Cotton opens the champagne bottle

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There is no denying that farming is tough and getting tougher and plenty of people in agriculture have sad authentic experiences and stories to tell that remind us of this.

The problem is too often they are the only stories we’ve been telling for decades. Nobody wants to discount those stories, but it is imperative we put some balance in the equation by sharing the good news too.

So when I got a call from a newspaper yesterday wanting comment on what agriculture would like the next government to deliver I asked them to ring back as I wanted to give my answer a lot of thought and I am still thinking – more about that later.

One thing that worries me greatly that definitely needs fixing is, I believe agriculture in the main has forgotten how to celebrate success and we now have a culture where we have  thousands of silent farmers, too frightened to put their heads above the trenches.

There is one industry I have been interacting with over the last three years who have certainly bucked the trend and wow do they know how to celebrate their industry and the people in it and that is the Australian Cotton Industry

I recently had the opportunity to present Art4Agriculture to Australia’s cotton farmers at the Cotton Collective event in Narrabri

For those of you who like me (until recently) know very little about the cotton industry in Australia, cotton is grown mostly in Queensland and NSW

Cotton Production in Australia

Whilst Cotton has had a bit of a bad rap over the years I have discovered a number of things that have certainly opened my eyes

Cotton farmers see Cotton as an opportunity crop. By that I mean they grow it when there is plenty of water and cotton prices are good. When the moons don’t align they grow something else. In reality Cotton uses about the same amount of water as other summer crops and on top of this it is pretty drought and heat tolerant.

Almost all the cotton grown in Australia is genetically modified. Biotechnology has allowed the cotton plant to turn on its natural insecticide which has meant the industry has been able to reduce its chemical usage by around 90%. Some cotton farmers also use this awesome thing called integrated pest management where beneficial insects fend off the insect pests and they don’t need to spray their crops for bugs at all.

The Cotton Collective was an opportunity for Australian cotton farmers to catch up with the latest advances in the world of biotechnology and I must admit I was blown away by their knowledge

Now I did a science degree and whilst I admit I was fascinated to learn how and why medicines work when I see the squiggly diagrams/graphs et al that show the minute details my eyes just glaze over and that was okay for me because my role was to explain the science in a way that the non-scientific world could understand.

Cotton farmers on the other hand live and breathe this stuff and the questions they asked the scientists clearly showed there was extreme rigor in the system at farmer level

The Cotton Collective was also the place to celebrate the industry’s best and brightest and their rising best and brightest

I would love to share these exciting stories with you so you can celebrate them too

Lets starts with their young people

Meet Sophie Gulliver. Wow does this girl know how to frock up for a big occasion. Divine dress and even more impressive wow can she deliver a speech. This is a young girl going places fast  

Sophie Gulliver accepting her award

Here is just some of Sophie’s story.

After graduating from a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture degree at Sydney University in 2009 with First Class Honours and the University Medal, Sophie headed to the Darling Downs in Queensland where she started her cotton and agricultural career.
Sophie joined AgBiTech in 2011 as its Technical Specialist. Her role involves providing technical, extension and sales support for the company’s product range, management of the research and development program for new and existing products and quality control oversight at AgBiTech’s production facilities.

Sophie Gulliver in laboratory

Sophie’s main area of interest is the biology, ecology and management of the Heliothis caterpillar, the cotton industry’s number one insect pest. Sophie is involved in projects investigating new ways to control Heliothis and other devastating caterpillar pests, to meet a growing community and global desire for fewer pesticides.

“Australia leads the way in sustainable agriculture and I want to to ensure that our cotton growers have access to an
increasing range of tools that allow them to continue to grow profitable cotton crops for as long as possible,” Sophie said.

Like her friend Young Farming Champion Liz Lobsey, Sophie is also working with kids in schools

As part of the Gateway Schools to Agribusiness program, Sophie has developed the “Caterpillar Classroom” initiative, which distributes Heliothis rearing kits and provides online technical support and a discussion forum for participating teachers and students. The kits will be used in primary and secondary schools as a practical way to understand and enjoy science. She is also working on a website project called “Primary Roots” to encourage young people from both rural and urban backgrounds to consider careers in agriculture. The website provides an audio-visual snapshot of the diversity of
careers available within agriculture and demonstrates what current agricultural employees do on a day to day basis in a range of workplace settings (e.g. the field, laboratory or office).

sophie-gulliver

Please take the time and read more of Sophie’s story here

But it doesn’t stop there when you meet Glenn Rogan you can see why the average age of cotton farmers is 39. This is one exciting industry.

Glenn Rogan with cotton bales  

Glenn and Julianne Rogan and family won the 2013 Cotton Industry Awards for Innovative Grower of the Year! .

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The Rogan family farms 2,760 hectares at “Benelong” St George, including 900 ha of irrigated cotton, gritting corn, sunflowers, wheat and mungbeans. The Rogans are great industry collaborators and innovators, growing long staple cottons for niche sustainability
markets.

Glenn is a visionary who saw an opportunity in linking his family’s story with the products that consumers purchase at retail
via “ingredient marketing”. Coupled with a point of difference, in growing a variety different to most growers, Glenn
partnered with Australian Weaving Mills (AWM) who produce a line of towels using 100% Glenn’s Australian Super Cotton.
AWM has attached Glenn’s story to its DriGlo towel range, with swing tags, magazine articles, a website and in-store
appearances all helping to build brand awareness.

. You can read all about Glenn and his family  here

Then there is the character that is John (Cowboy) Cameron of “Kintyre” Bongeen, QLD

John Cameron accepting his award 01

John and Ros Cameron won the Cotton Grower of the Year award. They are dryland cotton farmers and this means all their cotton is rain-fed.

They have a big focus on looking after their soils

“Our soils are the most important asset in our dryland system. We’ve got one metre below the soil to work with and we
need to know exactly what’s going on at any point in time. Everything above the soil goes out the gate,” John said.

John had what he calls a light bulb moment in the early 90s when he was running out of
cash after a few lean years. He decided to spend $150 on a soil test rather than $30,000 on fertilisers that he wasn’t sure the soils needed. What followed was five years of no fertiliser costs and a practice that has held, and been improved upon to this day. Soil tests are conducted at regular intervals across the farm, and nutrients added only when and if
they’re needed.

You can read John and Ros’ awards case study here 

These are all great stories worth telling and certainly worth celebrating and you can read all about the stars these people just pipped at the post here

Agriculture does have great stories to tell. What can the next government do to ensure they become the norm – its time for this little black duck to give this some more serious thought