Industry overview

  • Cotton is primarily grown in New South Wales and Queensland.
  • Approximately 90% of Australia’s cotton businesses are family farms.
  • Australia’s cotton industry is one of the most water efficient cotton industries in the world.
  • The Australian cotton industry employs more than 12,000 people.


There are up to 1,500 cotton farms in Australia, with the main production areas being central and southern Queensland, northern, central and southern NSW, northern Victoria and small areas of northern Queensland, northern Western Australia and the Northern Territory. Approximately 66% of Australia’s cotton is grown in NSW and 33% in Queensland.

Approximately 90% of Australia’s cotton businesses are family farms, producing about 80% of the crop. These families have often lived and worked in their communities for generations.

The average Australian cotton farm:

  • is family-owned and operated;
  • directly creates jobs for nine people;
  • is run by growers with an average age of 47 years;
  • grows 576 hectares of cotton, comprising 10% of the total farm area;
  • supplements cotton with other crops including wheat, chickpeas and sorghum; many Australian cotton farmers also graze sheep and cattle;
  • includes natural areas – such as native vegetation and riparian zones – ranging from between 10 - 40 % of property area.

Water use

Cotton’s average irrigation requirement is 6-7 megalitres per hectare (ML/ha) (source: Crop and Pasture Science 2013).

Long-term monitoring shows the cotton industry’s significant improvements in water efficiency over time. Water-use productivity by Australian cotton growers improved by 40% in the decade to 2012 (Roth Guy, Harris Graham, Gillies Malcolm, Montgomery Janelle, Wigginton David (2013) cited in Crop and Pasture Science 64, 1033-1048).

The latest industry research shows these trends have continued and that Australian growers have continued to significantly increase yields and decreased irrigation inputs. NSW DPI, in partnership with the Cotton Research and Development Corporation, has been monitoring water productivity in irrigated cotton over the last decade. This shows that:

  • A further 10% less water is being used to grow a 227 kg bale of lint.
  • The industry’s Whole Farm Irrigation Efficiency has significantly improved and is now 81% compared to 57% in the late 1990s, indicating more water than ever is being used by the crop instead of being lost on-farm.

Community contribution

The Australian cotton industry provides employment for more than 12,000 people industry-wide (source: Australian Grown Cotton Sustainability Report, 2014) and generates $2 billion per year in export earnings.

Cotton is a major commodity, representing 30 – 60% of the gross value of the total agricultural production in Australian regions where it is grown (source: Australian Grown Cotton Sustainability Report, 2014).

In an average year, Australia’s cotton growers produce enough cotton to clothe 500 million people.

The Australian cotton industry produced a record crop in 2011/2012, with more than 583,000 hectares planted. This area produced more than 5 million bales, with a total forecast value of close to $3 billion.

The major buyers of Australian cotton are currently China, Bangladesh, Vietnam, India, Indonesia, Turkey and Thailand (source: Australian Cotton Shippers Association).