The Australian cotton farming industry is worth a whopping $1.5 billion annually and has recently outperformed wheat, barley and sorghum in annual growth. 2017 is set to be a bumper year, with more clothing retailers keen on quality Australian product than ever before.
In the 2015-16 financial year, cotton saw an enormous 58% growth, year on year. Positioned against wheat, which lost 13.5% and barley which reduced by 25.7%, this agricultural staple of the Australian economy is stronger than it has ever been. With over 99% of our cotton being exported, despite producing just 3% of the world’s total cotton, Australian cotton is integral to our economy. Competing against 100 other cotton-producing countries in the world, a superior product and its perceived value to customers underpins the success of the industry in Australia.
Adam Kay, CEO of Cotton Australia, puts it down to an international appetite for Australia’s top-quality product and its environmental credentials. In a report by ABC’s Dominique Swartz and Landline’s Sean Murphy, Mr Kay explained the surge in growth:
“More and more international retailers and brand owners want to know the story about the production cycle. They want to know about the sustainability and the environmental story.”
According to Mr Kay, Australian cotton growers use less land and water to produce their product than any other country in the world. In fact, the industry has demonstrated a 40% improvement in the efficiency of water usage over the last 15 years, as well as a reduction in the use of pesticides by up to 90%.
Brands like Australia’s Kmart and Target are getting on board, with 100% Australian cotton ranges stocking their clothing racks already, while jeans giant Just Jeans are set to release their own range in Spring. Despite the good news as far as market appetite goes, farmers still face substantial hurdles when it comes to communications. A slow rollout of reliable and fast data services for many rural areas is holding back the kinds of technological advances which are vital to the industry, if they are to compete with their global rivals.
As Mr Kay explained to ABC’s Dominique Swartz, the industry is seeing some amazing advances in tech, but are being let down by slow data speeds, or lack of connectivity in certain areas.
“We’re seeing already autonomous tractors and spread rigs that are going to be relying on the GPS signals, we’ve got moisture probes in the field constantly sending messages back to the farm manager to help drive decisions on irrigation … and you’ve got drone data coming in,” he said. “Connectivity and capacity are real issues for our industry and for agriculture because if we are going to embrace this new technology and drive productivity and efficiency further we need that coverage.”
Needless to say, the innovations in farming which rely on connectivity are useless without a reliable internet connection and appropriate speeds. Farmers were hoping for a commitment from the federal government in the latest budget announcement which would see rural data services receive a boost. The government is already investing $4 billion in order to deliver internet services to regional and rural Australians, however many are still yet to be connected.
Meanwhile, one ingenious grazier has taken matters into his own hands by building his own high-speed internet service. Partnering with the local Richmond Shire Council to help bear the costs, William Harrington of Olga Downs Station has been able to tap into a fibre optic cable which runs from Townsville to Mt Isa and provide internet services not only for his operation but for neighbouring properties. This expensive option is not available to all rural properties who struggle with unreliable or non-existent internet connections, of course, but goes to show how important these services are for farmers, and the lengths that some will go to, in order to improve their operations.
While the cotton industry is kicking goals with this year’s production, who’s to say how much-improved internet services could mean in coming years.