr, Katherine Town Council despatched a letter to the WANT Cotton gin’s proponents outlining its considerations about the challenge.
“[The letter] wasn’t towards the gin growth. We have been involved about the water use and the way a lot they’ll be needing,” Mayor Lis Clark mentioned.
Council chief government Ingrid Stonhill mentioned the council was now re-evaluating its place and had been consulting with completely different stakeholders, together with NT Farmers and the NT Environment Protection Authority.
“It’s actually necessary that councillors are making choices [based] on factual data. So our supply of factual data is to go to industry and to go to the federal government,” she mentioned.
“We ought to completely contemplate different teams and what they must say, that is necessary too, however we have to see the information.”
Mr Connolly mentioned the council’s place wouldn’t affect the gin’s growth.
“We do not want Katherine Town Council’s approval. This is an industry that is a legal industry beneath the foundations of the Northern Territory,” he mentioned.
“But I can let you know with 100 per cent confidence and surety that [the] Katherine area and all of the farming areas will profit from this industry.”
Ms Stonhill mentioned she hoped the council might have interaction with the industry sooner or later.
“Clearly it could be so much wiser to be collaborative and to spend time growing a relationship, and I’m very eager on behalf of the council to develop that relationship,” she mentioned.