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Agriculture Farming Rural, Research Development

Study looking at how to make NT cotton industry get through “those rainy days”

Charles Darwin University 2 mins read
Researchers at Charles Darwin University (CDU) will collaborate with scientists from the Department of Industry, Tourism and Trade (DITT) to investigate water use patterns and the efficiency of the Territory's rain-fed cotton crops.

A new study into how cotton responds to Northern Territory’s rainfall patterns will help in developing a sustainable and resilient industry not reliant on irrigation.

Researchers at Charles Darwin University (CDU) will collaborate with scientists from the Northern Territory’s Department of Industry, Tourism and Trade (DITT) to investigate water use patterns and the efficiency of the Territory’s rain-fed cotton crops to enhance knowledge around yield prediction and bolster the economic value and resilience of the NT’s cotton industry.

The study, which will take place over three-year period will facilitate a PhD student enrolled at CDU to work with farmers and gather research and real-time data about rain-fed cotton in the Katherine and Douglas-Daly regions.   

This work builds on the collaboration DITT have with the Cooperative Research Centre for Developing Northern Australia’s Cotton, Grains, Cattle program which is exploring the fundamentals of cropping-systems to deliver sustainable growth for the NT’s agricultural sector.

Australian cotton offers high profitability and studies have shown it has great potential to grow in the NT, building capacity and supporting the whole agricultural sector.

Unlike irrigated cotton in southern states, NT’s rain-fed cotton relies on wet season rainfall, making it less water-intensive but more vulnerable to unfavourable rainfall.

CDU’s Research Institute for Northern Agriculture (RINA) Professor of Tropical Broadacre Cropping Systems Stephen Xu said knowledge about water use of rain-fed cotton in the NT is limited.

“By gaining an in-depth understanding of water use, the efficiency in rain-fed cotton and addressing the effects of variable rainfall we can provide growers with advice around how to navigate uncertain weather conditions,” Professor Xu said.

“This will help the industry adapt to climate change and variability, contribute to best management practices, and promote the development of the cotton industry, yielding various benefits.”

The Department’s Cropping Group Leader, Dr Edward Mwando is delighted to be working on a project that aims to deliver solutions to water management for rain-fed cotton production.

“The project presents a great opportunity for a PhD student to collaborate with cotton growers in the Territory and foster a stronger bond between the industry and research scientists,” Dr Mwando said.

“The research team aims to find improved solutions for water management and further support the growth of the industry.”

A combination of physiological measurements, ground, and soil sensors as well as remote sensing data will be used to create simulation models to help provide an understanding about the cotton’s water use patterns, especially during the late growing season when rainfall uncertainty increases.

Professor Xu said results will help contribute to best management practices.

“The project's outputs will promote rain-fed cropping without relying on precious groundwater resources in the NT meaning agricultural development will be supported while environment Impact is minimised,” Professor Xu said.

“By monitoring water use, assessing crop water use efficiency, and modelling yield under drought conditions, the project will help the cotton industry manage risks and, in the future, guide supplementary irrigation.”

This project represents the first collaboration on cotton agronomy between CDU and DITT.

Australian cotton is renowned for its premium reputation and profitability as an export product.

The NT’s cotton industry is expected to expand to 400,000 bales within the next decade creating more jobs and providing an expected net worth of over $200 million for the Territory’s economy.

The outputs of this project will play a crucial role in realising this economic value.

Contact details:

Emily Bostock
Acting Research Communications Officer

T: +61 8 8946 6529
M: 0432 417 518


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