The cotton industry and mining industries will clash over the usage of land in the Central Highlands
The cotton industry and mining industries will clash over the usage of land in the Central Highlands Simon Green

Cotton Australia reports catastrophic effect of subsidence

COTTON growers in the Central Highlands are fighting to protect their land from mining companies.

On Monday, a group of farmers and cotton professionals gathered on a property in Emerald to discuss the release of a new research report by Cotton Australia, detailing the impacts of underground mining subsidence on agriculture.

Member for Gregory Vaughan Johnson launched the report and committed his full support to the cotton growers' cause.

"We're talking about 1.2% of the Central Highlands farming land that is here on this irrigated pasture land and this is not negotiable," Mr Johnson said.

"I am certainly going to be pushing this hard and fast in the party room in Brisbane…

"I have put my head on the block here before and I am doing it again today.

"If we are going to sustain our population and sustain the world around us with the increasing population we've got, we cannot be burning up and ripping up cropping land like this."

The report revealed the shocking effects underground mining could have on local irrigated agriculture, stating subsidence was an inevitable consequence of underground mining.

"The NSW Southern Coalfields review concluded that, with few exceptions, at depths of cover greater than about 200m, coal cannot be mined economically by any mining method without causing some degree of surface subsidence," it read.

Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry's Dr Lance Pendergast outlined the scientific and precise process that is performed to get a cotton field efficiently levelled.

"The mining industry is probably more familiar with grazing land whereby a small depression is not a great significance, but it is of extreme significance to irrigators because of the efficiencies that are involved in optimising irrigation systems," Dr Pendergast said.

"They provide a niche market and they rely on their efficiencies to do it, so any impact on those efficiencies can have a severe impact on the ability of cotton growers to maintain the level of ability they have now and in the future.

"I'm sure any cotton grower will quite willingly get the message across that they do not need any new barriers to their productive capacity in these challenging times."

Central Highlands Mayor Peter Maguire stressed the importance of finding balance between the resource and agricultural industries.

"The State Government with their approval powers have huge decisions to make, they need to balance the state interest, the landholder's interest, the applicant's interest and the region's interest," he said.

FUTURE PLANS: Trevor Elsden with grandchildren Mahlia and Harper.
FUTURE PLANS: Trevor Elsden with grandchildren Mahlia and Harper. Kaitlyn Gutzke Emecotton

Trever Elsden is hoping for a change

The cotton farmer hosted the Cotton Australia research report launch at his Central Highlands property, while overlooking kilometres of his irrigated crop on Monday.

Mr Elsden has owned his farm for more than 30 years and like many farmers in the Central Highlands, he is concerned about the property's future.

"The only thing that upsets us quite a bit is the government - not only in Queensland but mainly in Canberra - letting this foreign ownership come in," Mr Elsden said.

"They will not come out and help people struggling or even to get things going.

"We've got the drilling rigs working next door and it is just a matter of slowly moving in on the irrigation area.

"This paddock here is 1.4km long. All you need is a 50mm drop somewhere and there's no way you'll get water to the other end.

"It's not only myself - I've got my son. Then we've got grandchildren - they've got shirts on that say they want to be farmers, too."

Central Highlands Cotton Growers and Irrigators Association president and cotton farmer Ross Burnett attended the event and was also pushing for a change to secure his agricultural future.

WATER POLITICS: Ross Burnett at the Selma irrigation channel.
WATER POLITICS: Ross Burnett at the Selma irrigation channel. Andrew Beard Emeburnett


"The launch of this report gives us some confidence in having an argument against underground mining having an effect on our businesses," Mr Burnett said.

"Any subsidence would be devastating to our business.

"And on our operations on how things are done at the moment with our irrigation."

The launch was opened by Vaughan Johnson, who gave Cotton Australia and everyone in attendance, his full support.

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