Choice in cotton

Greg Sandford got his start in farming by baling hay in his younger years. The money he earned in that job helped him put a deposit down on a 4500 hectare farm near Deniliquin, Kyagre Holdings, in 1983.

Mr Sandford grows seasonal crops and has a 5000 ewe shearing operation on the property, 25km south east of Deniliquin. Traditionally growing rice in summer, Mr Sandford made the move to cotton a few years back and said he stuck with it because of the better returns.“You’ve got to look at the most efficient return (per megalitre of water),” he said.“I couldn’t make rice pay, but cotton is one of the best returns.“I’m using half the amount of water to grow a hectare of cotton than I was with rice.”Mr Sandford said the support and research in the cotton industry is one of the best across agricultural industries, and said a new variety to improve efficiency further will be available in Australia in time for next summer. Variety 606 is expected to provide a 10 per cent increase in yield.Helping Mr Sandford on the farm are his sons James and Will, as well as two full time staff because of the scale of his operation. And he’s just hired another full time employee to assist with harvest and the next cropping cycle.Cotton harvest starts mid-May, and at the same time the employees are sowing irrigated wheat and canola for winter cropping, and preparing beds for the next cotton season.Kyagre Holdings has the capacity to plant up to 200 hectares of cotton, but because of uncertainly around water available heading in to the sowing period late last year only 100ha was grown this season. Mr Sandford expects a return of about 10.5 bales of cotton per hectare.With their own cotton picking machine, Kyagre Holdings saves money by not having to bring in contract harvesters. And they earn extra revenue by offering those contract harvesting services to other farms in the region. Once baled, the cotton is sent to Hay for ginning before being passed onto buyers.“One of the beauties (of cotton) is you can sell it four or five years in advance, and there’s a lot of choice,” Mr Sandford said.Water has long been the main hurdle for the family business, stemming from an 80 per cent cut in their groundwater allocations more than a decade ago without compensation.Mr Sandford said it almost destroyed his business, but they have managed to “do the best with what we’ve got”.“The beauty of this region is it’s so adaptable, you can grow and produce almost anything.“You just need a reliable water source.”