Construction is set to begin on the Northern Territory’s first commercial cotton gin in July as growers commit to a site near Katherine.
- Top End growers have been trucking cotton 3,500km to Queensland for processing
- Between 6,000 and 8,000 hectares of cotton are expected to be grown in NT next season
- The chair of the development group behind the project says the NT gin will not impact on a potential WA operation
Over the last few years, Top End farmers have slowly increased plantings of cotton, but the industry’s development has been hampered by the lack of a local processing facility.
Growers have been trucking cotton bales 3,500 kilometres to gins in south-east Queensland, with transport costs severely cutting into profits.
The Northern Cotton Gin Development Group has announced it has chosen a site 35km north of Katherine, on freehold land at Tarwoo Station, to build a gin.
The facility will be constructed and operated by New South Wales-based company RivCott Ltd and is expected to be operational by the 2022 season.
Development group chair David Connolly said the gin would be owned “exclusively by all potential cotton growers in the Top End of the Northern Territory and Western Australia”.
“The NT government hasn’t been asked to chip in any money for this,” he said.
“We will ask the government to make sure that the publicly funded infrastructure, such as roads and power, will be available to the site.
“We’ve had nothing but positive help from the government about this development and I think they’re looking forward to this as much as the growers are.”
Crop to expand
About 3,000 hectares of cotton are being grow in the NT this year, but Mr Connolly expects that to increase to between 6,000 and 8,000ha next year.
“A lot of the hectares that are being planted to cotton are not new [cleared] hectares,” he said.
“[Farmers] are not jumping in bulldozers and ripping a heap of trees down and planting cotton.
“In our instance, at Tipperary, we have converted hay country and other country that we grow pasture on — we are converting that to cotton country.”
He said about 90 per cent of the cotton being grown in the NT was dry-land cotton, which relied on wet season rains rather than irrigation.
Ord gin still viable
Mr Connolly said a gin near Katherine would not impact the viability of plans to build a gin across the border in WA’s Ord Irrigation Scheme.
“We envisage a time when the WA crop gets to a state where its volumes are large enough to sustain a gin,” he said.
“Then these shareholders may go and build a gin at Kununurra.
“At the moment there’s not enough volume being grown in WA for [an Ord gin] to be viable, so those growers are invited to be a shareholder of this gin and bring their cotton over here at no further cost.”
He said initially the NorCott gin would charge every northern cotton grower the same amount to freight modules, regardless of the distance to get to Tarwoo.
A report by PricewaterhouseCoopers in 2020 said northern Australia’s cotton industry could potentially be worth at least $200 million within a decade, and capable of producing more than 400,000 bales annually.