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Cotton Research and Development Corporation – powering innovation in 2021

Over the years, cotton has been a major presence in the Australian farming and export industries. Accounting for up to 60% of the agricultural output in regions in which it is grown, the Australian cotton industry exports around $2 billion worth of cotton each year to China, Bangladesh, Vietnam, India, Indonesia, Turkey and Thailand. 

Simply put, cotton is big business. 

Close up image of a cotton bail

Over the years, cotton has been a major presence in the Australian farming and export industries. Accounting for up to 60% of the agricultural output in regions in which it is grown, the Australian cotton industry exports around $2 billion worth of cotton each year to China, Bangladesh, Vietnam, India, Indonesia, Turkey and Thailand. 

Simply put, cotton is big business. 

Powering the industry’s ability to innovate, grow and flourish – and, ultimately, its success – is the research, development and extension (RD&E) delivered by the Cotton Research and Development Corporation (CRDC). As an organisation, CRDC’s role is to invest in and manage RD&E projects on behalf of cotton growers and the Australian Government – and its home to a whole host of developments that are at the heart of the sector’s ability to evolve and innovate. 

“The cotton industry is one of the success stories of Australian agriculture – thanks primarily to the continued support of the industry and the Australian Government to RD&E,” said CRDC executive director Dr Ian Taylor. 

“Ours is an industry that is innovative, quick to adapt to new technologies and adopt new knowledge, and aims to continuously improve practices to ensure productivity and sustainability – all underpinned by the latest developments in RD&E.” 

In 2019-2020 alone, cotton growers and the Australian Government invested $20 million into cotton RD&E through CRDC. This enabled the CRDC to continue to drive world-class innovation, working with 99 research partners on over 200 projects that fall within its strategic aims of:  

  • Increasing productivity and profitability of Australian cotton farms
  • Improving cotton farming sustainability and value chain competitiveness
  • Building the adaptive capacity of the Australian cotton industry
  • Strengthening partnerships and adoption; and
  • Driving RD&E impact 

CRDC’s current projects showcase an ambitious roadmap of investments that will undoubtedly help to set the direction for the Australian cotton industry – one of innovation, increased commercialisation and digital transformation. 

Here are some of the highlights:

Landcare Tech Innovations

Led by the University of New England, the Cotton Landcare Tech-Innovations 2021 project builds on international best practice to implement and develop cutting-edge technologies, such as drone mapping and aerial seeding, acoustic monitoring and big data, to help enhance natural resources and biodiversity on Australian cotton farms.

In an Australian first, large drones are being used to broadcast native seed from the air as part of this project’s pioneering revegetation trials. The research is comparing the effectiveness of different techniques for planting river red gums: drone seeding against tube stock plantings and direct seeding via ute or tractor. 37 hectares of native tree seedlings and seeds have already been planted across cotton growing valleys to improve on-farm biodiversity.

Minimising spray drift

Efforts to minimise spray drift is a particularly high priority for Australian agriculture. As a result, a CRDC and GRDC (Grains Research and Development Corporation) collaboration has been working to minimise the potential impact of spray drift from cotton and grain properties since 2016. 

Most recently, the project has developed a hazardous weather warning system to provide real-time weather data and alerts to growers and spray operators. The technology will be delivered to growers through establishing a network of Profiling Automatic Weather Stations (PAWS) across the cotton and grain belts of eastern Australia. 

Once developed and deployed, the system ultimately aims to improve on-farm decision making by accurately identifying and forecasting hazardous spray conditions in real-time – a critical step in the fight against spray drift. 

Artificial intelligence app identifies problem pests

Invasive pests, such as silverleaf whitefly, mites and aphids, are a key threat to Australia’s agriculture industry, but are often hard to spot in the field due to their small size. To identify them more easily, researchers from the University of Southern Queensland and the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries have developed an artificial intelligence smartphone app with funding from CRDC. 

The app uses vision-detection algorithms that automate pest counting on each leaf using infield cameras and image analysis software. From there, growers and agronomists can use real-time photo capture to reduce sample times and access more precise detection and recording of pests for decision-making. The app was first tested during 2019-20 and is being deployed for further beta testing this year, before the app is commercialised. CRDC, USQ and QLD DAF are currently looking for a commercial partner to deliver this exciting new technology to growers and consultants. 

Growing a digital future

The CSIRO’s recent Data 61 Digital megatrends report says new jobs are being created by digital technologies at such a rate that Australian industries face imminent and critical skills shortages. When it comes to the future agricultural workforce specifically, initial insights from the ABS and industry reviews show it is likely to be influenced by technologies and digital solutions that augment or automate the way people operate. 

To prepare the cotton industry and its workforce for the future, the CRDC is part of a group of Australia’s Rural Research and Development Corporations (RDCs) that are working together to develop a Digital Capability Framework for the industry. This will guide educators to develop and deliver training to increase the digital skills required across all agriculture. Individuals will have a greater level of certainty about what skills they will need in the future, and employers will be more aware of the skill areas in which they should invest. 

Big plans ahead

“These are just four of the innovative projects that CRDC is investing in for the benefit of cotton growers and the wider agricultural sector,” said Ian. 

“Through our investments, our goal is to contribute to creating $2 billion in additional gross value of cotton production. 

“Increased commercialisation and digital transformation are two of our key focuses for 2021: ensuring our investments deliver real, tangible impacts. 

“In 2020-21, we’re investing $18.7 million on behalf of growers and the Government into cotton RD&E, delivering 300 projects in collaboration with 100 research partners. The future of cotton RD&E is exciting.” 


Explore all of CRDC's reserach projects here

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Cotton Research and Development Corporation (CRDC)

The Cotton Research and Development Corporation (CRDC) delivers outcomes in cotton research, development and extension (RD&E) for the Australian …
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