Australia’s wildlands are home to some of the world’s largest cotton fields, and the country’s first farmers have started planting the crop on a small scale.
The remote, isolated towns of Acnh and Agamemnon are just three of the farms to have been granted permits by the Federal Government to begin planting cotton on their land.
They’re the first in a small number of such rural-scale cotton farms in Australia.
They were granted permits under the Remote Indigenous Agricultural Research (RIA) program, which has been in place since the mid-2000s to allow for the testing of new technologies to be developed in remote regions.
There is an urgent need to improve rural agricultural production to keep pace with growing demand for Australian produce, according to Dr Tom Kocher, RIA’s director of research.
“It’s a great opportunity to get more farmers out into the community and really take it for a spin and see what the benefits are,” he said.
“If you’ve got a good farmer in a rural area, you can get out into these areas and see how they produce and see if you can make some real improvements.”
The whole concept is about developing technologies to support that.
“The RIA program allows farmers to apply for a research grant and access the money to conduct a study to determine if a new technology could help them grow their cotton on the land.”
There’s a lot of different things that can be done to improve crop production, whether it’s using a new pest management tool or an improved seed bank, and we’ve been able to do a lot with this,” Dr Kochel said.
But in the remote areas where farmers can’t access federal funding, the research grants are an essential tool for making the farming experience more enjoyable.”
You’re trying to make a living in a remote place and if you’re going to do that you’re very careful that you don’t get hurt,” he explained.”
So when you can do a study you need to have a really good scientist with you so you can understand the scientific aspects of what you’re doing and then also the human aspects.
“We’ve had people who have lost their livelihoods because of it, so it’s been really important for us to really have a good scientist around with us.”
Agamemnoons farming community are already producing around 100kg of cotton each year, and there are currently only two farmers on the small land.
The rest are taking advantage of the RIA grant to start planting their cotton.
“A lot of people in the community don’t want to do it because they’ve got no income, they’re living off the land,” Mr Gervais said.
He has grown cotton at Agamemoons community for several years, and it is producing a good crop.
“They have been getting around 30-35kg of crop a year, so there’s been no damage,” he added.
“Some people don’t like it, they don’t understand how it works, but we’ve had good people that have been really helpful and the locals have been great.”
But we’ve got to be careful because it is a very long-term process.
It takes three years to do the cotton, so they’ve only got one year to go.
“Mr Gervas says he will be working to make sure his community has the best possible future.”
I’m just trying to get as many farmers as I can and help as many people as I possibly can, and hopefully this can be an opportunity for people in these remote communities,” he says.”
Hopefully, this is a start, a start to the next step, a small step towards a long-range solution.