Every cotton producing area is affected
After Bt cotton’s meltdown in India and Pakistan, now Australia’s crop has been devastated by drift of 2,4-D, one of the herbicides that new GM crops have been designed to tolerate.
What’s the bet that industry’s “solution” will be to market 2,4-D-tolerant GM cotton – and thereby put other crops at risk from yet more drift?
In November 2015 the US EPA withdrew its approval of Dow’s Enlist Duo herbicide, a mix of glyphosate and 2,4-D, which was designed to be used with new GM crops. The move came in response to a lawsuit.
Cotton farmers battle one of the worst cropping seasons on record after pesticide damage
By Dijana Damjanovic
ABC, Jan 9 2016
The future of cotton growing in Australia is hanging in the balance, as the industry battles one of the worst cropping seasons on record.
Water shortages, coupled with preventable pesticide damage, are bringing farmers to breaking point.
From the Darling Downs in Queensland to the North Western Slopes of New South Wales, growers around the country are seeing the same damage to their cotton.
Plants throughout the nation have bloomed with wilted, stringy leaves on stunted bushes, producing little or no cotton.
Cotton Australia is reporting that 20 per cent of Australia's cotton industry has been affected.
The problem comes down to the incorrect spraying of a pesticide known as Phenoxy 24D and its journey to farms more than ten kilometres away.
Heavier than usual seasonal rainfall has also encouraged weed growth, which led to more pesticide spraying by farmers.
Every cotton producing area in Australia has experienced 24D damage this season, and in some regions, the damage to individual crops has been severe.
Agronomist Katrina Murray, a second generation cotton grower whose property Tarlee is 20 kilometres out of Narrabri in north-western New South Wales, works as a crop consultant.
She said it was her role to help farmers make money out of their farms and work with them in all facets of farming, including insects, weeds, diseases and new technologies.
"I have at least 2,600 hectares of irrigated cotton that I consult with and grow and this year, I'm currently looking at about 300 hectares," she said.
"One of my growers has grown 53 years of cotton.
"Every year he's had a crop in and his suggestion is that this is the worst case of 24D that he has ever seen.
"A lot of cotton growers are quite desperate, they're desperate to hang on to any form of crop that they had at this point, so this type of damage is what could potentially devastate people."
Cotton Australia's assessments show that at least 60,000 hectares of cotton has been damaged already this season. The estimated financial impact is about $20 million and the season is only half way complete.
Chief executive of Cotton Australia Adam Kay said this year's off-target spray drift incidents were suspected to be coming from cereal growers close to cotton growing regions.
"This drift is coming from kilometres away, this is not a case where it's a neighbour spraying and you can see the drift coming on to your crop, this is drift due to temperature inversions and it's difficult to say where this is coming from," he said.
"We've often seen small amounts of damage [from drift cropping] and we've worked really hard to make farmers aware of where cotton crops are and of proper spray techniques and for some reason, this season the situation has really got out of control."
Spray drifting is also damaging other harvests, with Australian mungbean and grape growers reporting similar symptoms.
On the ground in New South Wales, Katrina Murray is struggling to support her partner, parents and three kids.
She said she needed to make a minimum of $500 per bale to break even, but according to Bloomberg data, one bale is currently buying for $440 on global markets.
"My region is down so far that I would be better off on the dole, than on the income that I will receive this from cotton this season," she said.
The national body representing grain growers is calling on farmers to be vigilant when spraying pesticides.
Cereal crop farmers are being blamed for spray drift incidents but Grain Growers Chair Andrew Carberry said weather conditions played a large part.
"They have to be vigilant and there are times and areas where you might not be able to use that herbicide and you might have to use another product," Mr Carberry said.
"There are options so its a difficult situation, but if they're monitoring the weather conditions and spraying in the right conditions there would be reduced effects."