Growing record cotton crops in central Queensland

Rural Funds Management Limited (RFM) is combining new technology with nearly a century of cotton industry experience to drive higher yields on two recently acquired Queensland cropping properties.

RFM’s central Queensland properties Mayneland and Lynora Downs, the latter of which is operated in joint venture with Queensland Cotton Corporation, are reaping the benefits of enhanced water infrastructure and improved farming practices.

Queensland Cotton is a subsidiary of Olam International, one of the world’s largest cotton companies, and has a 98 year history at the forefront of Australia’s cotton industry. Olam specialises in the marketing and processing of cotton, otherwise known as ginning, as well as delivering product to more than 20 of the world’s major cotton consuming markets (see Figure 1).

Mayneland and Lynora Downs, which are both located near Rolleston, west of Rockhampton in Queensland, are leased from the ASX-listed Rural Funds Group (RFF).

Mayneland achieved a Rolleston district record yield of 15 cotton bales per hectare last year (see Figure 2) compared to a central Queensland average of around 10 bales per hectare for irrigation cotton. The yield at Lynora Downs was on track to match this performance in 2020 before heavy rains took a toll on the crop just prior to harvest.

RFM National Manager Cropping, Matt Mitchell, said they had benefited from over 20 years’ experience developing cropping properties and growing cotton in the Riverina district of New South Wales, adapting this knowledge for the central Queensland climate and conditions.

“The management plans we previously implemented in New South Wales have been transferable to central Queensland, tailored with the benefit of local knowledge and our joint venture partner, Queensland Cotton,” Mr Mitchell said (see Figure 3).

“For example, the window for growing cotton in southern Australia is generally smaller than in the north, and regularly assessing plant growth during that window is paramount. Additionally, irrigation monitoring and application needs to be more focused in southern Australia as most of the rainfall occurs outside of the growing period. We’ve taken that same level of farming intensity and applied it to RFF-leased properties in northern Australia.”

Yields are being enhanced through a range of such measures put in place by Mr Mitchell and RFM’s General Manager – Farming, Harvey Gaynor, who has over 30 years’ experience in agriculture, including 6 years as CEO of corporate cotton grower Auscott Limited.

This has involved an increased focus on crop establishment and the use of technology through the growing period. Mr Gaynor said our people make use of drones, satellite biomass imagery, crop temperature sensors and real-time water storage monitoring to augment their own knowledge and experience when making  management decisions.

Higher yields are also being achieved through development of the properties themselves. RFM has increased water storage and pumping capacity at Lynora Downs to take advantage of previously underutilised water licences, expanding the total irrigated cropping area by 351 hectares to 1,130 hectares (see Figure 4).

There are plans to increase water storage capacity at Mayneland from the current 5,700 ML to 8,600 ML, and expanding the irrigated cropping area by 50 per cent to 731 hectares in FY21.

RFM managing director, David Bryant said the increased irrigation capacity would lead to improved productivity, enhancing the value of both properties.

“The improved productivity may benefit Rural Funds Group in future years through higher values and rental income, while also lowering the risk profile of lessees. Although this year rains occurred just prior to harvest, the two properties now enjoy full water storages and the lessees are looking forward to the next cotton season.” Mr Bryant said (see Figure 5).