Innovative Top End producers Chris and Amanda Howie of Bindaroo Pastures in the Douglas Daly region of the Northern Territory, have added cotton to their income stream this year.
According to Mr Howie, the couple decided to grow the crop after he undertook a cotton study tour to southern Queensland and northern NSW last year.
In the Territory, about 1000 hectares of cotton is now being grown on five properties in the Douglas Daly and Katherine regions and at Tipperary Station.
The Howies planted 80ha of the Bollgard 3 variety 746, consisting of 40ha of rain-fed dryland and the balance under an irrigated centre pivot, from January 8.
Overall, the Howie's have 2220ha of cultivation and produce up to 12,000 large square bales of Jarra grass and legume cavalcade hay, along with harvesting grass seed. They also grow popping corn, mungbeans and sorghum.
Their irrigated cotton was planted straight into the ground into their popping corn stubble, while the dryland cotton was planted into a cut Jarra hay grass paddock.
"We really don't have to do ground preparation and plant into cultivation rows like they do in the south," Mr Howie said.
"Basically, the only preparation was the spray the paddock prior to planting."
The dryland variety is now ready for picking, and it enjoyed 450 millimetres of in-crop rain during the growing season. The irrigated crop was planted last and is about a month away.
Mr Howie said they bought a planter from south of Toowoomba last year to plant their popping corn crop and it was perfect for cotton planting.
"With picking underway, we have engaged contractor Russell Kealy, who also grows cotton in the Dalby region and over near Kununurra," he said.
Mr Howie said they only forward sold their crop a few weeks ago, with half going to Queensland Cotton and the balance to Louis Dreyfus, both to the Dalby gins.
"We were probably a bit hesitant about this because forward selling is new to us, but we locked our crop in at upwards of $500/bale," he said.
"At this stage, we are hoping to backload the bales using existing freight lines who service this area, to ease our costs.
"The gins are also offering us a freight rebate plus the value of our cotton seed will also offset the costs."
He said growing his first cotton crop had been a huge learning curve - "and we have more to learn".
First crop has been a huge learning curve for us and we have more to learn.
"We have formed the NT Cotton Growers Association to share information, plus all growers are all using the same agronomist, Greg Nicol of Total Ag Service, Dirranbandi," he said.
"Greg has been very helpful and has a lot of knowledge and works in with EE Muir and Sons, a merchandise outlet up here.
"He has also worked on Cubbie Station and has been in Broome, Western Australia, working on cotton trials in West Kimberley."
Mr Howie worked in agriculture in Western Australia after finishing his studies at Muresk Institute of Agriculture in 2000.
He worked in cropping in the Wheatbelt before moving to the Territory where he joined his father Phil Howie on Maneroo Station running backgrounding cattle for live export.
Mrs Howie attends to the family's 1000 high-grade Brahman breeders which are run on agistment at Western Creek Station. When the calves are weaned, they are bought back back to Bindaroo to grow out on improved pastures.