AFTER several seasons of an either-or scenario, more producers in the MIA have come around to the idea of growing two high-return crops crops in their rotation.
Advances in landforming techniques have made it possible for farmers to feature both rice and cotton as a way to boost productive returns.
Leeton producers Peter and Erin Draper have been long-time rice growers, but decided now is the time to make the most of their property and dip a toe into cotton production.
This story was published in the 2018 edition of MIA Farming. Click here to read the magazine online.
Mr Draper is not the first to start working with both crops in a rotation, with some of those who got into cotton early now returning in part to rice.
Mr Draper planted 55-hectares of cotton in a paddock that had previously grown rice and then seed oats, followed by a short break.
The cotton crop was sown on October 1 and will be harvested at the beginning of May.
“The first (rice) crop I planted was in 1974 and I missed only one during the drought,” Mr Draper said. “It has always been a big part of our farming.
“We were looking at a price reduction for rice, while the price of cotton has been quite buoyant.
“We have spent a lot of money on landforming and we now have a system suitable for the irrigation of cotton.”
Mr Draper’s rollover bankless layout and that particular paddock’s soil profile made it an ideal spot for the new crop.
“Rollover bankless bays with beds are exactly the same for both,” he said.
“There’s five bays in this paddock, it’s very efficient. Our tractors have autosteer and in this instance its a 1.3km straight line. It’s far more efficient than turning in little bays.
“The paddock has a terrace system, one level is 150mm lower than the next. It’s good for drainage and quick watering.
“It’s another reason to have flexible irrigation layouts, so you can go into different cropping options.”
There is a push for the industries to work closer, with joint research projects looking into ways the crops can benefit each other.
Despite years of farming experience, Mr Draper has had to approach this first cotton crop with a set of new eyes, but is already thinking ahead.
“I have learnt a lot by doing it; I’m looking forward to next year to do it all again,” he said.
“It is a year-on year thing. The profitability of both crops changes based on world markets.
“I am hoping to grow equal amounts of cotton and rice, I just need to work out what to do, based on water allocation and pricing.
“It is good risk management, not putting all your eggs in one basket.”
Adding value is key to keeping busy
PETER Draper’s decades of dedication to rice shows in his pride when talking about the effect the industry has on the wider Leeton community.
“It’s a good community crop,” he said.
“We do a lot of value-adding here in Leeton. It is here we put the rice in packets for people to eat.”
However, it is not just rice that keeps the economy ticking in Leeton.
Industries in the shire produce value-added commodities as diverse as fruit juice, beef, rice products, nuts and free-from ranges, through businesses such as Lion, JBS, SunRice, Websters and Freedom Foods.
“There’s a lot of pride in town, with the diversity of what we grow and all getting value added,” Mr Draper said.
“Anything we grow, we are turning it into the next valuable thing.”
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