Cotton sharpens graingrowing skills by Bernie Reppel

Ralph Bazley: growers benefit by adopting Best Management Practice guidelines

Best Management Practice (BMP) guidelines are widely accepted in the lucrative cotton industry Darling Downs farmer Ralph Bazley thinks more graingrowers should benefit from a similar approach.

The grains and cotton industries took the first step toward improved research collaboration at a two-day seminar in Dalby recently, where growers and scientists discussed research areas of mutual concern.

Mr Bazley and his wife Bethley produce cotton and grains on 256 hectares of medium black soil in the St Ruth-Formartin area and another 200 hectares close to Dalby.

Mr Bazley says the BMP guidelines under development in the cotton industry — where farmers will look critically at what they do every year and try to improve — provides an attractive answer to pressure for quality assurance.

The couple usually plants between 60 and 80 hectares of dryland cotton and 80 to 120 of sorghum, while winter crops currently in the ground include 120 hectares of barley, 48 of wheat and 36 of chickpea.

"We've been growing cotton for six or seven years now. We saw it as a challenge and we wanted to diversify," Mr Bazley says.

Cotton is a challenge because "[it's] not easy to fit into rotations. It needs a lot of subsoil moisture, takes the lot out and makes it difficult to wet up again.

"Over the drought years we have long-fallowed into cotton to give the soil time to wet up. It's hard to settle on a firm rotation, particularly with drought years, and we try to get two crops every three years, winter crop long-fallowed over to cotton the following year, then long fallow again."

Mr Bazley says sorghum keeps its place in the rotation because it is easier to grow than cotton and "you don't have to live on the spray tractor".

Cotton spray awareness

The amount of spraying required for cotton concerns the Bazleys, prompting an application this year for an Ingard® licence. Ingard® is cotton genetically engineered with Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) protein, toxic to heliothis. "I have a bit of concern about Ingard's efficiency here, but we have to use every bit of available technology," says Mr Bazley

The number of cotton pests and sprays has made Mr Bazley "more aware of all spray operations. Because it's challenging to grow it gives you a wider range of skills."

He said he will be trying Integrated Pest Management, "where we work more with nature," during this year. As well, "I will try double skip rows this year instead of single. That will let me do a better job of spraying with the configuration I have, and with Ingard you pay on green acres."

See story this page on planting irrigated cotton into wheat stubble. The most relevant aspect for dryland cotton farmers is the erosion control — Ed.