Cosy with cotton

Glen Baxter first converted part of the family enterprise at Jerilderie to sow cotton in 2011 and has never looked back.

Cotton is commonly grown in northern regions of NSW, but based on the success a neighbour was having with the crop the Baxters decided to branch out.Its growing season lasts approximately six months, sown in September to October and harvested from the end of March or start of April.Prior to 2011 the Baxters focused on traditional Southern Riverina crops like grain, corn and canola. In their first cotton year the family grew 100ha.“It is actually easier than you think to change to a cotton crop, as it is sown similarly to corn,” Glen said.“As it was our first year growing it, we were questioning whether it was the right thing for us to do and whether our neighbours had grown it the correct way.”Glen quickly learned the keys to success for cotton, and now plants up to 650ha each year. He has 370ha in this year, and said this season has delivered one of the best starts to cotton he has had since 2011. That is thanks to the combination of warm and wet weather, he said.“Up north you look for weather greater than 14 degrees, but for us we just look for a rising plain in the weather which usually occurs in early October.“We looked ahead for a few days of warm weather and got it all in and watered within a week and a half.“The first 48 hours are the most important for growing cotton. If it is too cold or we get a frost we have to re-sow.“This year has been the best start to the germination process I’ve ever seen.“We planted round-up ready cotton. We just finished spraying (in late October) and added fungicide to help it out.”If the start to the cotton season was not enough, Glen said the cotton market is also looking very promising this year. The family enterprise has managed to pre-sell six bales already.“With the price of water, we generally want anything over $500 a bale. Anything under that and it would not be worth growing,” Glen said.“On average we aim for 11 bails per hectare, and after expenses we aim for more than $1500/ha.“In a really good year we can get up to $2000/ha.“Growing cotton is also more efficient on water use than rice; we can grow it at nine megalitres per hectare.”When their cotton is harvested into modules it will be transported to a RivCott Gin which they part own, where it will be baled. Each module of cotton can produce four 227kg bales, which are then sold to different companies. About a tonne of seed by product is also produced per module as a result of the gin process, which is sold for stock feed at about $300/t.Glen manages both ‘North Columbo’ and ‘Natharang’ near Jerilderie in partnership with his wife Fiona, brother Noel and Noel’s wife Amy. Also planted this year is 70ha of corn and 50ha sorghum seed, and there is 3200ha of canola to be harvested.“We all have various roles that cross over quite a bit,” Glen said.“I usually organise the cotton and canola and Noel organises the corn.“We will be double cropping about 550ha of our irrigated canola crops with corn so it will be a busy period until Christmas for us.”