Growing Cotton

Growing Cotton

Growing cotton is like playing a board game…….you can control some aspects by planning and being strategic in your decisions, as represented by community chest,  however, sometimes certain aspects, like the weather come down to the roll of the dice and are due to chance. Our ThimBULL artwork is derived from this concept.

The cotton plant has an annual growing cycle. It is a green shrub and a member of the Hibiscus family of plants. The cotton plant resembles a rose bush, growing up to 1.2m in height. The leaves are broad and heart shaped, and the plant has one main stem and many branches. The plant as it matures, briefly has white and pink flowers. These are replaced by the fruit or cotton bolls. These bolls contain cotton and cotton seed. The plant is generally grown in dry tropics or sub tropical climates at temperatures between 11 and 25 degrees celsius. Germination of the plant will not occur under 15 degrees celsius. The plant prefers hot summers with low humidity and long hours of sunshine.

Cotton is a difficult crop to grow and may require up to six waterings depending on seasonal conditions. Good drainage is essential as the crop is susceptible to waterlogging. Weed control is important and is achieved by sprays, and inter-row cultivation. Cotton is generally grown on very deep alluvial, dark, cracking, clay soils. The main fertiliser requirements are phosphorous, on the cracking clay soils, nitrogen and zinc. Cotton is mostly grown on flatter land with laser levelled, furrow irrigation, where plants grow on a ridge between the furrows, at a rate of 60,000 to 100,000 plants per ha. Cotton is normally sown in the spring months of September and October. The crop is very susceptible to insect attack and sprays control these. There are at least 30 types of insect that may attack the plant but the most common in the Australian cotton crop are the heliothis caterpillar, aphids, thrips, mirids and whitefly. The crop can be affected by a range of diseases including black root rot and fusarium wilt. Environmental factors can impinge on crop growth, including heat or cold shock and hail damage. Cotton crops set fruit in January and February. During March and April the fruit ripens. Picking is mostly May – June and can last up to July. Harvest occurs after the crop has been killed (defoliated), by spraying to enhance harvest operations. Cotton in Australia is harvested mechanically, either by a cotton picker, a machine that removes the cotton from the boll without damaging the cotton plant, or by a cotton stripper, which strips the entire boll off the plant.

To manage the growing process takes a high level of technical and agronomic expertise.

Careful management of the above issues is necessary to ensure maximum yields.

Some important timeline facts which have revolutionised cotton growing in Australia:-

  • 1996 – The first transgenic cotton variety (Ingard®) introduced to Australia1997 – Cotton production reaches 2.7 million bale
  • 2002 – Roundup Ready® cotton introduced to Australia
  • 2003 – Transgenic Bollgard II® trait introduced in Australia, replacing Ingard®
  • 2005/06 – 95% of Australia’s cotton growers plant transgenic varieties, accounting for 80 per cent of total cotton crop

Cotton yield statistics

Australian cotton production statistics brought to you by Cotton Australia, peak body for Australia’s cotton growing industry.

Year Total Bales Hectares (ha) Bales per ha kg lint/ha
2015/16* estimates 2,500,000 265,000
2014/15 2,200,000 196,689 11.5 2610
2013/14 3,900,000 414,000 9.95 2258
2012/13 4,400,000 425,786 10.37 2377
2011/12 5,300,000 566,000 9.46 2146
2010/11 3,999,600 599,630 6.67 2063

The Australian cotton industry continually improves its practices, finding new ways of doing things better, smarter and more efficiently.  There are hundreds of examples of how cutting edge research and development has improved the practice of growing, picking, transporting and marketing cotton – right through the supply chain. Cotton is a dynamic industry that is a leader in comparison to other agricultural enterprises in regards to techniques and technologies being adopted.

Growing Cotton PowerPoint


Cotton Breeding Pdf


Soil Preparation PowerPoint


Irrigation and water efficiency

What is irrigation?

Irrigation is the mechanical movement of water which is used to take water to plants and crops, usually for the use of agriculture. Irrigation is used to assist in the growing of crops in dry areas when periods of insufficient rainfall occur. While not all cotton crops rely on irrigation water, this is a major component of growing a cotton crop and it significantly helps produce a higher quality yield.

Types of irrigation –

Subsurface Drip (SDI)

Subsurface drip irrigation is particularly used in regions where it gets extremely hot and the soil is sandy. This is because water evaporates very quickly. SDI is a highly water efficient irrigation system which ensures that the application of water is used directly at the plant root. Drip infrastructure is buried beneath the surface of paddocks at a level that is deep enough not to be disturbed by cultivation machines.

Centre pivots/lateral move irrigators (CPLM)

Centre pivot and lateral move systems are self-propelled irrigation systems which apply water generally from above the canopy, to pasture or crop. They are less labour intensive than other irrigation systems, although the capital cost is much higher. CPLM systems require an energy source that can move the machine on the farm but also move the water to the plant. They can be very water efficient and last up to 20 years.


Cotton Irrigation PowerPoint.


Stages of Cotton Growth PowerPoint.


Cotton Calendar PowerPoint.


Fertiliser Application and Soil Testing PowerPoint.


Harvesting Cotton PowerPoint.


 Precision Ag PowerPoint