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 six people;
  • is run by growers with an average age of 49 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: NSW DPI).

Long-term monitoring shows the cotton industry’s significant improvements in water efficiency over time. Water-use productivity by Australian cotton growers has improved by 52% since 1997 (Australian Cotton Sustainability Update 2022).

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:

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 over $3 billion per year in export earnings (ABS Value of Agricultural Commodities).

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).