Continuous Improvement – Australia
A legacy of leadership continues
Australia’s cotton industry has measured, sought and achieved improvements to its environmental performance for over 30 years. No other agricultural industry in Australia has so closely monitored its environmental impact and responded with transformational on-farm change through best management practices. Each year around $25 million is invested in research, development and extension to improve cotton production in Australia – with a large proportion of that investment made in sustainability.
Over the last decade, the Australian cotton industry has:
- Reduced pesticide use by 95%
- Improved water use efficiency by 42%
- Retained an average of 40% native vegetation on farm
- Improved soil health
- Been a fast adopter of sustainability tools and technologies such as in-field water monitoring, new irrigation techniques and digital agriculture
This is their life
Watch and listen as growers and a variety of industry experts describe firsthand how their industry has improved cotton sustainability by addressing environmental challenges in the cotton environment.
Keys to continuous improvement
A model environmental program
The Australian cotton industry’s flagship environmental program, myBMP (Best Management Practices) has transformed the way cotton is grown in Australia. More than 75% of Australian farms are registered and participating in myBMP, and around 20% of farms are fully certified in the program. Growers wishing to achieve full certification are independently audited.
myBMP is a comprehensive farm and environmental management system designed to improve all aspects of on-farm cotton production. myBMP uses practical tools to ensure growers are implementing the world’s best practices to produce economically, socially and environmentally sustainable cotton.
myBMP provides Australian cotton growers with:
- A central online access point to the industry’s best management practice standards
- Technical support
- Self-assessment mechanisms
- Practical tools
- Independent auditing
- An industry extension team to support growers on-farm
myBMP also acts as the industry’s assurance mechanism. The program helps the industry to manage risks and provides evidence to stakeholders and the wider community that it is committed to the highest possible social and environmental standards of practice.
myBMP is structured into 10 key modules for growers, covering all aspects of Australian cotton production.
For more information on Australian cotton’s myBMP program, please visit www.mybmp.com.au
myBMP Fact Sheet: http://cottonaustralia.com.au/cotton-library/fact-sheets/cotton-fact-file-cottons-mybmp-environmental-program
Independent, transparent assessment of environmental performance
In 1991, Australia’s cotton industry was the world’s first major agricultural industry to seek a comprehensive independent examination of its environmental performance across the whole industry. This marked a new level of commitment to sustainability and a turning point in the history of Australian cotton.
Since 1991, not only has the Australian cotton industry completely transformed the way it operates on-farm, but it has also conducted two additional independent assessments to monitor progress.
The first audit of the cotton environment made 44 recommendations with a focus on pesticides, land and water use. In response, significant research-driven initiatives led to:
- Widespread adoption of integrated pest management
- Introduction of new cotton varieties with insect tolerant traits
- Commencement in 1996 of the industry’s flagship environmental management program, myBMP
In 2003, a second review (find it here) found that Australian cotton had implemented all 44 recommendations, and it also observed:
- Ongoing improvements in water use efficiency
- Ongoing improvements in pest management with less reliance on pesticides
- Improved pesticide spray application
- Improved chemical container recycling
- Improved land management
This second review made a further 37 recommendations to continue improving performance in water management, pest management, pesticide use, waste management, and land and vegetation management.
In 2012, the most recent environmental assessment found that the majority of recommendations made in the second audit had been addressed at a high level of adoption, particularly all recommendations dealing with water management, chemical storage and use, and natural resource management. The third assessment made six further recommendations for environmental improvement that the industry is now using to guide continuous improvement.
These are summarised below:
- Develop a five-year Research, Development & Extension strategy for continuous improvement in management of the cotton environment and performance in cotton growing
- Continue to appraise myBMP and its role in the industry’s assurance to markets and other stakeholders of best practice environmental stewardship by growers
- Maintain accurate and up to date databases of cotton growers and key industry stakeholders
- Continue to commission independent environmental assessments of cotton growing in five-yearly time periods and establish a practical monitoring, evaluation and reporting framework to support evidence-based reporting on the outcomes of environmental management in cotton growing
- Actively engage with market based initiatives to monitor international consumer preferences and retailer strategies and actions so that this intelligence can be incorporated into industry strategies and actions for improvements in environmental practices that are market driven
- Continue market research on consumer, community and stakeholder perceptions of the environmental performance and practices of cotton growing taking into account how these stakeholders now access information through contemporary media
Access the Third Australian Cotton Industry Environmental Assessment here.
World’s highest yields
Since the early 1980s, average Australian cotton yields per hectare have nearly doubled, the result of both improved plant varieties and excellence in crop management.
In the decade previous to 2014, on average 83 percent of the Australian cotton crop was irrigated and produced 92 percent of the national crop with an average yield of 9.59 bales/ha. Australian irrigated lint yields per unit area are the highest of any major cotton producing country in the world, being about three times the world average.
Yields have continued to move upwards from 1200kg/ha in the 1970s, through 1400kg/ha in the 1980s to 1600kg/ha in the 1990s, and they can now be greater than 2270kg/ha (10 bales/ha). Most of this yield gain is attributed to plant breeding and exploiting genetic variation and genotype response to modern management.