Cotton on to what’s happening with fibre


THE future of GM cotton trials in the Ord Valley is in doubt.


After a decade of research and $6 million worth of external funding, this year could see the eradication of any future the crop may have had, in the region.

The Department of Food and Agriculture (DAFWA) received a letter from the Cotton Co-operative Research Centre (CRC) late last month, indicating further funding would be dependent on changes within the State Government’s policy.


DAFWA project manager and entomologist Geoff Strickland said the letter was part of a standard process for advising researchers on the status of research applications.

“But in our case there is a provisional offer of funds subject to an announcement of WA government policy that permits for a 2009/2010 season,” Mr Strickland said.

“We will clarify with the CRC what is required and go through our internal budget process before making a decision on future cotton trials,” he said.


The WA Government has had a moratorium on GM crops for several years but allowed DAFWA to conduct trials for cotton as a potential crop in the Ord River Irrigation Area (ORIA).


Cotton Catchment Communities CRC chief scientist Professor Peter Gregg told the Echo the prolonged drought in Queensland and NSW had resulted in only a limited amount of funding being available for research involving the cotton industry.

“In such circumstances we have to prioritise and the chance of achieving outcomes from the research is a key consideration,” Professor Gregg said. 


Professor Gregg said he wanted to make it clear the CRC was not lobbying for cotton production in the Ord or for GM technology in general.

“We are just doing the research to establish whether cotton can be grown in an economically and environmentally sustainable manner in that region,” he said.

“It is up the WA Government and people to decide what to do with the results.”


And although cotton had proved a viable crop, Mr Strickland said there were several other obstacles to the development of a GM cotton industry in Kununurra.


If the moratorium were to be lifted, Ord Valley farmers would need sufficient available land to justify and attract investors to construct a cotton gin.

“Infrastructure to enable the storage, processing and export of the crop,” would be necessary Mr Strickland said.

“A water allocation to irrigate the crop in a sustainable cropping system,” he added.


He also said prices would have to compete with other options such as tree farming, chia and horticulture.


A discussion paper on GM cotton was released by the state Government in August last year for public comment.

The paper provided an overview of existing and potential cotton production in Australia, as well as the status of global production of GM cotton and potential markets and prices.


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