North West growers fear frost only obstacle to bumper season

The fears come after frost impacted crops last season.

JPJ Farming's Blake and Phil Whillock (right) with Nick Stewart, graduate extension agronomist, CSD Wee Waa, examine the Whillock family's dryland cotton crop at its property Wah Ree, near Premer. Photo: Billy Jupp

DRYLAND cotton growers across the state's North West fear there may be only one obstacle standing in the way of a potential bumper harvest.

A mild summer and dry start to autumn have growers fearing frost may be all that is stopping them from achieving some of the best results in a decade.

The fears come after frost affected cotton yields across the Liverpool Plains last April, detracting from what was otherwise a highly successful season.

Cooler summer conditions prompted most growers in the area to plant their crops slightly later, meaning a frost in the next few weeks could be highly damaging.

One grower hoping this year's crop goes the distance is Blake Whillock, who said the "400 or so hectares" of CSD-714 variety cotton his family planted on its Premer property Wah Ree, was shaping up to be one of the best its produced.

"We've been growing cotton since around 2015 and this is probably the best crop we've grown in that time, looking at it so far," Mr Whilliock said.

"Hopefully it can yield somewhere between five and six bales per hectare, possibly more than that hopefully.

"In November it had about 250mm of rain on it and it did start to struggle a little bit in January when we had a hot-dry period causing it to lose some squares, but the rain since then has topped it up nicely.

"Last year was looking good too until it frosted, so our fingers are crossed the crop can hold out for another couple of weeks."

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Adding to the concern for growers is the price of cotton, which soared past the $750 a bale pre-Christmas high to around $800 to $850 a bale at the start of the month.

Mr Whillock said his family had forward-sold some of the crop, which was sown around October 21 in a long-fallow wheat paddock and with a single-skip configuration and which was due for its first defoliation last week, for $800 a bale.

"It's had three Roundup sprays as well as a growth regulator, which went on in early March to stop the plant growing up and put fruit on instead," he said.

"We were able to lock in that price for about one bale per hectare because we thought a frost may lead to some areas being better than others so we wanted to be conservative.

"Hopefully the frost holds off and the price holds on and growers can get a pretty healthy return."

JPJ Farming's Blake and Phil Whillock (right) with Nick Stewart, graduate extension agronomist, CSD Wee Waa, examine the Whillock family's dryland cotton crop at its property Wah Ree, near Premer. Photo: Billy Jupp

Cotton Seed Distributors graduate extension agronomist Nick Stewart, Wee Waa, said producers across the northern half of the state had enjoyed a stellar season and improved water storages meant grower confidence was also high for next season.

"You couldn't have asked for a better season for dryland cotton, as far as rainfall goes," Mr Stewart said.

"Sure it was cool at the start and a flooding set a lot of people back, but the amount of moisture that we've had, combined with where prices are sitting, means it's shaping up to be a cracker of a season.

"It has been a mild summer, but it we haven't seen any of those stressing 40-degree days, so in terms of what cotton likes best, these conditions have been pretty spot on really."

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