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Northern Territory Cattlemen's Association

NTCA in support of diversification

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The NT Cattlemen’s Association executive met last week and reaffirmed its support for diversification of the pastoral estate. The NTCA has advocated hard for the ability to develop the pastoral estate for non-pastoral uses with the least administrative burden as possible. A lot of potential crops are being explored including cotton.

The NTCA executive believes cotton offers the Northern Territory pastoral sector a real opportunity as both a crop for development but also the by-product of cotton seed. To achieve this there will need to be an expansion in the size of the current cotton harvest to ensure the commercial viability of a cotton gin in the Katherine region.  

The new breed of cotton being grown requires less water and has increased resistance to pests and bugs.

Click here to look at the feasibility study on a cotton gin in the Territory.


Question Answer

What happens after harvesting the cotton?

  • After the cotton is harvested, the fluffy white fibre, called the lint, is separated from the seed and processed to produce yarn, which is knitted or woven into fabrics.
  • The seed is processed into oil, meal and hulls. The oil is used for human consumption and the production of soaps and cosmetics. The meal and hulls are used for livestock feed.

Does cotton require heavy pesticide use?

  • The Australian cotton industry has become global leaders in reducing reliance on chemicals, having reduced pesticide use by 95 per cent since 1993, by using genetically modified (GM) cotton varieties containing insecticidal traits.
  • Modern cotton varieties (Bollgard3™) and modern agronomic methods have greatly reduced chemical applications.
  • The GM varieties currently in use have three genes for pest resistance, which protects the crop against a broader range of pests including those prevalent in the wet season.
  • Many of the challenges, specifically insect problems, have been overcome with significant technological and management advances underpinned by ongoing research and development.
  • Local and interstate growers now utilise simplified weed and pest control measures and foresee the benefits of developing dryland cropping systems based on cotton in Northern Australia.
  • The use of herbicides on GM herbicide-tolerant cotton varieties is regulated by the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (AVPMA).

Isn’t cotton a water-hungry crop?

  • Cotton does not require a heavy use of water compared with other commonly planted crops, such as mangoes and bananas. Cotton is considered middle of the range for water usage.
  • Water-use productivity by Australian cotton growers improved by 48 percent since 1992.
  • Combining better genetics with improved agronomy, modern Australian cotton growers now use 40 per cent less water to produce one tonne of cotton lint than 10-15 years ago.

How will the Territory’s cotton production differ from the traditional cotton growing regions in Queensland (QLD) and New South Wales (NSW)?

  • Approximately 80 percent of a future NT cotton industry is estimated to be rain-fed farming systems, also known as dryland farming. The remaining 20 percent likely to be supplemented with irrigation due to variable nature of rainfall which uses around 2-3 mega litres water per ha as opposed to full irrigation which uses 6-7 mega litres per hectare.
  •  Strong seasonal rainfall patterns (December to March) and high temperatures makes tropical ‘dryland’ cropping in Northern Australia very different to south eastern Australia, where cotton is traditionally sown during the cooler spring months.

Is genetically modified cotton regulated?

  • Genetically modified (GM) cotton can only be grown with the approval of the Gene Technology Regulator (the Regulator).
  • Criminal charges can apply for non-authorised activity with GM crops of any kind.
  • The Regulator maintains oversight of commercially grown GM cotton, to ensure it remains safe. For example, the OGTR monitors scientific and other literature for any new information relevant to GM crops, and assesses that information in relation to existing licences. If something changes, and a GM crop can no longer be considered safe, the Regulator has the power to revoke existing licences to grow the crop.
  • To date, no information has arisen in Australia or internationally to indicate that GM cotton commercially grown in Australia is no longer safe, or that any licences issued should be revoked.

Will a cotton industry in the NT require large-scale land clearing?

  • There is no evidence to suggest that a cotton growing industry would have a significant impact on the vast area of the NT environment given that soils suitable for cotton production exist only in patches.
  • Pastoral lease estates cover almost 45 percent of the Northern Territory, and are diverse in their soils, climate and pasture production.
  • All development including land clearing in the Territory is regulated to ensure that it is appropriate and sustainable.
  • Major agricultural developments in the Territory, other than grazing, have usually been established on freehold or Crown land as pastoral leasehold land is primarily used for pastoral purposes. Over recent years the NT Government has introduced a number of policy changes in support of diversifying the agricultural sector that enables agricultural developments, other than grazing, to take place on pastoral leases.

How will a cotton gin benefit the NT?

  • Further development of a cropping sector based on cotton, and supported by a cotton gin, would bring significant growth opportunities for supply chains and associated transport and logistics within the Territory, while building capacity and strengthening the northern agricultural sector.
  • The construction of a cotton gin in Katherine would support around 70 jobs during construction and a further 88 jobs would be supported during full capacity of the operation
  • The vast majority of Australian cotton is exported overseas.  This will be the same for NT cotton, increasing exports through the Port of Darwin, while also increasing imports such as fertilisers, machinery and specialised services.
  • Efficiencies will be realised through increasing export volumes and other sectors will benefit through reduced import and export costs.
  • Currently, cotton grown in the NT and the Kimberley must be transported to South-East Queensland for processing, and an independent feasibility study confirms that having a cotton gin close by is imperative for a successful industry.
  • The Northern Territory Farmers Association believe there is enough land already cleared in the Northern Territory to grow sufficient cotton to supply a Katherine based ginning operation.

How does the industry feel about establishing a cotton industry in the NT?

  • There is strong support from local growers, regional councils and the broader industry.
  • Currently there is approximately 800 hectares of cotton sown in the NT on five properties including Tipperary Station, Edith Springs and the Katherine Research Station.
  • These trials are supporting industry to diversify their farming practices with information and strong research partnerships to support cropping systems.

Why did government decide to recommence cotton research?

  • The decision to recommence cotton research in 2018 at the Katherine Research Station was based on feedback from investment interests, pastoralists and the cotton industry.
  • DPIR is committed to implementing research, demonstration and extension programs to develop the Territory’s agricultural industries through diversified mixed cropping systems.

What has the trials at the Katherine Research Station found?

  • The department’s research is designed to enhance understanding of disease and pest resistance, yield and fibre quality to support industry viability assessments.
  • This research includes experiments investigating cotton varietal performance, dryland versus irrigated cropping, planting arrangement in dryland cotton, sowing time impacts on cropping period and yield potential, and validation of cotton crop model OZCOT. All experiments are with new Bollgard3™, Roundup Ready Flex cotton.
  • Katherine researchers hand harvested small plots in June 2019 with results equating to 3 bales per hectare for rain-feed cotton (1 metre row spacing), and in the irrigated cotton: January 21 sowing – 5.5-8.5 bales/ha, January 30 sowing – 7.5-10.9 bales/ha. Note that sowing time may not be the reason for increased yield, also find learning, reacquainting, and adaption of staff to growing cotton is a significant factor.
  • This research, combined with Territory Government programs mapping suitable land and water resources and biotech advances, reinforces the significant opportunity to develop cotton as a cornerstone of a broad, diversified cropping industry that has significant flow-on benefits to the livestock industry
  • Critical to the success of this work is adherence to robust biosecurity practices, which will provide confidence to investors and potential investors that the future of the industry is secure.


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