Kimberley Agricultural Investment (KAI), with financial injections from the Federal Government and the private sector, is about to harvest Western Australia’s first wet season commercial cotton crop in nearly fifty years and Cotton Australia’s Young Farming Champion Alexander Stephens will be the man doing the picking.
Since the initial cotton industry in the Kimberley’s Ord Irrigation Scheme collapsed in 1974 after a ten year run the science of cotton has come a long way with the development of new varieties, a huge reduction in the amount of pesticide used and an increase in water use efficiencies. KAI’s crop, which was planted in February, heralds a brand new era, and after a challenging growing season with higher than normal spring temperatures, is ready to harvest. Read the back story here
Cotton Australia Young Farming Champion Alexander Stephens is driving the harvest – literally –as he is aboard the picker contracted for the job. Alexander’s adventure as Western Australia’s only cotton picker comes at the end of a season that has seen him travel through Queensland and New South Wales following the cotton harvest. The western extension to his job came about after his boss and Nuffield Scholar Matthew McVeigh entered into discussions with fellow Nuffield Scholar Luke McKay, farm manager for KAI.
Leaving Hay on July 8th with the cotton picker aboard a truck from BJC Heavy Haulage of Goodiwindi and Alexander in an escort vehicle, the convoy travelled 3900km through Bourke, Mt Isa and Katherine to arrive in Kununurra five days later.
Alexander has been fascinated with large machinery since he was a boy playing in the sandpit and says:
“In reality the toys have just got a lot bigger and
I have migrated from the sandpit to a farm.”
And his computerised cotton picker is indeed a big toy weighing in at 32 tonnes with a laden bale, and standing 5.2m tall and 6.5m wide. With GPS to measure yield mapping the picker toddles along at 7km/hr and can harvest up to 45-50ha each day.
Alexander explains how a Cotton Picker works to students at Calvary Christian College
Alexander expects he will be on the picker for about 4 weeks beginning with a 16ha feasibility trial plot before the remainder of the 350ha is picked for KAI and trucked across Australia to the Louis Dreyfus Company gin at Dalby in QLD.
The world is watching this momentous occasion as commercial cotton moves into the Kimberley and Alexander is excited to be playing such a crucial role.
“Being able to work and travel around the different cotton growing regions that Australia has to offer is an amazing experience and after starting back with the McVeigh family two years ago, I never would have thought that I would have an opportunity to make my way northwest to Kununurra to pick cotton,” he says. “This experience is a combination of excitement and pressure because there is a lot riding on the outcome of this harvest not only from the researchers involved in the trial crops but also for Australian and international investors waiting to find out yield results from the commercial crop.”
Alexander will be hosting our Picture You in Agriculture Facebook page during Cotton picking time in two weeks time so stay tuned and be part of this watershed moment for agriculture in the Ord
This great video from Bess Gairns shows you how a Cotton picker works
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