Cotton right choice for Emerald
Season best on record
COTTON is the principal irrigated crop grown in the central highlands of Queensland thanks largely to a secure and reliable water supply.
Irrigators like the Hampton family at Emerald have the ability to grow a range of crops, but they choose cotton because of its higher gross margins and returns per megalitre of water.
Luke, who farms with his wife Sally and his father Mark, plants 200ha of cotton a year in rotation with chickpeas and mungbeans.
The introduction of new, improved and more flexible genetically modified planting varieties of cotton has resulted in a bumper crop this year. Prices have been good too, up around $580 a bale.
“It’s the best season we’ve ever had,” Luke said.
“We yielded four bales per acre (9.9 bales/ha).
“The planting window was earlier so we could beat a lot of the weather and the bug pressure was low.”
Growing conditions were spot on too, with cool weather during the flowering phase and hot weather during picking an ideal scenario.
THE Hamptons generally plant in the middle of August and pick at the start of January.
“The new GM crops are working really well,” Luke said.
“The Bolgard III has helped minimise our use of sprays – we only needed one spray for the bugs this year.”
Good crop rotation has also helped with disease and bug prevention and to deliver nitrogen back into the soil.
Chickpeas and mungbeans are used in rotation with cotton and generally average one tonne per acre.
They are exported to India and Pakistan and prices have been good in recent years.
The Hamptons can choose to supply either of the two local cotton gins – Queensland Cotton at Emerald or Louis Dreyfus Company at Yamala, near Emerald.
The gins process the seed cotton from growers into baled lint ready for spinning into yarn.
Most of the ginned cotton from the Central Highlands region is exported from Brisbane to China with smaller markets in Indonesia, Vietnam and Bangladesh.
THE Hamptons get their water supply from the Nogoa Mackenzie Water Supply Scheme, which is fed from the Fairbairn Dam, near Emerald.
They use an average of eight megalitres per hectare to grow the cotton.
“We have been focusing on getting our irrigation and fertiliser practices right, and staying on top of our water use by laser levelling,” Luke said.
“Laser levelling is critical to our irrigation so we don’t have water logging.
“It’s all those small things done right that combine to help us achieve better results.”
They also use a local agronomist to help improve farm practices where they can. Yields are improving every year as a result.
Luke is a diesel fitter by trade and worked in an underground mine before coming back to the family farm. Though the mines paid better, he said he enjoys farming more.
“The cotton industry is very progressive and I enjoy the precision agriculture and using the digital technology available to make advances in our business,” he said.
“We’ve recently used the digital technology for mapping and yield monitoring and it has allowed us to be more precise with fertiliser applications too.”
FARMING FAMILY: Luke Hampton with his daughter Isla and father Mark in a mungbean crop, which they rotate with cotton and chickpeas.
AG ACTION: A crop duster applies insecticide to the mungbean crop from the air.
Luke, Isla and Mark Hampton in a mungbean crop.