Cotton, the ‘white gold’ of dryland crop manufacturing in SA

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Cotton manufacturing within the North West has proved to be a viable various to maize and soya bean, with the profitability of cotton exceeding that of maize and soya bean regardless of extraordinarily excessive enter prices. Annelie Coleman attended a cotton data day in Schweizer-Reneke and compiled this report.

Cotton, the ‘white gold’ of dryland crop production in SA
Due to the cotton plant‘s sturdy and penetrating taproot system, it has an astonishing potential to extract moisture from the soil and survive extreme warmth and drought.
Picture: Jozeph du Plessis

The producer worth for dryland seed cotton in areas of the North West, reminiscent of Schweizer-Reneke, stood, on the time of going to print, at R12 000/t, in contrast with the maize producer worth, which hovered at R3 200/t and soya bean at R8 000/t at a yield obtained underneath dryland situations of three,40t/ha, 6t/ha and 3t/ha respectively.

In response to Louis Olivier, CEO of Vaalharts Cotton, the manufacturing prices for cotton within the 2022/23 season amounted to R22 620/ ha, in contrast with R16 000/ha for maize and R10 000/ha for soya bean. Within the case of cotton, it means a revenue of R18 179/ha, in contrast with R3 200/ ha for maize and R14 000/ha for soya bean.

Greenback worth
Jozeph du Plessis from Schweizer-Reneke is likely one of the pioneering cotton producers in North West. In response to him, one of many prime advantages of the South African cotton worth is that it’s coupled to the worldwide NY futures greenback worth.

“Due to the widespread political and infrastructural deterioration in South Africa, it’s crucial that the native business crop farming sector considers various crops the place the worth could be based mostly on a dollar-based futures December worth of the approaching season, or a spot worth that may be negotiated with brokers or brokers,” he mentioned at a current cotton data day.

He identified that the demand for the crop outweighs the availability by far, which provides markedly to the benefit of cotton manufacturing in comparison with different rotational crops reminiscent of maize and soya bean. Cotton costs don’t fluctuate between export and import parity like maize and soya bean, that are produced in surplus, and cotton is thus in a position to be exported profitably.

Drought and warmth
An added bonus is that cotton is ready to face up to the intense drought and warmth situations to which North West is usually uncovered significantly better than the normal crops produced in areas reminiscent of Delareyville, Schweizer-Reneke and Stella.

A cotton plant has an excellent potential to extract moisture from the soil with its sturdy and penetrating taproot system. The taproot is commonly longer than 1m, and in Schweizer-Reneke, it may attain the deep moisture within the soil with ease, making the crop particularly appropriate for dryland areas with deep soils.

The crop is nicely tailored to the hotter northern and western components of South Africa. In North West, cotton must be planted within the final two weeks of October and no later than the primary week of November. Summer season temperatures in extra of 25°C are perfect for cotton manufacturing, however ideally not hotter than 38°C.

Full sunshine for 70% to 90% of sunlight hours is good, with little or no cloudy climate. Nonetheless, the crop doesn’t do nicely in soil temperatures decrease than 18°C. The plant stops rising at minimal temperatures under 15,5°C.

Crop rotation
In response to Du Plessis, cotton is a precedence crop and ought to be planted in rotation with maize and soya bean. Maize planted in lands that had been beforehand planted with cotton reveals yields which can be markedly higher than when maize is planted in monoculture and even in rotation with soya beans. He says he has harvested as a lot as 1t to 1,5t extra on fields the place maize was planted in rotation with cotton.

Farmer’s Weekly by the way reported as early as 2021 on a examine that discovered that cotton might be a worthwhile rotation crop for sugar cane producers and that it holds advantages for soil well being as nicely. This emerged from a examine carried out as a part of the Sugar Worth Chain Grasp Plan.

Small-scale cotton manufacturing additionally requires comparatively low start-up capital if land preparation, fencing and enter prices could be funded by authorities, making it a perfect rotational crop for small-scale growers. The place cotton is farmed in a small-scale setup, it creates 1,35 jobs/ha and supplies short-term job alternatives for the guide handpicking of cotton throughout the harvest season.

Excessive enter prices
That is as compared with the excessive capital outlay required for costly mechanisation related to business operations. Nonetheless, bigger manufacturing areas of round 50ha are required for smallholders to farm profitably.

Round 20ha in a smallholder set-up is in regards to the most that may be handpicked throughout a season. Planning to plant on bigger areas ought to embrace cautious planning for entry to harvesting tools, maybe two or 4 row pickers.

“However,” says Du Plessis, “extremely costly mechanisation is inevitable for business producers as cotton manufacturing may be very intensive.”

He advises potential business cotton producers to pool their sources and buy the mandatory equipment and tools co-operatively. A second-hand cotton picker in good situation, imported from the US, goes for as a lot as R10 million. Du Plessis nonetheless says that the return on funding is excessive and mechanisation prices ought to consequently not be seen as a stumbling block.

There are two kinds of harvesting machines in use at present, particularly spindle-type cotton pickers and stripper-type cotton pickers. The spindle picker bodily pulls the cotton from the boll via spindles within the picker heads. The stripper, because the title implies, slices the boll and leaves away from the plant, and strips all plant materials from the plant. The seed cotton normally has extra leaves and trash than within the case of spindle choosing.

Du Plessis and his fellow cotton producers favour stripper-type pickers for dryland harvesting, whereas for increased yields achieved underneath dryland situations, spindle-type pickers are additionally used.

“Cotton is the best possibility, for my part, for diversification and spreading the danger of drought results on crop efficiency in our province. Not solely is cotton stover a perfect meals supply to assist cattle on, however cotton isn’t simply stolen and carted away. Crop theft and theft of agricultural chemical compounds have turn into almost endemic in North West, a actuality most crop producers should take care of nearly each day,” he explains.

The unstable climate situations are one other of the challenges that producers should take care of. As a result of cotton must be planted early in summer season, entry to shorter-growing cultivars is of the essence. Cultivars which have a shorter rising interval (lower than 160 days) would make planting by November attainable, and nonetheless allow farmers to have crop.

Nonetheless, the one cultivars accessible within the nation in the intervening time absorb extra of 160 days to mature, which limits the planting to the latter half of October and the primary week of November.

Plant depth is one other issue that must be managed rigorously. Cotton vegetation usually expertise issues with germination and vigour, and will due to this fact not be planted greater than about 3cm (three fingers) deep.

Cotton seed prefers a median minimal soil temperature of 18°C for 10 days earlier than planting for optimum germination. The expansion interval between cultivars and areas varies between 165 and 180 days.

Versatile and renewable
Dr Annette Bennett, Cotton South Africa CEO, says cotton is the one fibre crop that’s edible and likewise utilized in textiles. “Cotton is sustainable, renewable, biodegradable and carbon-neutral. It prefers dry, scorching, desert-like manufacturing situations however is inclined to frost. However by the point frost comes, the crop will need to have reached maturity, which emphasises the significance of the planting date.”

Bt cultivars
All cotton cultivars planted in South Africa categorical bollworm resistance resulting from two Bt-genes in stack gene formation (Bollgard 2), mixed with herbicide tolerance expressed by the Roundup Prepared Flex trait, which supplies glyphosate resistance.

Seed remedies are utilized to seed to supply safety in opposition to early-season sucking pests like thrips, aphids and leafhoppers, and in opposition to some fungal illnesses. The cultivars which can be planted embrace DP 1541 BG2RF, DP 1240 BG2RF, Candia BG2RF, PM 3225 BG2RF (Paymaster) and Delta 18 RF. PM 3225 BG2RF is planted by smallholders and is a furry cultivar, whereas all of the others have easy leaf surfaces.

The refuge space have to be planted with Delta 18RF, which is a non-Bt cultivar. There’s a licence settlement that producers should signal, which additionally explains the choices the producer has to plant the refuge areas.

Advertising and marketing swimming pools
Bennett says most South African cotton is bought by advertising swimming pools. That is extra widespread with farmers as a result of it gives substantial economies of scale in advertising.

In response to this association, every ginner swimming pools the producer’s cotton into bigger tons and manages the advertising of the pool’s cotton. The ginner makes use of the dimensions of the advertising pool to barter appropriate premiums for cotton.

Particular person producers have the choice to market their cotton themselves, with or with out the help of an agent or dealer, following contract ginning or so-called toll ginning. Farmers are usually provided a below-market, upfront money cost based mostly on the quantity of seed cotton positioned within the pool.

Then, because the cotton is bought to retailers or textile mills, the web proceeds of the gross sales are distributed again to the farmers, after deducting some prices like ginning charges and statutory levy.

In all circumstances, costs for particular person numerous cotton will replicate reductions or premiums for high quality totally different from the bottom high quality quoted within the worldwide markets.

The primary benefit of the advertising pool is that it gives a type of worth danger administration since every producer will obtain the typical worth achieved by the whole pool, adjusted for the standard delivered, and the farmer doesn’t have to fret that his or her explicit cotton was bought when the market worth was lowest.

Worldwide reference worth
The worldwide reference worth for cotton on the time of writing the article stood at a weekly common worth, based mostly on the December 2023 NY Futures Foundation Lint worth of R34/kg (week ending 7 July 2023).

You will need to word that that is solely a median reference worth for the actual week. The ultimate worth will probably be decided by the relevant advertising mannequin and the precise high quality of the lint, and can depend upon what deductions are made for related prices, e.g. transport, ginning, grading, levies, export and storage.

“All this mentioned and executed, cotton ought to be your most popular crop for planting underneath dryland situations,” says Bennett. “It was not previously incorrectly known as ‘white gold’.”

E mail Dr Annette Bennett at [email protected], or Jozeph du Plessis at [email protected].


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