Biodiversity and cotton

  • Biodiversity refers to the variety of life forms found in an environment including animals, plants, bacteria, fungi and micro-organisms
  • Managing biodiversity and natural resources surrounding cotton farms provides benefits to the environment and to the farm. Growers use natural resources to help manage pests naturally and to store carbon in the soil and vegetation
  • The Australian cotton industry is committed to the careful and responsible management the natural environment
  • The industry works with research organisations, catchment management authorities, regional natural resource management organisations and groups such as Landcare, to play its part in responsible landscape management.
  • The Australian cotton industry undertakes work to better understand vegetation on cotton farms - both the ecosystem services it provides such as carbon storage, erosion control, natural pest control and biodiversity value; as well as how the industry can improve the management practices of riparian lands to contribute towards their health
  • myBMP (best management practices), the cotton industry’s environmental management program, helps growers to manage the natural environment
  • Independent assessments have shown that Australian cotton growers have improved soil, and native vegetation management which is contributing to improved biodiversity
  • Largely due to best management practices from growers, Australian cotton farms contain vibrant, active ecosystems where both nature and cotton production can happily thrive

Plants

  • Around 42% of an average cotton farm area is dedicated to native vegetation (source: Australian Grown Cotton Sustainability Report, 2014)
  • 63% of farms have a riparian zone ranging between 2 and 15 km in length (on average 7 km) (source: 2011 Cotton Grower Survey, CRDC and Cotton CRC)
  • 70% of cotton growers have river frontage and 75% of growers are actively managing their riparian zones (source: 2011 Cotton Grower Survey, CRDC and Cotton CRC)
  • Healthy, intact native vegetation provides important buffer zones, harbours beneficial insects and nature’s pest controllers (birds and bats), reduces soil erosion and helps keep waterways healthy
  • Connecting remnant vegetation and replanting native species can help improve biodiversity by extending habitat and providing natural corridors for animals to move along
  • Well managed native pastures are not only excellent for cattle feed and are relatively drought tolerant, but help improve biodiversity such as bird life on cotton farms
  • Native vegetation provides windbreaks that reduce soil erosion and act as a buffer to the application of sprays such as herbicides
  • Leaving standing and fallen dead timber, rocks and understorey shrubs provides habitats for native plants and animals
  • Sowing small areas of local native grasses as a nursery for seed collection allows restoration if necessary, on other areas of the farm

Practices used by cotton growers to manage riparian areas on their farms include:

  • Fencing and selectively grazing
  • Excluding grazing
  • Control of weeds and pests
  • Provision of alternative water points for stock
  • Maintaining filter, buffer strips of vegetation
  • Planting native trees and other vegetation
  • (source: The Australian Cotton Water Story, 2012)

Animals 

  • Bats, birds, ants, wasps and other predatory insects are a cotton grower’s natural workforce against pests that attack cotton plants
  • Cotton growers encourage beneficial insects and predator pests into cotton crops as part of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) systems. This reduces the need for pesticides and encourages natural pest eradication
  • Native animals living in healthy native vegetation help keep the right balance of pests and predators
  • Nearly one third of all Australian bird species are found in cotton growing regions
  • 153 bird species were found in natural vegetation in the Namoi Valley, a major cotton growing region in NSW
  • A bird study of 19 water storages on nine cotton farms in the Gwydir Valley recorded 42,495 birds representing 45 different species, including many of conservation significance
  • 450 species of invertebrates have been recorded in one cotton field during the summer
  • Cotton growers participate in feral pest control programs to protect native plants and animals as well flora and fauna monitoring such as recording animal tracks, diggings, footprints, scat, chewed bark, nests, spider webs and bird calls

Soils 

  • Australian soils are often described as ancient, highly weathered and infertile. Cotton is grown on floodplains where the soils are younger and more fertile than most Australian soils. The major soil types on which cotton is grown are grey, brown and black Vertosols (around 75 percent), that are naturally fertile, have high clay content and strong shrink-swell capacities
  • Soil that is full of nutrients and organic matter and that can store moisture grow better, higher yielding crops, contribute to water use efficiency and break down residual herbicides faster
  • Many cotton growers are using minimum or no till farming systems (where the soil is not ploughed, and stubble is retained and planted into) which has seen dramatic improvements in soil health, retaining moisture and nutrients, and a reduction in diesel fuel usage (hence carbon emissions)
  • Cotton is grown in rotation with other crops such as wheat, chickpeas and sunflowers (legumes) to increase nutrient level in soil and are sometimes left ‘fallow,’ allowing a natural build-up of nutrients in the soil
  • Many cotton farmers use organic fertilisers such as chicken and feed lot manures, and some are experimenting with bio-solids, or human waste products
  • myBMP helps growers to manage the soil health and nutrition management

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© Cotton Australia 2016. This material is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial 4.0 International License (CC BY CC BY-NC 4)