Signs of a cotton industry in the Northern Territory are starting to sprout. While cotton has long been spoken of as a key to northern development, commercial quantities have never been harvested in the NT. Now, as debate rages about growing cotton in drought-ridden eastern states, NT farmers and researchers are throwing their support behind the crop and putting seeds in the ground. The Top End’s more reliable wet season rainfall, its vast undeveloped land and climate have all attracted the attention of cotton growers from southern states as NT farmers look to diversify.
Over the past 12 months, several investors in NT pastoral land have expressed an interest in investigating the potential of cotton. Top End farmers and industry associations have been buoyed by the resurrection of large-scale cotton plantings just over the border in the Ord Valley. Andrew Philip, a plant industry development officer with the NT Farmers Association, said the renewed push for cotton in the NT was largely being driven by cotton farmers from eastern states looking to expand.
“There’s been a number of overseas people coming and looking at properties with a view of cotton being one of their options,” he said. “But the biggest range of investors we’re seeing are family companies from the eastern states — Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria — that have basically become land-locked, haven’t been able to expand their cotton enterprises, and are looking at the next place to go.
The growing interest in cotton has prompted the NT Department of Primary Industry to plant four GM cotton varieties in a new trial at its Katherine Research Station this month. Executive director of agriculture Phil Hausler said although pressure is mounting to establish the new industry, the Government would not be making any hasty decisions regarding cotton development.
“Any successful agricultural commodity in the Territory has taken some time to establish, so we are here for the long term and we want to get this right,” Mr Hausler said. “We’re not about rushing in and making quick decisions, we see in the long term that cotton would have some good benefits for the Territory.”