Given the hot Queensland climate, I try to buy 100 per cent cotton clothes where I can. But I’ve never really given much thought to how cotton is grown. I did have an insight into the enormous size of the industry when I made a quick visit to Cubbie Station with Mr Bean back in our courting days (I was keen). The place is massive.
Recently I interviewed St George cotton farmer Glenn Rogan (pictured with wife Julieanne), who was recently named High Achiever of the Year at the annual Australian Cotton Industry Awards.
Glenn’s father Graeme arrived to St George in 1973, attracted by a State Government land ballot which encouraged farmers to produce crops on the fertile land and take all the water they required from the Balonne River.
Bidders had to agree to be farming the land within three years and to use all the water allocated by the Government, whose long-term vision was to encourage operations which would benefit the Queensland economy. Graeme was attracted north from a sheep farming operation in near Walgett in NSW to chase a better future for his young family.
“He saw it as a stepping stone, a chance to be independent and own his own land,” says Glenn, who was seven when he arrived. “The land was all timbered, there were no fences, no houses. There was a lot of backbreaking work to make it happen, I remember picking up sticks every afternoon after school but mum and dad remind us that it was only every second weekend.” The family started planting cotton in 1978 when the industry became mechanised and now they plant 700ha a year and have the capacity for 1000ha of irrigation.
Each year Australian cotton farmers produce about four to 5million bales, most for international export. The Rogan family produces a long-staple cotton variety, used to produce high-quality products. In 2007 Glenn and his family’s company, Australian Super Cotton, joined the premium cotton initiative which sought to grow high-quality cotton for use in high-end, quality products.
The family supplies all of the cotton required by Australian Weaving Mills to produce the 100 per cent Australian-made Dri-Glo towel range.
Despite years of drought, Glenn says it’s still the challenges posed by government which present the biggest business challenges. Rising costs of production are also a problem – the biggest culprits being fertiliser, water, diesel and electricity costs.
“When they change government policy, that stresses you more than anything else,” says Glenn. “We have become accustomed to dealing with drought, flood, crop failure, too much of this, not enough of that. I don’t cope well with government policy changing, it always seems to have negative effect. “
But growing great cotton is only part of the equation. Selling the cotton is just as important to success. To the outsider trading cotton on the world market may seem like a form of gambling. Glenn prefers to call it a calculated risk.
“Generally the prices don’t go up or down because of what Australia does. How we fare will depend on the season in other countries. The Australian crop works on a premium, we’re aiming for the top one percent in the world with our long staple cotton. We try to work in the premium end of the market.
“We forward sell up to three years out. It’s controlled gambling, you want to reduce your exposure to a failure. If you can know what your production costs are, what your total gross margin is, cost of finance, cost of replacing machinery and provided you can guarantee you will deliver, it will be okay. But you still have to deliver against a contract you made. If you sold the cotton at $500 a bale and can’t supply you still have to pay the merchant $500 for every bale you didn’t produce. You could be out by $2-3 million, it’s enough to send you broke.”
Find out more about how your towels are produced and why Glenn’s cotton is so good.