"Family Farming", by Julieanne Rogan

Australia’s cotton industry is considered the most water-efficient in the world, producing “more crop per drop” than any other nation at two and a half times the world’s average yields. The water use efficiency and productivity of the Australian cotton industry has been measured as part of several studies in the past 20 years. The Australian cotton industry has achieved a 40% increase in water productivity over the last decade. Appropriate varieties, a massive research effort, use of the latest technologies and cutting edge on-farm practices all combine to produce Australian cotton fibre that is farmed with less water per hectare than ever before.

Quick Water Facts

  • The Australian cotton industry has achieved a 40% increase in water productivity over the last decade
  • Cotton uses about the same amount of water as other summer crops, is drought and heat tolerant and uses less water than rice, maize, soybeans and many vegetable crops
  • Each gigalitre of water used for cotton production results in 1.3 direct jobs and generates $500,000 in gross value agricultural production
  • Cotton is an ideal crop for Australia’s extremely variable climate where in some years water is plentiful and other years suffer from drought.  This is because cotton is a desert plant that's only grown when there’s water available

Cotton Growers Are Water Savers 

Water is the most valuable resource a cotton farmer has.  Every drop counts and growers and researchers are continually looking at news ways to improve efficiency. 

The industry’s research has shown there are five key areas for cotton growers to focus on:

  • Maximising storage and distribution efficiency (on-farm dams and channels) 
  • Maximising application efficiency (putting water on the crop) 
  • Achieving uniform application (putting water on the crop) 
  • Monitoring water use and calculating efficiencies (while the crop is growing) 
  • Alternative irrigation systems (where applicable) such as overhead sprinklers, bankless channels and drip

Why Do Farmers Choose to Grow Cotton? 

Cotton growers are farmers with a licence to access water under a strict set of rules. At the beginning of each season, they choose to grow particular crops based on a number of factors: water availability, commodity price, ability to sell the crop and overall cost of production.

Farmers are business people and so they choose to grow the crop that gives them the best financial return on their water. While this can change from year to year, about 1,250 farmers in NSW and Queensland choose to grow cotton (usually in rotation with other crops such as wheat, barley, corn, sunflowers, sorghum and chickpeas) because it often gives them the best return per unit of water.