Biodiversity – Australia
Farming Australian cotton in harmony with the environment
Largely due to best management practices from growers, Australian cotton farms contain vibrant, active ecosystems where both nature and cotton production can thrive. Biodiversity encompasses animals, plants, bacteria, fungi and micro-organisms, and Australia’s cotton growers have improved soil, riparian and native vegetation management to encourage each of these kinds of life forms (Cotton Industry’s Third Environmental Assessment, 2012).
Farms where cotton is grown have a variety of other land uses, such as growing wheat and other crops, grazing cattle and sheep, and fostering native vegetation and billabongs. The 2010/11 Australian cotton grower survey found on average that Australian cotton farms have approximately 42 percent of their land dedicated to native vegetation. This survey also found 15 percent of farmers had revegetated parts of their farm, and on average, 63 percent of cotton farms had riparian land with an average river frontage length of nine kilometres.
The industry’s myBMP (Best Management Practices) has a module including 80 checklist items dedicated to protecting and improving “Natural Assets” to ensure:
- Natural resources are identified and recorded
- The diversity of native plants and animals in the cotton landscape is maintained and improved
- Carbon sequestration and emissions are considered and managed across the whole farm
- Groundcover is maintained
- Native vegetation connectivity in cotton landscapes is maintained and improved
- Stock is carefully managed in riparian zones
- Habitat and vegetation in riparian areas is maintained
- Riverbanks and waterways are stabilized to reduce erosion
- Environmental weeds and feral pests (terrestrial and aquatic) are controlled
A 2011 survey of Australian cotton farms highlighted the level of native vegetation cover, with an average 40% of farm area dedicated to native vegetation. Across the industry, 55% of growers have actively managed native vegetation on their farm in the past five years (including revegetation), and 96,000 hectares of native vegetation on Australian cotton farms is estimated to be actively managed for habitat conservation (Cotton Grower Survey 2011). Most Australian cotton growers use zero or minimum tillage and crop rotations, which provide important protective and feeding habitat for many species.