The Centre Alliance plan to ban farmers from exporting cotton is flawed on many fronts, says Agriculture Minister David Littleproud.
“This idea will not deliver ANY extra water to the river,” Mr Littleproud said.
“There are 1009 farmers in Australia currently growing cotton, and cotton export is a $2.1 billion industry employing 10,000 regional Australians in a good year.
“How will Centre Alliance replace these jobs in rural Australia?” Mr Littleproud asked.
“Some 90 per cent of our cotton is grown for export, so this plan would end the industry.”
Last week, Centre Alliance Senator Rex Patrick threw down the gauntlet to the cotton industry, challenging them to justify its use of water and its right to farm.
The Independent Senator questioned whether the “driest continent on the planet” should grow and export cotton.
He called for a national debate and outlined plans to introduce legislation this week which proposes a ban on cotton exports.
‘Not in the national interest’
"We live on the driest continent on the planet and yet we are using our precious national water resources to produce a water-intensive crop which we then simply export overseas such that foreign entities can profit," the South Australian Senator said.
"Twenty-seven percent of the entire allocation of irrigation water across the Murray-Darling goes to cotton. It's not in the national interest.”
Mr Littleproud said farmers buy a certain amount of water and in a year of reasonable rainfall, they still get to use that water to grow something, whether it’s rice or crops or cattle.
“If farmer Joe has 100 megalitres he normally uses to grow cotton and you make cotton unviable, he just uses that water to grow a different crop,” he said.
“Further, farmers only get to use their water in years of good rainfall. The Gwydir, Namoi and Macquarie districts near Menindee are all on zero general allocation for irrigation this year.
“Very little cotton was grown this year. Cubbie grew around 1 per cent of its usual cotton crop.”
Cubbie Station is Australia’s largest cotton farm and the biggest irrigation operation in the Southern Hemisphere.
Highest value crop
Mr Littleproud said recent modelling for the Northern Basin Review showed an extra 70 gigalitres of water to the river in the northern Basin would deliver only 7 gigalitres to Menindee. The river system is not like a pipe which delivers every drop to the other end.
“Cotton is the highest value crop for farmers to grow in most of these areas. Effectively stopping farmers growing the most valuable crop just reduces farm viability and means less jobs.
“The Government telling farm businesses what decisions to make ends farmer freedom.”
Mr Littleproud said banning the export of any particular crop likely breaches our World Trade Organisation obligations.
‘A terrible idea’
“Australia is a nation of 25 million growing enough food for 75 million people – we need trade,” he said.
“This idea might mean the media gets a headline but it won’t help the Basin, the fish or the farmers one bit.
“Banning farmers from selling cotton overseas and bringing wealth to Australia is a terrible idea.”
Cotton Australia agreed a ban would achieve nothing.
"You could ban the growing of cotton tomorrow and exactly the same amount of water would still be used because it is allocated to the irrigator, or to the irrigation license, to be used as seen fit," said Michael Murray, Cotton Australia's general manager.