As the year draws to a close, Cotton Australia CEO Adam Kay reviews the past 12 months' challenges and the achievements of the industry and the organisation that works hard to represent grower interests.
Cotton Australia CEO Adam Kay
What a year 2013 has been, not just for cotton but for agriculture across Australia.
Ask any grower and they will tell you straight - the past 12 months have been pretty challenging. However, this year has also been rewarding in many ways.
As cotton begins its new season, I have been reflecting on everything we have achieved as an industry in the past 12 months, and it gives me reason to be proud.
Here are some of the highlights from Cotton Australia’s perspective.
New government, new opportunities – Cotton Australia worked before the Federal election to put the industry’s case forward to key political stakeholders, and followed through immediately after the change of government. High on our list of priorities was securing a guarantee that the commitment to research and development, a cornerstone of our industry’s success, would be delivered – and we achieved that. We also began negotiations to improve transport infrastructure to accommodate large crop sizes into the future, participated behind-the-scenes on crucial trade agreements, and worked to bolster rural and agricultural education programs. Cotton Australia has also engaged with the Australian Government on securing access to land and water, an area we are also working on with mining and coal seam gas explorers and operators (more on this topic below).
A year of research and stewardship wins – cotton farmers in many areas were recently given an extension to plant Bollgard II, a significant benefit for growers struggling with patchy or no rain. Cotton Australia, which convenes the Transgenic and Insect Management Strategies (TIMS) Committee, worked with industry, Monsanto and the regulator (APVMA) to achieve the extension, which is the first since 2009. But our industry is not sitting back – we will oversee the development of the essential Bollgard III Resistance Management Plan over the next 12 months. When approved, this will be an exciting leap ahead for cotton production efficiency in Australia. Cotton Australia advisory panels have also worked to help the Cotton Research & Development Corporation (CRDC) consider more than 120 research proposals worth nearly $20 million – a critical enabler for our industry, ensuring that the R&D effort is focused on grower needs.
Securing access to land and water - earlier this year Cotton Australia launched a report that showed mine subsidence to be an inevitable consequence of underground mining, and detailed the risks and likely impacts to cotton farming from mining and coal seam gas operations. The report achieved significant media attention, and put our agenda on the table of key political and mining stakeholders. Since then we have engaged leaders in the political, mining and coal seam gas sectors – they now know how important these issues are to our industry, and we are working with them to secure outcomes that work for growers. Although we have had some setbacks regarding planning legislation in NSW and Queensland, we understand that the campaign to bolster rights for growers is a marathon, not a sprint, and this issue will be a long time in playing out. This will be an area to watch in 2014.
Mining and CSG are not the only areas of concern for water and land security. Immediately after the Federal election, Cotton Australia began engaging the new Parliamentary Secretary for Water, Simon Birmingham, to address issues including the need for integrated approaches to water, delivering on promises guaranteeing grower input at the local level and promoting efficiency programs over buyback. Over 2013 we also provided significant support to the Local Management Arrangement process for SunWater schemes in Queensland, and continued to coordinate the NSW Northern Valley Group which is engaged intensively with the Murray Darling Basin Authority.
Electricity pricing: the year we fought to stop gouging – 2013 was the year we declared “enough!” for ever-increasing energy price hikes. In partnership with our allies, Cotton Australia fought to put a lid on rampant electricity price rises. We put the issue on the radar of political leaders and energy suppliers by gathering a forum of allies in Queensland to create an action plan for long-term solutions to price hikes. This is an issue that will continue to play out into 2014. We’ve also been active in NSW, working in partnership with the NSW Irrigators Council to negotiate directly with energy providers to secure aggregate contracts to reduce price increases. In November we finalised stage one of a trial to determine baseline data that we will use to negotiate better deals for growers directly with energy suppliers. We have also called on the NSW Government to offer a range of farm business-specific tariffs that align with the needs of growers.
International marketing initiative: taking Australian cotton to the world - in partnership with global allies Cotton Australia launched Cotton LEADS, a multi-national marketing initiative designed to satisfy global demand for responsibly produced cotton. Cotton Australia will combine Cotton LEADS with other programs, including the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) and myBMP, to market Australian cotton's strengths to the world. This program, the first of its kind for Australia’s cotton industry, has the potential to make a huge impact on a sector which relies on export trade for its success. This initiative will gather steam in 2014, so more on this later.
Education and training: skilling our workforce while engaging with tomorrow’s communities – 2013 was a big year for education our industry. As part of our ongoing community relations program, we launched a new, comprehensive and interactive Education Kit to help senior secondary teachers and students understand Australia's cotton industry. Already hundreds of kits have been downloaded by teachers, who will take our industry's tremendous story to the next generation of leaders. Cotton Australia secured funding for the Cotton Industry Skills Development Project through the National Workforce Development Fund, delivering individually tailored training to 60 new and existing industry participants. Programs such as these are crucial in promoting cotton in Australia, and they also ensure a pipeline of skilled, smart and educated young people join our industry.
There are many other highlights from this year that have been covered in previous editions of Cotton Matters - issues like this year’s spray drift campaign, which has already mapped more than 403,000ha of fields via the www.CottonMap.com.au tool; essential workshops on workplace health & safety and spray drift, which brought growers and contractors up to speed on the latest techniques and regulations; and the 2013 Australian Cotton Industry Awards, which attracted a sell-out crowd to the gala event in Narrabri to celebrate our industry’s high achievers.
It’s been a big year, with many great achievements – none of which would be possible without the support of the industry.
So on behalf of the Cotton Australia Board, members and staff, I would like to thank the industry - and in particular our growers - for their support in 2013.
I wish you and your families all the best for a safe and happy holiday period, and I look forward to meeting you in 2014. It’s going to be an exciting season, and an exciting year ahead for cotton in Australia.