Australian cotton has the highest yields in the world, and 100 per cent of it is currently grown from CSIRO varieties – we've released 113 since 1984.

The challenge

Making Australian cotton competitive in a global market

As one of the top four cotton exporters globally, Australia competes in a heavily subsidised international market. Cotton crops are regularly threatened by weather extremes and disease and can be devastated by insect pests.

Cotton bolls on a plant in a glass house with researcher in background

Cotton plant in a greenhouse

To survive and thrive, Australian cotton farmers need higher yields and lower production costs, as well as in-built protection from pests like the Helicoverpa larvae.

Since our very first release of Sicot 1, CSIRO has worked hard to give Australia the world's highest yielding cotton as well as breeding plants with disease resistance and regional adaptation. Our next challenge is to continue improving yield while maintaining or improving disease resistance and fibre quality.

Our response

High-performing cotton varieties for yield and sustainability

CSIRO has been developing cotton varieties since 1984. These varieties have underpinned the success of Australia's cotton industry; increasing productivity by more than $5 billion, reducing insecticide use by 85 per cent and cutting herbicide use by 52 per cent. Australian cotton is also the most water efficient in the world.

Cotton was the first agricultural industry in Australia to adopt genetically modified traits for insect and herbicide tolerance, and CSIRO has worked closely with international agribusiness companies like Monsanto to breed those traits into high-yielding and high-quality varieties that are now used throughout the industry.

Our cotton breeding research is currently supported by the Cotton Breeding Australia (CBA) Joint Venture between CSIRO and Cotton Seed Distributors (CSD). The Cotton Research and Development Corporation (CRDC) previously provided funding up until 2007.

[Music plays and the Cotton Seed Distributors logo and text appears: 50, 1967 – 2017]

[Text appears: the partnership]

[Image appears of an aerial view looking down on rows of cotton plants in a field and the camera pans down the rows of cotton plants]

Dr Jim Peacock: I’m Jim Peacock. I was thinking of the very first contact I made when I was Chief of the Plant Industry Division of CSIRO, the first contact with CSD.

[Image changes to show Jim Peacock talking to the camera and text appears: Dr Jim Peacock, AC Honorary Fellow CSIRO Agriculture & Food]

We flew up and I had all day in Narrabri with lunch at the Soldier’s Club as usual later and I didn’t know much about agriculture, let alone cotton. I was a Molecular Biologist in plants.

[Image changes to show a coloured aerial photograph looking down on the CSD Facility]

We went to CSD first.

[Image changes to show a black and white aerial photograph of the CSD Facility]

It was a fairly tin shed operation at that time.

[Image changes to show Dr Jim Peacock talking to the camera]

I think this was maybe ’79 and I met probably a third of the growers as they were at that time and I just couldn’t get over this day and I thought this is going to be a huge opportunity for CSIRO and particularly CSD to get together in a partnership that would develop into a leading operation in cotton and production and sale of cotton internationally. And it did. I remember talking to two guys in particular in CSD. One was Frank Hadley, who had a lot to do with the starting of CSD. I admired Frank. I liked him immediately. He reminded me of my Presbyterian Elder Grandfather and actually I think that was a pretty good parallel.

[Image changes to show Frank Hadley talking to the camera and text appears: Frank Hadley, Cotton Grower, CSD Inaugural Chairman]

Frank Hadley: When we first started we were only looking at this area and thinking well it could expand but from a Cotton Seed Distributors we were just trying to provide good seed, never thinking that we would branch out.

[Image changes to show Dr Jim Peacock talking to the camera]

Dr Jim Peacock: And then the other person

[Image changes to show a photograph of Richard Williams seated on a caterpillar tractor and the camera zooms in on the tractor]

was Richard Williams, an American like Frank but a grower

[Image changes to show a facing view of Richard Williams on a tractor in a cotton field]

and a man who had been through academia in Davis University of California

[Image changes to show a photograph of Richard Williams and then the image changes to show Dr Jim Peacock talking to the camera

and this also was a man that I immediately liked and I think it was vice versa right from the beginning. And for Richard I have to say, he was one of my heroes right from the beginning there

[Image changes to show a photograph of Richard Williams and another male shaking hands]

and I could tell that the success that CSIRO would have, if it was to have, with CSD,

[Image changes to show Dr Jim Peacock talking to the camera]

then Richard was going to be a big part of it and he was.

[Image changes to show Ralph Schulze talking to the camera and text appears: Ralph Schulze, Original Director CSD]

Ralph Schulze: My name’s Ralph Schulze and I was one of those present at the very first meeting of CSD in April 1967. Richard Williams really came up with the proposal

[Image changes to show an aerial view of the CSD Facility and the camera pans in an anticlockwise direction]

that we should put money into building new glasshouses out at Block Myall Vale and use that as leverage to invite CSIRO to transfer

[Image changes to show Ralph Schulze talking to the camera]

their really top, world top people

[Image changes to show a black and white photograph of a male in the cotton fields and the camera pans to the left]

down from Kununurra in the Ord River where they were having tremendous difficulties.

[Image changes to show Ralph Schulze talking to the camera]

It was like a coup in that those three people Ron Thompson, Brian Hurn and Angus Wilson all came down en bloc and what had been a New South Wales ag facility

[Image changes to show a black and white aerial view of the CSD Facility and the camera pans towards the top of the screen as the picture changes to a coloured view]

transformed into a joint ag and CSIRO Facility.

[Image changes to show Dr Jim Peacock talking to the camera]

Dr Jim Peacock: I remember a discussion with Richard and we talked about the likelihood of being able to work together and it was a no brainer really.

[Image changes to show a photograph of Norm Thompson in the middle of a cotton plantation and the camera gradually zooms out on the photograph]

I mean we had a wonderful cotton breeder, Norm Thompson. Norm Thompson, the idiosyncratic guy who really was absolutely brilliant in

[Image changes to show a close-up view of Norm Thompson inspecting a cotton boll]

his knowledge of cotton and what was going to be needed in cotton for it to be a successful crop in Australia.

[Image changes to show Dr Jim Peacock talking to the camera]

He was associated with an Agronomist also idiosyncratic,

[Image changes to show a black and white photograph of Norm Thompson and Brian Hurn smiling at the camera]

Brian Hurn and these two guys were the guts of our operation really.

[Image changes to show Dr Jim Peacock talking to the camera]

Richard said “You know if we were to work together we could handle all the crop expansion, the national trials, things like that” and I said “Well, that’s something we just couldn’t do well. We’re good at some things but not everything but together, yeah, it’s going to be a good team”

[Image changes to show a photograph of a group of males smiling at the camera]

with of course the help of other people, Researchers and people from the Board like John Grellman who I also felt was a great visionary for the industry and Ralph Schulze and later on a few other really key people. Richard and I went about putting the partnership between our two Organisations together.

[Image changes to show Dr Jim Peacock talking to the camera]

In a way, we were almost one company.

[Image changes to show John Grellman talking to the camera and text appears: John Grellman, Cotton Grower, Former Chairman CSD]

John Grellman: I’m John Grellman and I was on the CSD Board for 20, no 37 years starting in 1974. I’m a cotton grower or was a cotton grower. I’m retired now but we had a farm at Merah North and one of the strengths of Cotton Seed Distributors was the relationship we had with CSIRO right from the beginning of the Plant Breeding Programme and fortunately after many years that association was formalised into a Joint Venture Agreement. It wasn’t, it was a non-incorporated body. However, it gave both CSD and CSIRO the opportunity to collaborate a lot not only in the seed production but also in the direction the research would go in the cotton industry and CSD had injected huge amounts of capital into that… into that concept.

[Image changes to show Dr Jeremy Burdon talking to the camera and text appears: Dr Jeremy Burdon, FAA Honorary Fellow, CSIRO Agriculture & Food]

Dr Jeremy Burdon: One of the features I think which has made the relationship between CSIRO and CSD so strong is that we have been able to build a very high level of trust in which individuals on both sides understand where everybody is coming from and how important that is. And so, one of the things that we were able to do on the basis or the back of that trust was to look at the needs that CSIRO had, the needs the cotton industry had and move to a situation where we could put breeding and associated research on a much more confident and reliable basis and that, essentially is the basis on which the Cotton Breeding Australia or CBA was established.

[Image changes to show Dr John Manners talking to the camera and text appears: Dr John Manners, Director, CSIRO Agriculture & Food]

Dr John Manners: So CSIRO and CSD collaborate together in plant breeding. We create the highest yielding varieties in the world

[Image changes to show the back view of a male walking between cotton plants in a glasshouse]

and that development of high yielding varieties is underpinned by an ongoing R and D effort.

[Image changes to show a facing view of the male looking at the cotton plants in the glasshouse]

In our R and D effort we focus on the short term

[Image changes to show Dr John Manners talking to the camera]

to ensure that varieties are delivered to cotton growers

[Image changes to show petri dishes of cotton seeds on shelves and then the camera zooms out to show a male picking up one of the petri dishes and inspecting the contents]

but also a pipe line of ongoing technology development that will provide a sustainable supply of technology into the breeding programme

[Image changes to show Dr John Manners talking to the camera]

to make sure that Australian cotton growers continue to receive the best varieties into the future.

[Image changes to show Dr Jim Peacock talking to the camera]

Dr Jim Peacock: I’ve had a lot to do with international agriculture. I cannot name any situation in the world in any crop where the partnership between science and the recipients of the discoveries through CSD to the growers has been more effective, has worked without any ill feelings. Just amazing and when you have the best breeders, the best technology, the best working companies providing the best seed and so on, you’ve got to be successful.

[Image changes to show Frank Hadley talking to the camera]

Frank Hadley: The cotton industry today has been, with the breeding of CSIRO varieties which, we’ve got the best breeding programme in the whole world, by far the best breeding programme in the whole world.

[Music plays and the Cotton Seed Distributors logo and text appears: 50, 1967 – 2017]

CSD 50 years – The partnership

In 2017 CSD, the only company that supplies cotton seed to Australian cotton growers, celebrated their 50th anniversary. CSD put together this video to highlight the important partnership with CSIRO to develop and market cotton that benefits growers' bottom line and is good for the environment and for rural communities.

The results

30 years of cotton breeding and 100 varieties underpinning a $2.5 billion industry

To date, we have released 113 cotton varieties, including varieties with high yield and broad adaptation in Sicot 74BRF and specialist varieties such as Siokra 24BRF (dryland systems) and Sicala 340BRF (premium quality).

Our latest variety, Sicot 75BRF, released in 2013, combines the best traits of its predecessors. It is high-yielding, produces excellent quality fibre and has outstanding resistance to disease. It is with innovations like these that CSIRO has helped cotton to become Australia's third-largest agricultural export and to create a more profitable, environmentally-friendly Australian cotton industry.

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