Growing trend: Cane farmers cottoning on to new crop chance
FOR the first time in about 130 years, Ellison Maxwell's Tinana farm isn't being used for growing cane.
Instead, he and his family have chosen an unlikely replacement to complement the pineapples they grow all year round.
Maryborough was the first place in Australia to grow cotton in the 1860s but has long since been largely grown inland.
Mr Maxwell, who has owned his farm for 26 years, decided is was still worth a shot.
He is not the only farmer in the region trying their hand at growing cotton. He says there are two others on the Fraser Coast who are giving it a go.
With MSF Sugar looking to offload its landholdings in the region and the decreasing viability of cane, he expects to see more farmers diversifying.
Many, he says, are already growing crops in addition to cane.
Mr Maxwell said financially it had made sense to explore other options.
"We started going out of cane, three, maybe four years ago, to phase it out," he said.
"It's just not economic anymore.
"We're fully irrigated down here, so with the asset of water, which not everyone enjoys, you've got to be utilising it to the full extent."
The first year of growing cotton at the Maxwell farm was a big success, with high quality and a good yield.
The second year has been more challenging, with a little bit too much rain impacting on cotton quality.
But Mr Maxwell is determined to go ahead with another crop this summer, believing that continuing to diversify and growing more profitable crops is the best way forward.
"I think it's almost a sign of the times that this area, this sort of area, we've got to be switching over to high value, more intensive crops."
So why cotton?
"Our main crop now really is pineapples," Mr Maxwell said.
"We diversified back about 20 years ago into pines.
"It's an interesting thing cotton.
"Maryborough was the very first place in Australia that ever grew cotton.
"Back in the 1860s, from what I have dug up about it, it was in the corner of Five Mile Rd a and Teddington Rd and Tinana Creek.
"It's interesting that this is the first place it was ever grown."
Cotton was vulnerable to the coastal weather, which was a drawback, Mr Maxwell said.
"But it is possible for it to be a crop here.
"Last year it behaved quite good.
"This year we got all that heavy rain in February and that caused problems on the quality issue.
"Cotton is more than just yield, the colour of the lint comes into it, the length of the fibres come into it and you're paid accordingly."
This year the crop wasn't as profitable, but they will persevere, Mr Maxwell said.
"It's very much still in the learning from experience phase," he said.
"There are things I think that growing here are unique to growing on the coast as opposed to further inland.
"Each year you're addressing what you can to get the most out of it."
Geraint Hudson is the managing director of TTQ Agriculture, which supplies equipment for farming needs.
They haven't had demand from Maryborough cotton farmers yet, as it is still early days for the growers.
Mr Maxwell's equipment was purchased second-hand after being used on inland farms.
But Mr Hudson keeps a close eye on cotton growing operations across the world and he is impressed by what he is seeing on the Fraser Coast.
"In recent years cotton has expanded," he said.
"These guys are looking for a new use for their country.
"It's a very valuable crop, very high yield and very sustainable."
Mr Hudson has seen cotton crops from around the world and he says Maryborough's quality is right up there.
"They've grown some very good cotton this year," he said.
"It might be only year two or three, but these guys are doing it better than people doing it for years two or three hundred."