SENATOR Rex Patrick of the Centre Alliance party has received backlash for his proposal to ban the export of cotton from Australia in order to conserve water in the Murray-Darling River.
Minister for agriculture David Littleproud balked at the idea and said, “the government telling farm businesses what decisions to make ends farmer freedom. We’re not Russia.”
Mr. Littleproud said the ban will not bring any extra water to the Murray-Darling.
During cotton’s peak season, 7.1 mm of water is needed per day to irrigate the crop, averaging less water than rice, corn and other field crops, and just more than grain, according to Cotton Australia.
“Farmers have bought a certain amount of water and in a year of reasonable rainfall, they still get to use that water to grow something… 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,” Mr. Littleproud said.
“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.”
Mr Littleproud also said banning the export of any particular crop would likely breach World Trade Organization obligations.
“Australia is a nation of 25m growing enough food for 75m people – we need trade,” 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.”
National Farmer’s Federation President Fiona Simson simply said “cotton farming is not the villain here” and called Mr Patrick ignorant for not taking into account the lives of agricultural workers who would be out of work if an entire industry were jeopardised.
“We’d also breach our international trade commitments that exist to ensure common sense dictates international trade – not silly ideas that resolve nothing,” she said.
According to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Australian cotton is the country’s 19th most valuable export. DFAT also puts Australia among the highest grossing cotton-exporting countries in the world, with Australia yielding 9% of the world’s raw cotton. Also, the value of cotton lint increased by 41% between 2016 and 2017.