Pick of the cot­ton crop

Balonne Beacon - - WEST - Ju­lia Baker

IT’S taken years of hard work and ded­i­ca­tion, but af­ter al­most 25 years Greg and Maryann Ben­der are fi­nally the pick of the Dar­ling Downs cot­ton farm­ing com­mu­nity af­ter re­cently tak­ing home the Van­der­field Grower of the Year Award. Mr and Mrs Ben­der pur­chased the dry land prop­erty, Baradoo Plains, at Hopeland soon af­ter they were mar­ried in the early 90s.

“I saw the value in it, at the time that was the rea­son. We bought this place as­sum­ing we were go­ing to grow wheat worth $200 a ton and I think the first year we har­vested it was worth $90 a ton and we thought, ‘we can’t see this pay­ing the bud­get’.

“That’s what re­ally in­ter­ested me about cot­ton, it was a young dy­namic in­dus­try whereas the grain in­dus­try was an older in­dus­try... the cot­ton in­dus­try is more pro­gres­sive.”

Mr Ben­der said he was sur­prised to re­ceive the award, which in­cludes cot­ton farm­ers from across the Dar­ling Downs and is judged not on yield but on best man­age­ment and sus­tain­able prac­tice.

“I didn’t ex­pect to win it, every­one’s done a pretty good job re­ally. I don’t re­ally 100% know what the judg­ing cri­te­ria is but it’s a bit of a blend. Years ago, all the com­pe­ti­tions were strictly about yield.

“Yield is now a mi­nor part, they’re look­ing more at the whole farm pic­ture – your wa­ter-use ef­fi­ciency and ir­ri­ga­tion, how you trans­fer and move wa­ter around the farm.”

In the past four years, the Ben­ders have taken a new ap­proach to ir­ri­ga­tion, in­stalling a 1200-me­tre sprin­kler sys­tem which has al­lowed them to di­ver­sify their 810ha prop­erty.

As well as their tried and true cot­ton crop, they now grow corn, chick­peas, mung beans and bar­ley.

Mr Ben­der said the ir­ri­ga­tion sys­tem meant he could grow crops all year and that in the past two years chick­peas had been “a good money spender”.

PHOTO: JU­LIA BAKER

AWARD: Greg Ben­der wins Van­der­field Grower of the year Award.

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