$40m gin the per­fect tonic to Aus­cott’s plan

The Australian - - BUSINESS - SUE NEALES COT­TON

Aus­cott se­nior manager Bernie Ge­orge with cot­ton ready for pro­cess­ing at the Amer­i­can-owned cot­ton grower’s new gin at Hay in the NSW Rive­rina. The com­pany is look­ing to buy farm­land in the area to cap­i­talise on its $40m in­vest­ment in the pro­cess­ing fa­cil­ity.

Amer­i­can-owned cot­ton grow­ing com­pany Aus­cott is look­ing to buy farm­land in the NSW Mur­rumbidgee River val­ley to cap­i­talise on its $40 mil­lion in­vest­ment in a new cot­ton pro­cess­ing gin at Hay in the south­ern Rive­rina.

The Hay cot­ton gin, ul­ti­mately owned by pri­vate US farm­ing gi­ant J.G. Boswell, is in its fi­nal stages of com­mis­sion­ing this week and will start com­mer­cial pro­cess­ing of 120,000 bales of cot­ton early in June.

It is the sec­ond cot­ton gin to be built in south­ern NSW in the past three years — with a third grower-co-op­er­a­tive gin un­der con­struc­tion in nearby Car­rathool — and is seen as one of largest and most mod­ern pro­cess­ing mills in the world.

Aus­cott north­ern NSW gen­eral manager Bernie Ge­orge, who helped over­see the Hay gin’s start-up, said the pre­ferred J.G Boswell busi­ness model was al­ways for the com­pany to own its own farm­land and ir­ri­ga­tion wa­ter, with com­pany-grown cot­ton usu­ally rep­re­sent­ing 25-30 per cent of gin through­put.

Aus­cott al­ready op­er­ates five gins in Australia: two at Narrabri in the Namoi River val­ley, one at Moree on the Gwydir River, and two in the Mac­quarie val­ley at Trangie and War­ren.

Mr Ge­orge said Aus­cott had de­cided to in­vest heav­ily in the po­ten­tial of cot­ton in south­ern NSW be­cause wa­ter avail­abil­ity and re­li­a­bil­ity in the Mur­rumbidgee and Lach­lan river catch­ments is much higher than in north­ern NSW, be­cause it has a large snow melt com­po­nent in­stead of just re­ly­ing on an­nual rain­fall. “For us it’s about spread­ing our risk, cli­mat­i­cally, ge­o­graph­i­cally and in terms of wa­ter sup­ply,” Mr Ge­orge told as the first bales har­vested at Aus­cott’s leased Co­bran prop­erty east of Hay started to roll into its vast gin stor­age yards. “Our model is to have a sub­stan­tial farm­ing and gin­ning op­er­a­tion in ev­ery val­ley we are in, and to mar­ket and ex­port that (cot­ton) pro­duce di­rectly our­selves; we also buy other peo­ple’s cot­ton or mar­ket it on their be­half, which makes up about 70 per cent of the gin­ning busi­ness.”

Mr Ge­orge said Aus­cott was build­ing such a large gin — it can process 250,000 com­pressed lint bales each weigh­ing 227kg annu- ally but has ap­provals to dou­ble that ca­pac­ity when de­mand ex­pands — be­cause it be­lieves in the fu­ture of the in­dus­try. “This is a sub­stan­tial plant; we’re not build­ing it for to­day but for five to ten years’ time when cot­ton will be a much larger part of this val­ley’s agri­cul­ture than it is to­day,” Mr Ge­orge said.

Aus­cott’s Hay gin manager Craig Gas­ton said the state-ofthe-art plant would op­er­ate around the clock from next week, with more than 60 lo­cals em­ployed full-time keep­ing the gin work­ing. Raw cot­ton round bales har­vested in the past few weeks from farms in a 150km ra­dius of the new Aus­cott gin, in­clud­ing some as far south as the Vic­to­rian bor­der, are now wait­ing for pro­cess­ing at Hay.

About 35 per cent of the weight of each raw bale ends up as pure cot­ton lint, which will be trucked south for ex­port from the Port of Mel­bourne — a 227kg lint bale is now sell­ing for more than $500 — while 55 per cent by weight is the cot­ton seed, which is con­verted into valu­able oil and stock feed.

Mr Gas­ton said cot­ton pro­duc­tion was ex­pand­ing fast on the Hay plains and along the Mur­rumbidgee river val­ley, helped by new va­ri­eties bet­ter suited to the cooler south and the con­struc­tion of lo­cal pro­cess­ing fa­cil­i­ties such as Aus­cott’s new gin. Yields of 12-15 bales per hectare are also higher than in north­ern NSW.

ANDY ROGERS

Aus­cott gin op­er­a­tions manager Craig Gas­ton, left, and mar­ket­ing direc­tor Ash­ley Power in Hay in the NSW Rive­rina

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