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Enhancing natural resource management in the cotton industry through partnerships

Veronica Chapman1, Susan Maas2 and Geoff McIntyre3

1DPI&F/Cotton Catchment Communities CRC, PO Box 310, St George, Q, 4487. Email

2DPI&F/ Cotton Catchment Communities CRC, LMB 6, Emerald, Q, 4720. Email

3DPI&F/ Cotton Catchment Communities CRC, PO Box 993, Dalby, Q, 4455. Email


A desire to achieve sound Natural Resource Management (NRM) is not new in the cotton industry. Growers are driven by a need to use their resources sustainably and demonstrate this to the wider community; the cotton industry is politically aware of its obligations to the environment and legislative reform processes call for more efficient use of the resource base. In addition regional NRM bodies are influencing growers, industry and government through their planning and investment strategies. The Cotton CRC obtained funds through Queensland Sustainable Agricultural State-level Investment Program (AgSIP) of the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality (NAPSWQ) for a project entitled “Enhanced NRM outcomes in irrigated cotton and grains”. This Queensland-based project commenced in September 2004 and employs two extension staff.

Project staff work within the existing National Cotton Extension Team and wider Cotton CRC team. Productive working relationships have been established and maintained with other NRM ‘providers’ in the regions. This paper provides examples of how the project has operated to date, issues to be addressed in coming years plus challenges and opportunities for the project.

Media summary

The cotton industry is addressing natural resource management though research, development and extension of best management practices. Working with other NRM stakeholders is a key component of the strategy.

Key words

Best Management Practices, Cotton Australia


Natural Resource Management (NRM) and minimising the impact of cotton production on the environment are priority issues for the Australian cotton industry (The Australian Cottongrower 2005, p. 47). The industry as a whole is looking to demonstrate environmental stewardship and individual growers want to protect their natural resource base and farm in a sustainable way. External drivers for change include legislative reforms processes, community expectations of land mangers and the influence of the NRM bodies through their planning and investment processes.

The cotton industry is responsive to change, willing to learn and readily shares information and knowledge (Callan et al. 2004). There is a need for this information to be scientifically sound, relevant and applicable to cotton farming systems (Callan et al. 2004).

The industry has undertaken a number of initiatives to address environmental issues to date. These initiatives include

  • Rural Water Use Efficiency projects;
  • Australian cotton industry environmental audits in 1991 and 2003 commissioned by Cotton research and Development Corporation (CRDC 1991; CRDC 2005);
  • Publications such as ‘Trees on cotton farms’ (RIRDC 1999) and ‘Managing riparian lands in the cotton industry’ (Lovett 2003);
  • A review of Biodiversity Research in the Australian Cotton Industry (Reid et al. 2003) and
  • Development and implementation of Best Management Practices (BMP) program particularly the Land and Water Management module launched earlier this year (Australian Cotton Industry Best Management Practices Manual 2004).

Natural resource management is a key component of the new Cotton Catchment Communities Cooperative Research Centre (CCC CRC) with $20m being spent over the next 7 years which represents 20% of the CRC budget (The Australian Cottongrower 2005, p.47). In addition the cotton industry successfully obtained funding for five NRM extension positions through Queensland Sustainable Agricultural State-level Investment Program (AgSIP) of the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality (NAPSWQ), Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) and the lower Namoi Catchment Management Association (CMA). This paper will focus on the AgSIP-funded project.


The Cotton CRC obtained AgSIP funds through the NAPSWQ for a project entitled “Enhanced NRM outcomes in irrigated cotton and grains”. The project

  • forms a key link between the regional planning processes and the cotton industry;
  • contributes to the achievement of NRM body objectives on a catchment scale;
  • works with Cotton Australia to implement the new Best Management Practices (BMP) Land and Water Management module;
  • provides technical information that gives growers confidence to undertake on-ground NRM activities and
  • assists in the extension of NRM research funded by the cotton industry.

The project commenced in September 2004 and funds two extension positions – one located in Emerald to cover the Emerald Irrigation Area and Dawson areas of central Queensland and the other based on St George covering cotton growing regions of southern Queensland. Project officers sit within the CCC CRC extension group, which links them to other cotton extension staff and researchers.

A stakeholder meeting was held in both regions with cotton growers, natural resource body representatives, cotton consultants, Cotton Australia and Queensland Government departmental representatives. Project priorities were determined (in accordance with regional NRM plan priorities), incorporated into the project extension and evaluation plan and endorsed by the project steering committees.


This section outlines some of the major activities, partnerships and outcomes of the project to date. In addition the challenge of engagement at the catchment scale is discussed.

Outcomes of stakeholder meetings

There were two major outcomes at the stakeholder meetings -

  • The project needed to establish good working relationships and partnerships with all stakeholders to maximise impact and reduce overlaps with other projects and organisations; and
  • The BMP Land and Water Management module was identified as a major vehicle for delivering NRM outcomes in the cotton industry.

The cotton industry BMP is an established mechanism for change in the industry. The new Land and Water Management module widens the focus of the manual from cotton production to the whole farm located within a catchment. It was identified by the stakeholder groups that this module would meet the needs of the catchment groups and should be an early priority for the project. A need to gather technical NRM information from researchers and compile relevant NRM information that already existed was also identified.

Project linkages to the wider cotton extension team

The project officers are members of the CCC CRC extension team which includes Industry Development Officers (IDOs) located in cotton growing valleys throughout Queensland and NSW. This extension team is recognised and well regarded by the cotton industry and works closely with growers on many issues. A linkage between this project, IDOs and other cotton extension staff and activities raises the profile of NRM issues amongst growers and other industry members. In addition, by working in an established industry team and working with existing grower groups, the project officers have developed a good understand of the industry. The project supports the team with information relevant to NRM issues through articles in the internal team newsletter (“NATCET Natterings”), the quarterly project newsletter and participation in the fortnightly team teleconference. The cotton extension team has a strong links to CCC CRC and CRDC research.

BMP Land and Water Management module project activities

Project extension officers’ participation in one-on-one grower visits with Cotton Australia Grower Services Managers (GSMs) has ensured the officers understand the information needs of growers in relation to the BMP Land and Water Management module. There is a large amount of NRM information available and cotton-specific information is not necessarily required. As a result, the project has compiled a directory of useful fact sheets, publications and websites for use by Cotton Australia GSMs and other industry extension staff when working with growers on NRM issues. Where more specific information was required a fact sheet was developed.

Under the Water Act 2000 the cotton industry BMP program will be recognised as meeting the requirements of Land and Water Management Plans (LWMP). Hence, if a cotton grower triggers the need for a LWMP through certain water trading activities, a third-party audited BMP program will be recognised by the Department of Natural Resources and Mines as meeting the LWMP requirements. The project has worked with Cotton Australia to communicate this to growers. This legislative connection has been, and continues to be, one of the major drivers for initial interest in the BMP Land and Water Management module.

The project has used grower meetings and the project newsletter to stimulate interest in the BMP program including the new Land and Water Management module. Where there has been grower interest, the project joined with Cotton Australia and other stakeholders to run workshops to explain the requirements of the new module and the relevance of the module to regional NRM plans. These workshops have also been used as an opportunity to link growers with NRM bodies and government departments. These workshops have been well attended and the feedback has been positive. Growers are further supported by follow-up visits from Cotton Australia. This whole process is ongoing.

Helping the industry contribute to NRM targets

Helping NRM bodies work with cotton growers has been another priority for the project. True engagement at a catchment scale is a challenge for everyone.

The project has contributed to NRM body incentive programs for property planning, on-ground works and rural water use efficiency in cotton growing regions. The project contribution to this process includes input into the development of program guidelines, communication of the programs to growers and consultants through existing industry ‘channels’ (eg. Cotton Tales newsletter, project newsletter and grower meetings) and assisting growers access technical information. Uptake of the programs by cotton growers has been good in some valleys while more limited in others. This is being reviewed by cotton extension staff and NRM bodies in a bid to improve the uptake in future rounds of funding.

In addition the project has facilitated a link between the NRM bodies and the cotton industry by communicating the existence of the bodies and their planning and investment strategies and hosting joint information sessions on NRM issues. Project staff are involved in ongoing discussions with NRM bodies and Cotton Australia regarding the Management Actions Targets within the regional plans relevant to the cotton industry. The ultimate aim of these discussions is to ensure the industry is aware of its obligations under the plans, has the ability to respond to these requirements and communicates improvements in NRM to the NRM bodies and the wider community.


Individual cotton growers are already addressing NRM issues (eg. developing and managing on-farm wetlands for biodiversity values) while other growers are inadvertently protecting the natural resource base (eg. leaving riparian and native vegetation largely undisturbed). Ideally the project and other NRM ‘providers’ need to work together to help motivate growers to act collectively on NRM issues that cannot be tackled on individual properties. Within the cotton industry there is already a model in place with “Area Wide Management” groups in which growers in each valley meet to reach consensus on management issues (eg. insect management strategies for the season). Transferring this process to NRM issues is the challenge.

One way in which the project will address this is by collecting and communicating NRM case studies. Sound NRM practices and novel approaches to NRM being undertaken by cotton growers will be captured and documented. This

  • provides recognition to the growers involved;
  • gives practical examples of NRM “in action” to other growers and
  • communicates to NRM bodies the on-ground activities that contribute to regional targets.


The cotton industry identified the opportunity to further its NRM efforts through this project and to demonstrate its contribution to catchment targets. The thrust of the project has been the creation of linkages and joint activities with different projects and organisations working in NRM in cotton-growing regions. This will continue and also the project will develop new, cotton-specific activities and extension material. This will be achieved by strengthening linkages with NRM researchers funded through the cotton industry, up-skilling cotton extension staff in NRM issues and preparation of cotton-specific NRM case studies.


Australian Cotton Industry Best Management Practices Manual 2004

The Australian Cottongrower 2005,Natural resource management: Achieving more through partnerships’, vol. 26 no. 3, June-July, p. 47.

Callan, V, Christiansen, I and Harris G 2004, Knowledge management in cotton and grains irrigation, Australian Cotton CRC Occasional Publication, Narrabri.

Cotton Research and Development Corporation 1991, An environmental audit of the Australian cotton industry, Gibb Environmental Sciences & Arbour International.

Cotton Research and Development Corporation 2005, Taking responsibility for our Future: The Australian cotton industry action response to the second Australian cotton industry environmental audit 2003, CRDC, Narrabri.

Lovett, S, Price, P and Lovett, J 2003, Managing riparian lands in the cotton industry, Cotton Research and Development Corporation, Narrabri.

Reid, N, O’Shea, G and Silberbauer L 2003, A review of biodiversity in the Australian cotton industry, Final report to the Cotton Research and development Corporation, December 2003, Project no. 6.2.26, Ecosystem Management, University of New England, Armidale.

Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation 1999, Growing trees on cotton farms, Kingston.

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