Contributed from Victoria
There is a push to grow much more cotton in Australia’s north. Behind it, is a group of big farmers, who are lobbying their political mates to help them out. A community backlash is developing and is likely to become stronger as the news gets out to the wider community.
Cotton has no business in some of the driest parts in the driest inhabited continent on Earth. This crop is notorious for the quantity of water it soaks up.
Defenders of cotton argue that it now uses a lot less water. This is contested. A study by the Northern Territory Farmers Association reveals plans to extract 520 gigalitres of water from the Territory’s Daly River, an iconic destination for barramundi fishing and tourism. This is enough to irrigate up to 50 farms or 1,500 hectares of land. And this is one of the spots where cotton is being talked up.
Photo by Lorna Perry/ABC Rural: The Daly River (pictured) will be threatened by cotton growing
It is said that the new cotton only uses naturally falling rainwater. The weaknesses in this argument are that this is a land where rain may not come. This means taking from the water catchments during the dry times. No hard data has been given about how much water this is likely to involve.
Cotton trials began in the Territory three year ago. It has involved the clearing of bushland, and the experience of Catherine is important. This is a mining town around 150 kilometres south of Darwin. In December last year, land clearing, dried the land, and winds in December last year. led to the town being covered by red dust. Locals don’t want it. Even though they have been promised cotton will bring $25.7 million a year into Catherine.
Catherine’s mayor Lis Clark said the “community is concerned about how much water will be used”.
Retired schoolteacher Shirley Crane said, “That huge dust storm, it was a whopper, I’m still cleaning dust out of the corners of my house”.
“I think cotton is going to be a catastrophe for this area.
“We’re really concerned about the threat to our drinking water supply”.
Photo by Ben Coutts: Last year’s dust storm hits Catherine
Floodplain harvesting comes with cotton growing. This is dipping into the natural flooding when it occurs. That this happens uninterrupted is critical to the biology of the river systems. The local environment depends on it. Diversion of water will threaten this, and the farming, cattle, fishing, and tourism industries.
farming, fishing, and tourism industries. Cattle farmers are also worried.
Growing cotton means a jump in the use of glyphosate, the active ingredient in weedkiller Roundup. It is a toxic chemical, which will poison the water system and soil. Glyphosate has been found to be dangerous to humans, bringing risk of cancer, liver and kidney damage, risks to mothers, reproduction and the development of children.
There is a plan to develop a 60,000 hectares of cotton in the Douglas Daly region, about 150km from Darwin, which is surrounded by world-famous national parks.
Traditional First Nations communities are upset aver the threat posed to their ancestral lands, control over water, and over not being consulted over the cotton planning.
Ron Greentree, Australia’s largest wheat farmer, has announced plans to develop 5,000 hectares of irrigated cotton and corn in the Ord Valley in Western Australia’s Kimberley region. This not just a problem for the Northern Territory.