$40m gin the perfect tonic to Auscott’s plan
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.
Auscott gin operations manager Craig Gaston, left, and marketing director Ashley Power in Hay in the NSW Riverina