Crop change: Southern Downs farmer finds where money is
FIFTH-GENERATION farmer Dennis Rush has turned to cotton for the first time in the history of his family's 114 years as "cattle fatteners”, and gained returns that are helping them through the drought.
He hopes to plant cotton again in November but it all depends on the arrival of October rain.
In April last year, at the start of the 2018-19 season, Dennis planted 208 hectares of his 7900-hectare property, Hopewood, near Texas on the NSW-Queensland border.
Over the years the flood- prone farm has been planted with a variety of cattle feed including oats, lucerne, rye and chickpeas.
JH Rush settled Hopewood as a hereford and shorthorn operation. Dennis took over the farm at the age of 19 years after his father, Jack, died in 2009. He now runs a herd of black angus cattle.
"We decided for the first time last year to grow cotton. The drought really struck us at the time. We had a heck of a lot of young cattle with nowhere to go with them,” he said. "We had to look at different options. I had friends who said it was time to go to cotton.”
Dennis said with the possibility of $650 a bale return there was no other option.
"The biggest advantage is the money we can make out of it,” he said.
The land last flooded eight years ago and "had a lot of weeds” including nutgrass, caster oil plant and bathurst burr so it also provided an opportunity to clean the country up.
Dennis said he "really enjoyed” growing cotton, which "was a hard crop to get right”.
"To try and get that perfect crop you have to be as good a farmer as you could be.”
One advantage of the dry conditions was that it was fairly pest-free.
Dennis gained information on cotton growing at field days and from attending the 2018 Australian Cotton Conference before he began planting and has been impressed with the sense of community within the cotton industry.
"The support has been brilliant and I've known where we've been at the whole time throughout the season. And any time when I've been unsure about something, there's always been someone I could contact.”
Another advantage of the crop is the feed for cattle. Dennis said they loved the cotton-seed and after cotton harvesting, the cattle went across the crop and ate the stubble.
Over the past 10 years there has been a shift for farmers around Texas, which was a predominantly lucerne-growing area, to move into cotton because of its durability and the money to be made, Dennis said.
In his first year the results have been a harvest of about 10 bales per hectare with an average gross margin of about $4000 per hectare.
Having groundwater pumped from four bores on the property has enabled the crop to be over-land irrigated which Dennis said used a lot less water than flood irrigation.
However groundwater is not an endless supply.
Dennis said the groundwater at his property had dropped 25m in the past 10 months and they had backed off on watering of crops.