Queensland Cotton’s Rick Jones inspects one of the few cotton bales at the Emerald Gin site.
Queensland Cotton’s Rick Jones inspects one of the few cotton bales at the Emerald Gin site. Simon Green

Highlands to miss out on harvest

AUSTRALIAN cotton will yield the largest harvest the nation has ever seen in coming weeks, breaking the magical four million bale mark for the first time, but the sad fact is most growers in the Central Highlands will miss out on the party.

Many Central Highlands growers are among the worst flood-affected cotton producers in the country, and now, in what is hopefully the final twist of the knife, are being forced to deal with uncertain harvest delays due to more wet weather.

On a national level, the industry is set to continue its remarkable post-drought resurgence, with Cotton Australia now predicting a total of 4,056,000 bales to be harvested, compared to the 3.7 million predicted only weeks ago.

But the message coming out of Queensland Cotton in Emerald is of stark contrast, with every farmer’s best friend and worst enemy - the weather - wreaking havoc on initial season optimism.

“There is going to be nothing great about the yield in this area, with many being flooded and then getting more wet weather means it is not going to be the year we were hoping for,” QA marketing services’ Rick Jones said.

“The price was great at planting time and it looked like it was going to be the biggest harvest we’ve had, but the floods quickly took all that back.

“Now the harvest has been stop start and many haven’t even got things underway - we’re expecting things to pick up later this week.”

In a typical year, the yards at QA’s Emerald Cotton Gin would be well on their way to filling up by now, with about half the picking already done.

The wet weather delays will likely have serious impacts on crop quality, which can result in producers receiving discount prices when they finally get their bales to the yards.

Discount prices usually start at a 10% cut, which equates to about $50 a bale. The longer the cotton is exposed to significant periods of wet weather, the more downgraded its quality becomes, and in turn, the less money the grower receives.

Central Highlands cotton grower Nigel Burnett said it was obvious recent delays would have serious effects on colour and leaf downgrades, and believed that returns for the year would more than likely be average or below.

“There is also the possibility of having to defoliate again if it continues,” he said.

“And now we’ll also have to compete over contractors with growers down south.

“The volume of pickers around will be much less, meaning it will be a slower pick as well as a delayed pick, which just leaves us with more risk.

“Usually we would have easily made it past half way by now.

“As a grower you know never to take the weather for granted, but with the high prices and then everything that’s followed, it’s made for a tough and frustrating year.”

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