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Cotton growing — Water benchmarking shows near 100% improvement

Dr Malem McLeod said the longterm trend of cotton water productivity is increasing, but with annual fluctuations. Photo courtesy Melanie Jenson

Between 1997 and 2021, Australian cotton growers have shown a nearly 100 per cent improvement in water productivity.

In 1997, the average Gross Production Water Use Index (GPWUI) was 0.62 bales/ML. In 2021, it was 1.22 bales/ML.

This means growers are producing twice the amount of cotton lint than they did in 1997, with the same amount of water.

The cotton industry has been tracking its water productivity since the 1990s, through research led by NSW DPI’s Water Productivity team with support from the Cotton Research and Development Corporation (CRDC). The most recent figures included results from the 2021 harvest.

The most recent figures show that growers used 52 per cent less water in 2021 to produce every kilogram of cotton lint than they did in 1997.

These gains have been driven by several factors including genetic improvements in cotton itself, the grower’s commitment to improved water management, and CRDC’s significant investment in effective research and development.

Continued tracking shows that the improvement is not reflected in year-on-year GPWUI increases. NSW DPI researcher Dr Malem McLeod says that water productivity improvement has been tapering off since 2007. GPWUI was 1.13 bales/ML in 2007; 1.14 in 2008; 1.120 in 2013; 1.19 for 20118 and 1.22 in 2021.

“Although the long-term trend of cotton water productivity is increasing, there is annual fluctuation – negatively affected by low rainfall years and bouncing back in wetter years.

“The average GPWUI dropped from 1.19 bales/ML in 2018 to 0.94 bales/ML in the drought-affected 2019, when in-crop rainfall was the lowest it has been since 1993. {…]

Reprinted with permission of the Cotton Research & Development Corporation.

Read more in the printed edition of The Western Herald.

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